Much ado about some place to park

Council hosts lengthy discussion on downtown parking ordinances

The main topic was parking in downtown Dillon.

But the City Council meeting and public hearing last week it dominated, clogged and ultimately overwhelmed, seemed more a big-city traffic jam.

Many maneuvers were openly contemplated and attempted, and views expressed last Wednesday night by the dozens of people who crammed into City Council Chambers, where more than two and a half hours of thought-provoking discussion and further-discussion-provoking discussion took place on off-street parking requirements in the city’s central business district (C-3 zone).

But in the end, little movement actually occurred, with the Council finally backing away from a dramatic turn and backing into a slightly-adjusted version of the emergency ordinance recommended to it by the city’s Zoning Commission.

The Council approved a six-month moratorium on zoning requirements for businesses, new and existing, in the city’s central business district to provide off-street parking spaces on land not owned by the city.

The adjustment made was that the relief from the requirements was extended only to commercial and would not apply to residential properties in the C-3.

Concerns were expressed by some members of the Council and public during the meeting and hearing that the moratorium on off-street parking requirements could lead to some developers gaining approval from the city to insert high-density housing in the C-3 that would exacerbate what many see as a crisis in the downtown parking situation.

Those concerns led to an amendment to the emergency ordinance that would have prohibited the approval of any new development in the C-3 for six months while the city worked on adjusting its off-street parking requirements.

But after some present asked for and received clarification on the exact meaning of “development” per city code (and found out that development means not only the construction of new buildings, but also the renovation of existing structures) the Council reversed course and denied the amendment.

Others questioned whether a parking problem actually exists in downtown Dillon, citing studies, and were countered by others who cited other studies concluding that there was indeed a problem in need of addressing.

“What just happened?” wondered someone in the public seating area, posing a question on the minds of many after almost three hours of debate, votes and re-votes on the issue.

What happened could well happen again, in modified form, in six months when the emergency ordinance is set to expire.

In the meantime, various members of city government will further study the issue and discuss it in committee and Zoning Commission meetings in an effort to craft long-term solutions to the downtown parking problem—and to figure out if the problem even exists.