After a lengthy discussion regarding parking and access to the High Street boat launch, the Planning Commission sent a recommendation to the Lowell City Council to approve a zoning change sought by the owners of the former Unity High School property.
Jerry Zandstra and Todd Schaal, whose business Unity School Investors, LLC owns the property, have asked for the parcel at 219 High Street be rezoned from mixed use to a planned unit development, commonly known as a PUD. As part of the rezoning request, the developers submitted plans for a three phase project which would eventually result in 44 condominium units on the property.
PUD Makes Use of Public Parking Spaces
Under Lowell’s parking ordinance, each residential unit in the city must have two parking spaces. As a result, the development, which will be known as RiverView Flats, must have 88 parking spots.
The current property zoning of mixed use would require all 88 spaces be on the development site, “unless the property adjoins or has access to a community parking lot or a common parking area maintained by participating property owners.” However, by rezoning to a PUD, the development can count spaces in parking lots within 400 feet to meet the ordinance requirement.
As presented, the PUD will include 49 spaces at 219 High Street. Another 18 spots are planned on 238 High Street. This land is adjacent to the library and also owned by Unity School Investors, LLC. The final 21 spots can be filled by counting spaces in the library parking lot or the public lot between City Hall and the Runciman Building.
Parking Needs Up for Debate
Andy Moore, a consultant to the Planning Commission from engineering firm Williams&Works, suggested the RiverView Flats development may not need two spaces per unit.
According to the Parking Generation Manual, 4th Edition from the Institute of Transportation Engineers, low to midrise apartments in urban areas have parking rates of 1.2 spaces per dwelling unit on weekdays. That compares to a parking rate of 1.83 parking spaces for detached single family dwellings. The manual, published in 2010, is based on observations submitted by volunteers, and it is not clear what urban areas ITE used in making its calculations.
“We don’t know exactly what the parking demand is going to be,” Moore said. “The data shows it is likely the demand would be less than the two units per dwelling.”
Schaal concurred with that assessment. He said that in reviewing the list of people who have expressed interested in the property, the majority are either young professionals or empty nesters. “It wouldn’t make sense for us to develop a property that has parking issues,” he said.
The developer appeared frustrated that planning commissioners were questioning whether public parking spots should be used for the RiverView Flats development when downtown apartments already utilize public parking spaces elsewhere in the city. “It is blatantly unfair to hold us to a higher standard than anyone else,” Schaal said.
Questions about Access to Boat Ramp, Use of High Street
As part of the parking discussion, some commissioners expressed concern about access to the boat launch.
Commissioner David Cadwallader asked about parking for the boat ramp at the end of High Street. Moore said the right of way for High Street would remain and that there was a very small public parking easement by the ramp. “Once you put one car in, you can’t turn around,” Cadwallader replied. “It just makes it impossible to use pretty much.”
Commissioner Amanda Schrauben, who is also a co-owner of Lowell’s First Look, asked whether on-street parking could be a problem to for those using the 18 spots in 238 High Street. “Could someone park along High Street and block in cars in that lot?” she asked. Schrauben also wondered whether curbs and sidewalks would be placed along High Street to mark it as a public road and ensure pedestrian safety for those walking to the boat launch from Monroe Street.
Chair Bruce Barker replied that he thought the answer would be for the city and applicants to work together to answer those questions as well as address Cadwallader’s concern regarding parking for boats and trailers at the boat launch.
Recommendation with Conditions Approved
Moore noted at the start of the meeting that should the PUD be approved, all further site plans would be routed through city staff. “This is your only look at the PUD,” he said.
However, during the discussion, Barker asked if the Planning Commission could require the site plans for the second and third phase be brought back before the body for review. He said the PUD application provided limited details on those phases, and he felt the commission should have a chance to review them in the future. Moore said that was possible, and it was made a condition of approval. Other conditions included mandating the use of the 18 parking spots on 238 High Street and a directive to the City Council to work out other parking issues with the applicant.
The recommendation passed the Planning Commission by a vote of 6-1, with Schrauben dissenting. She said she wasn’t comfortable making a recommendation without addressing concerns about pedestrian safety and parking on High Street which could impede access to the boat ramp. “It seems like it’s the responsibility of the Planning Commission to work out those details, not pass it off to City Council,” Schrauben remarked.
Lowell City Council will receive the Planning Commission recommendation at its next meeting and is then expected to set a public hearing for September 3. After that hearing, the council can approve or deny the rezoning request.