News / Press

Washington Ave. Parking Proposal May Go To Council This Year

By Flori Meeks
Houston Chronicle

October 30, 2012 -- A parking benefit district proposed for the Washington Avenue corridor could go before Houston City Council for a vote as soon as this fall, and if the district is approved, a pilot program could be implemented by spring 2013.

City officials presented an overview of the proposed district during a recent town hall meeting in the Heights hosted by Houston City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, District C.

The district under consideration is modeled after successful parking benefit districts in other U.S. cities, said Don Pagel, deputy director of the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department.

"There's a dramatic movement in the parking industry in general to serve people in new and creative ways," Pagel said at the Oct. 24 meeting.

The Washington Avenue Corridor Parking Benefit District would be bounded by Houston Avenue to the east, Center Boulevard to the north, Lillian and Decatur streets to the south and Westcott Street to the west.

Signage and parking meters would be placed along Washington Avenue.

Approximately 60 percent of the revenue from the paid parking spaces would return to the parking district, where it could be used to fund neighborhood improvements. The remaining 40 percent would go to a "parking management revenue fund" to offset the parking benefit district's expenses.

Houston officials have been working for two years to address parking challenges along Washington Avenue. The street has been drawing increasing numbers of visitors to the many restaurants, bars and clubs there, especially at night.

Washington Avenue has free on-street parking, but those spaces are often taken by venue employees and valet parking services.

Paid lot spaces are available, but demand has driven up the cost to park there, Pagel said. As a result, drivers tend to cruise area neighborhoods, seeking parking spaces. Residents have complained about business patrons returning drunk to their cars, urinating in yards, fighting and creating disturbances.

The Houston Police Department has reported a 32 percent increase in nonviolent crimes in the area from 2010 to 2011.

In addition, the cruising is dangerous for pedestrians and creates congestion, Pagel said.

"We'd like to create an area that's stable for businesses and let the area continue to grow and develop," he said.

By putting a reasonable price on the existing curb parking spaces, he said, the city will be able to manage the area's parking supply and demand and make parking easier and more convenient.

The district also would provide funding that could pay for landscaping, sidewalk repair or construction, lighting, security, future parking structures and marketing. The parking benefit district would be administered by Parking Management, a division of the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department. Parking Management would work in cooperation with a committee of community members and city officials appointed by the mayor and approved by City Council to determine how the district's parking revenue should be used.

If implemented, the pilot program would be in place for 18 months. After that point, the district could be modified, continued as is or eliminated.

The pilot must generate at least $250,000 in net revenues to be continued, Pagel said.

During the pilot period, Parking Management expects to operate 45 pay stations for 350 on-street parking spaces, mostly along Washington Avenue. The meters would operate from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Sundays, but with no-parking periods during rush hour times on weekdays. The meters would accommodate pay-by-phone technology.

When parking is available in the metered spaces, the cost would be $1 per hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. After 6 p.m., customers can pay a flat rate of $7 for the night or pay $2 per hour. The charges would apply to anyone who parked in a metered space, including valet service providers.

Based on models for 50 percent through 80 percent occupancy, Parking Management estimates that the district revenue for the first 18 months will range from $256,350 to $657,660 after city expenses are deducted.

The city's expenses, Pagel added, are expected to come to $275,000 a year. That money would fund signage and maintenance costs, two parking enforcement officers, one meter mechanic/collector and annual payments on the meters during the next five years.

Parking Management expects to adjust the parking revenue distribution over time, once after the 18-month pilot period and again after it pays for the meters, with increasingly higher percentages returning to the parking benefit district.

One area resident at the Oct. 24 meeting pointed out that businesses would be saddled with additional expenses if their employees don't have access to free, nearby street parking.

"The goal is to increase economic development," Pagel said. "We still have to figure out employees, but right now customers need spaces."

Currently, the city is encouraging business owners to establish lease agreements with parking-lot owners for long-term employee parking. Funds from the district's share of the revenue may be used for a shuttle service.

Woodcrest resident Monica Savino owns an architectural firm in the area. She told city officials she is optimistic about the idea of the parking benefit district.

"I think it is the best idea that has come so far to address the problems of businesses and residents," she said. "We've had nothing before this."

Cottage Grove resident Fernando Herrera said he'd rather see the city buy lots in the area to create more spaces. He said he's not sure a parking benefit district will necessarily be good for area businesses, or the city.

"Washington Avenue's prosperity right now may be a delicate balance," he said.

He also questioned the idea of an advisory committee appointed by the mayor.

"I think it would be more meaningful if members were selected by the community."

At this point, Parking Management intends to bring the parking benefit district proposal to City Council's Housing, Sustainable Growth & Development Committee for review this fall. Depending on that process, the proposal could go on the City Council agenda before the end of the year.

If Council OKs the proposed parking benefit district and the ordinance required to implement it, Parking Management would notify occupants along Washington Avenue in winter 2013 and start installing meters that spring.

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