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Dude, Where's My Car? Parking in today's shopping centers

Have you recently driven to a shopping center and said to yourself, "Parking at this shopping center is ridiculous, how did they ever get city approval for this!" Not to name names of shopping centers, but there are several in the Napa Valley with inadequate parking.

Cities have regulations regarding the use of a property called zoning designations. Each zoning designation has their own requirement for parking. For example, in Napa the requirement for a site used for retail is one parking space for every 250 square feet of space. A restaurant is one space for every

100 square feet. A restaurant with 3,000 square feet of space will need a minimum of 30 spaces.

Parking requirements can kill potential real estate transactions as well as prevent an allowed use of a property. I knew of a building for sale that was comprised of almost 2,800 square feet of space used as a convenience store. The requirement according to the zoning designation was 11 parking spaces, which is exactly what it had. The location would had made a perfect restaurant, but if you calculate the requirement for this use you will find it needed a minimum of 28. Therefore, this property can never be used as a restaurant.

You may be asking yourself, "How do some of these shopping centers, especially the new ones, get away with inadequate parking?" Good question, first if the shopping center has been around for years or decades, you may find the requirements have changed over time. What once was adequate and legal in 1970 is not today. Even if the shopping center kept the same number of building square feet and the same type of uses, in today's zoning designation it is not in compliance.

What about newer shopping centers that have the congested parking situations? "When shopping centers are developed we will categorize the total building square feet as retail and apply the appropriate parking requirements," stated the City of Napa Planning Department. "However, if at the time of development or after the shopping center was built the restaurant square feet exceeds 25% of the total space, additional parking may be required or the use would be denied." 

These congested shopping centers are in full compliance, but for businesses and property owners congested parking lots are usually a good thing.

What is your opinion about parking in our cities? Would you sacrifice convenience for less congestion and more attractive shopping centers? Leave your comments or suggestions for future posts below.

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