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The Daily Tar Heel

Imagine a world where you can park easily in Chapel Hill. You (might) see it soon

town council parking
Community member Stefan Hartelt interacts with the parking meter outside of Target on Franklin Street.

The Chapel Hill Town Council heard ideas last Wednesday for the future of parking in downtown Chapel Hill. Town officials delivered a presentation outlining some of the ideas which aim to keep downtown accessible for vehicles and encourage economic development.

Community Safety Planner Meg McGurk, one of the staff members who presented, emphasized that the ideas are in an exploratory stage. She said this was the first time people brought suggestions to the council seeking feedback.            

“This is all a process," she said. "So none of this is a done deal by any means."

Town officials determined that a portion of downtown is nearing capacity and its needs for parking are immediate.

Based on expected future demand, the Town of Chapel Hill staff called for approximately an additional 1,000 parking spaces.

They singled out the Wallace Parking Deck, which is on the corner of East Rosemary and Henderson streets, saying that it required an additional 100 parking spaces, which would cost around $600,000. The maintenance required to refurbish the parking deck before the spaces could be added would cost $1.8 million.

During the presentation, other possible measures to meet the demand were discussed. Several of these measures involved parking programs. One such program was shared parking, in which buildings that are occupied during part of the day would have their parking spaces opened up for public use outside of business hours.

“If you build a building that has primarily office tenants, you would make the assumption that if they had parking in that building for those tenants, it would be used from 8 to 5," McGurk said. "But after 5, as everyone’s leaving to go home, you have a town that has a thriving downtown, that those parking spaces then be used by people that are coming downtown."

Another proposal is off-site parking. In this arrangement, a new developer would have the option of providing private parking for a portion of its employees and give the Town additional money to help it construct public parking facilities elsewhere that can be used by employees. In the same way as shared parking, this public parking would serve downtown workers and visitors alike, McGurk said.

“It could be that the Town builds a separate deck, so that then that deck can be used 24 hours a day, for all different uses of shared parking, and the town manages it instead of that one building having to provide all of the parking on site for just its tenants," McGurk said.

She said it's also an efficient way of using parking. 

Another suggestion was that the Town review its leased-parking program, which allows drivers to reserve a space on a monthly or semester basis. It is available at a few parking locations, including the Wallace deck.            

"We think that this is an opportunity to evaluate how that system is operated," she said. "Are there better uses, better ways to manage it, better ways to offer it, so that it works for the downtown?”

Later this month or in early March, Town staff plan to formally ask the Town Council for funding for the Wallace addition. They plan to deliver updates on other parking matters this fall.


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