By Kirk Ross
A new five-story mixed-use development slated for the site of the old Andrews-Riggsbee hardware store wonâ€™t provide enough parking and will exacerbate a growing downtown parking crunch, residents and business owners told the Carrboro Board of Aldermen Tuesday night.
The comments came as the board opened a public hearing on the proposed Roberson Square project on North Greensboro Street that would span the block between Carr, Roberson and Maple streets. The project includes two floors of commercial space, with the ground level dedicated to retail and restaurants and the second floor office space, and three floors of residential space with 18 condominiums.
With the restaurants included in the plan, town rules require the development to include 104 parking spaces, but the design provides for a 65-space underground garage and eight on-street parking spaces.
Architect David Ripperton, the projectâ€™s designer, has asked the town to consider a number of factors that could reduce the amount of parking required.
Ripperton said that one reason there is less parking is that the developers decided not to jam everything together and provide an open-air courtyard that would serve the space similar to the way the Weaver Street Market lawn serves Carr Mill Mall.
He asked that the board take that concept into consideration when looking at the parking issue. He also said that the rules for the restaurants could be crafted so that they could be more along the deli and sandwich shop variety, with fewer tables and less sit-down service.
Ripperton also said that in looking at traffic impacts, the board should consider that people living at Roberson Square are more likely to run errands on foot since drugstores, grocery stores and other destinations are nearby. It is also more likely that people living in the complex will use public transportation and bicycles, he said.
Representatives of town advisory boards said that while the project seems to match the vision for downtown, it should include more parking.
Daniel Amoni, speaking for the townâ€™s Transportation Advisory Board, said he would like to see the developer add seven more on-street spaces that were originally considered for the project, but not on the final plan.
â€œWe like the project and we think it would be an asset to the downtown. We didnâ€™t think seven spaces would be too onerous,â€ he said.
Planning Board chair James Carnahan said there is still a need to make sure there is adequate parking available. He suggested that the developer find off-site parking for employees.
Speaking personally, Carnahan said that while the long-term goal is to reduce reliance on the automobile, the town was not there yet and should require the additional parking.
Jennifer McMillan, owner of Nested and one of several downtown merchants who have raised concerns about the parking, said the Roberson Square projectâ€™s impact on parking needs to be considered in context with other major developments downtown that will also have a large impact on the available spaces downtown. Having less parking and fewer people using cars is a â€œnice idea,â€ she said, but added: â€œItâ€™s a nice idea that doesnâ€™t work for businesses.â€
The key to downtown Carrboroâ€™s success, she said, was that there was ample, free parking. The town will need to very quickly address the paring crunch since spaces will continue to dwindle as the new developments come on line.
â€œParking continues to go away,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m very alarmed that I donâ€™t see anything coming down the road that would address or fix this.â€
Last year, the board of aldermen approved The Alberta, a 46,360 square foot residential and retail center that will be built on Roberson Street and Sweet Bay Place on part of an existing lot that provided employee and overflow parking for Carr Mill Mall. One block east, a lot on the corner of Main Street and Roberson Street currently leased by the town will be dedicated to parking for the recently approved first phase of the large 300 East Main Street development.
The hearing was continued until the board of aldermenâ€™s meeting on February 26. Between now and then, board members said they would like to see several points clarified, including how the parking would be divided among residences and businesses.
The board is also scheduled to review the downtown parking issue at its annual planning retreat next week. One item under study is whether developers would be able to provide a payment in lieu to the town instead of the full complement of parking required under the ordinances. The town could then use the funds to provide its own parking facilities. Currently, the town leases much of its downtown parking from private property owners.