Finding parking in downtown Palm Harbor can be a challenge during special events, but a study by King Engineering showed that most of the time, parking is not as tough as some residents reported.
"We now know there is not a parking problem in the historic district in Palm Harbor,'' said County Commissioner Susan Latvala after King Engineering's presentation at Tuesday's commission workshop. "I hope this puts the issue to rest.''
Parking in the district, bounded on the west by Alt. U.S. 19 and on the east by County Road 1, became a point of debate more than a year ago, when county commissioners were considering amending the zoning code to allow property owners to use transfers of density so a business could expand in the historic district.
At several town hall meetings, residents said that if regulations were loosened and density transfers were allowed, parking would become a problem, particularly for small businesses and their customers.
In February, after lengthy debate, the County Commission decided to hire an outside firm for about $25,000 to study parking in the district.
King Engineering evaluated parking trends and patterns, sending crews out on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays to observe which parking spaces were the busiest and when.
• On a typical Tuesday, parking spaces are busiest about 4 p.m. "This is when both the restaurants are getting busy and people are still in their offices,'' said Sandra Gorman of King Engineering. However, even at that time, the maximum occupancy for parking was only 49 percent.
• On Friday prior to 5 p.m. along Florida Avenue, the average amount of time a parking space was in use was about 45 minutes.
• On Saturday after 9 p.m. along Florida Avenue near 11th Street — the area Gorman dubbed restaurant row — parking usage was close to capacity, while in the other areas of the district on a typical Saturday, parking needs peaked at 9 p.m. at about 32 percent capacity.
• Because of a lack of signage, many visitors don't know where public parking is located. Gorman pointed out that this is the case at White Chapel/Harbor Hall. Its public parking area rarely filled to capacity. "It's under-used for public parking,'' she said.
After presenting the findings, Gorman shared a list of recommendations with commissioners. It included considering making Florida Avenue a two-hour maximum parking zone to help with future development; creating a way to promote shared parking, since office and retail/restaurant uses tend to have opposing peaking characteristics; and creating better signage throughout the district to lead motorists to public parking.
County commissioners unanimously approved a motion for the planning department to draw up parking code changes for the Old Palm Harbor Downtown District. Those changes will be discussed at a County Commission meeting early next year.
Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.