Streets for People / The Lofts Moves Forward With Less Car Parking and More Bike Racks
On January 18, the one-year anniversary of city residents approving a referendum to lease 3.2 acres of City-owned land in Bahama Village to a non-profit group for 126 units of much needed workforce housing, the City Commission approved final plans allowing the project to move forward to construction with a groundbreaking ceremony in May. That’s great news! Best of all, the initially proposed 180+ surface car parking spaces have been nearly cut in half to 99 while bicycle parking went from 20 proposed spaces to 121. City staff, the Planning Board and City Commission acknowledged the site’s central location with good transit, walk, and bike access to downtown and citing similar neighboring properties less than full parking lots, allowed for the car parking reduction. That’s a win for common sense, our historic downtown and the project.
The Big Picture: Putting Workforce Housing Downtown Is a Good Thing
In a story we did last year leading up to the referendum, 3 Reasons You May Not Have Thought of for Voting YES on 3.2 on January, 18, January 7, 2022, we acknowledged the real need for more workforce housing and said more of it should be on the island of Key West. We especially applauded the proposed Lofts at Bahama Village project for three reasons:
- More locals living downtown creates a more local focused, less touristy vibe and that’s good for the historic business district,
- Housing downtown makes it easier to bike, walk and use transit to get around, and
- Not being car dependent brings livability costs down further for residents of the project.
Win. Win. Win.
But Lots of Surface Parking Was Initially Proposed – And That’s Bad
After the referendum passed and the project moved to the planning phase we argued in a story on February 4 that Too Much Surface Parking at The Lofts Is a Wasteful use of Valuable Downtown Land. At the time, Executive Director of A.H. Monroe Scott Pridgen, the leader of the non-profit coalition selected to build The Lofts said: “We currently propose 126 units…with 189 parking spaces.” As we dug in further, we found that City Code required 131 spaces (1 car parking space per unit + some handicapped spaces) and that in addition to these Mr. Pridgen was counting 48 spaces in the crescent parking lot adjacent to The Lofts and included in their site plans, already built at Truman Waterfront Park. The 131 spaces weren’t built yet, and they were going to take up a lot of land because given the height limitation, to maximize the number of units (126) meant the cars couldn’t be parked under the buildings.
Months later, as the project moved toward the Development Review Committee (DRC) in September, we learned that 126 new surface parking spaces (now inclusive of the handicapped spaces) were still being required on the site. The 48 spaces in the crescent still sat there unused and uncounted in the projection. 13 bicycle parking spaces were required and 20 were being proposed. In a letter to the DRC, we asked why there wasn’t more bicycle parking and questioned why there wasn’t any parking reduction, taking into account the project’s access to downtown, good transit, biking and walking options and access to those 48 spaces.
The Navy’s Rules Nudge Developer/City to Build Less Car-Parking and More Bike Parking
As the project moved through DRC to the Planning Board the Navy objected to parking within 50 ft of their property housing the Navy communications tower, referred to as the TACTS Tower. This necessitated the project developer to rethink the parking scheme and propose the following:
Required Parking: 1 space per multifamily unit = 126 spaces
- Proposed New Parking: 8 ADA + 75 Standard = 83 new spaces
- Truman Park Waterfront Parking: 16 Spaces through a parking agreement with the City
- Bicycle Substitution: 108 new bicycle spaces (in addition to the 13 required) for 27 vehicle spaces (bike parking can be substituted for some parking at a 4-1 ratio)
Total Provided: 126 spaces
In essence, the required 126 car parking spaces on the site are being reduced to 83 for a 34% overall reduction in the amount of new surface parking. Not bad. Some of that (16 spaces) would be made up for by dedicating 16 of the 48 existing parking spaces in the crescent lot adjacent to the project in the Truman Waterfront Park for use exclusively by residents of The Lofts. And the big reduction comes by reducing car parking by 27 spaces and providing parking for 108 additional bicycle spaces instead. So, there will be dedicated parking for 99 cars (83 on the site and 16 in the crescent) and 121 bicycles. Much more in line with the realities of downtown living.
Nagging Questions About that Crescent Shaped Parking Lot
We still don’t understand why only 16 of the 48 parking spaces in the crescent shaped lot, depicted as part of the 3.2 acres in the referendum and initial planning documents, can be used by the project residents. Especially as one member of the Planning Board and our own research have observed, those spaces are never, ever occupied. They just sit empty all year round. If the remaining 32 empty spaces could be used by The Lofts residents too, perhaps Allen Avenue wouldn’t need perpendicular car parking dedicated to private use on public right of way and could be a pedestrian friendly street. Perhaps some of the land adjacent to the buildings given over to all that asphalt could be used for more landscaping or a tot-lot or fire pits and grills for the residents? Or even a few more units of workforce housing.
We’ll likely never get a satisfactory answer that makes sense on this.
Half a Loaf Is Better Than None And It Is Good the Project Is Moving Forward
So, while we might lament the fact that there’s tons of underutilized parking right next door that could have been used to reduce the amount of land dedicated to new asphalt, we’re inclined to accept half a loaf is better than none. The big picture here is that much needed workforce housing is coming to downtown. And the amount of land dedicated to car parking was in the end reduced by one third. That and there’s much more bicycle parking included in the final project.
More working residents living in the heart of downtown is good for our business district as it brings more local flavor. The central location allows new residents of the project to not have to drive to get to work, shop and play. That can save them some money on the huge cost of owning and operating a vehicle. Win. Win. Win.
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Chris Hamilton is founder of the local advocacy group Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown. A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led nationally renowned efforts promoting transit, bike, walk and smart growth for Arlington County, VA’s DOT. Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a few non-profits. Follow him on Twitter here and his blog here.
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