AUBURN — The City Council approved two ordinance changes Monday that will eliminate minimum parking requirements for commercial development.

The move, proposed as part of the city’s discussions over its Comprehensive Plan, is meant to allow property owners to decide how much parking their business or other use will need, rather than add potentially unnecessary parking spaces to their development.

Currently, the city requires one parking space per 300 square feet of gross floor area for retail businesses and one space per 200 square feet of gross floor area for offices. For restaurants, the ordinance requires one space per three seats.

According to a city memo, the proposal was part of recommendations the Comprehensive Plan Update committee received from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a libertarian research center focused on free-market approaches to public policy.

The recommendation argued “the market should be able to dictate what is needed for parking,” and that minimum requirements “create several empty spaces that do not add value to the city or property … push homes and businesses farther apart, impede the walkability of neighborhoods, raise the cost of housing and place an especially costly burden on small, local entrepreneurs.”

After the City Council asked the Planning Board to consider eliminating parking minimums for all uses, feedback from city department heads and public safety officials led the board to only recommend removing the requirements for commercial uses.

The memo states that staff voiced concerns over “unintended consequences” from eliminating the requirements in residential zones, including increased on-street parking, issues with snow bans and plowing, and the size of new development.

City Manager Phil Crowell said one concern from public safety is traffic speeds. He said it’s generally known that the more parking there is on the street, the more it slows down traffic.

Mayor Jason Levesque said, “by pushing cars onto the street, it slows traffic,” adding that Auburn’s downtown has properties that are “extremely high-value” for infill development, but argued “the only way you release that infill is by removing those restrictions.”

“If you want a walkable city, you need to have places to walk,” he said.

Infill development is developing vacant or underused parcels in urban areas that are already largely developed.

Councilor Belinda Gerry, providing the lone vote against the measure, said she’s concerned that “if we don’t have enough parking, people are going to have to fight” for spaces.

Levesque said limiting the change to commercial enterprises will mean, for places like the Auburn Mall, that if certain parking is not needed it could allow for “pad sites” where smaller businesses could be built.

A separate vote to eliminate the parking minimums in the city’s form-based code district also passed 6-1.

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