LEWISTON — The city could let landlords and downtown developers decide their parking needs, if councilors adopt a staff proposal.
City Planner David Hediger presented a plan to city councilors Tuesday that waived parking restrictions in part of the downtown and lessened them in others.
“Whether we are talking about market rate housing, affordable housing downtown or unaffordable housing, maybe our new philosophy is to let the market decide,” Hediger said. “If you own a building downtown and you know your clients want parking, you probably are not going to develop a site without having parking.”
Downtown residential properties must provide two off-street parking spaces for every residential dwelling unit. Elder care and group facilities have an easier standard — one-half space per unit for elder housing and one-third space per unit for group facilities.
Commercial housing units have steeper standards — two spaces per unit for tourist homes, three per room for hotels and inns, and one space per bedroom for bed and breakfasts.
Hospitals, schools and restaurants have different standards based on the number of beds, treatment rooms, classrooms or seats and the standard for office developments is one space per 300 square feet.
The ordinance proposed to councilors Tuesday would waive off-street parking standards for all uses in Riverfront, Mill and Centreville zoning districts. Those are the three zoning districts between the Androscoggin River and the downtown — especially Park Street — and all are within walking distance of a parking garage.
The city could also ease off-street parking requirements for residential-zoned areas east of Kennedy Park, but Hediger said he did not have a specific proposal for that.
Hediger said the Planning Board reviewed the idea at its Nov. 10 meeting and was supportive of waiving off-street parking standards for downtown business uses but had concerns about residential properties.
Councilors on Tuesday had a similar reaction. Councilor Michael Lachance said landlords who don’t offer off-street parking might attract less upwardly-mobile tenants.
“It’s a question of who we want to attract,” Lachance said. “I would think the people we want to attract downtown are not the low-income people who may not have a car. The people with good jobs may not all work downtown. They may work in Portland or Freeport, and those people need parking.”
Councilor Don D’Auteuil said the change had his support.
“I think it makes more sense to let the market drive it,” D’Auteuil said. Lewiston has eased parking restrictions downtown before.
The city adopted new downtown storm parking rules in 2013, replacing an old policy that banned all on-street parking downtown from November through May. Now, residents can park on the street but must move their vehicles during a snow emergency or face towing and fines.