BERLIN – Officials discussed the concept of a parking impact fee in downtown Berlin at a meeting this week.
The Berlin Town Council talked about the need for additional parking in the downtown commercial district during this week’s meeting. While no decisions were made, officials talked about potentially implementing a parking impact fee.
“I think this is a fruitful discussion,” Mayor Zack Tyndall said, adding that officials could also review the parking study done a few years ago. “I think we should come back and revisit that.”
During departmental reports at Monday’s meeting, Planning Director Dave Engelhart was asked for an update on renovations at the Burbage buildings on Main Street. When he shared the news that apartments would be added to the upstairs as part of the improvements, the discussion turned to where the parking for those additional apartments would be.
“It’s a continuing issue for us,” Engelhart said. “The existing parking we have will have to suffice.”
He added, however, that during the past several years he’d shared with town leadership that there was a section of the code that would allow for a parking impact fee.
“We have on the books a section of the code that says in the town center district if you want to add or increase the size of the business and you can’t meet the parking requirements of the code you pay into a fund,” he said.
No movement toward creating a fund has been taken, despite the fact that officials tried to plan for it years ago.
“The whole idea back then is I think they saw the need to have some fund created solely for parking, whether to acquire a parcel to make a parking lot, or acquire a parcel to put a parking garage or some combination,” he said. “But that’s never happened since that section of the code was put in.”
He said that if the fee were in place, new businesses that didn’t have sufficient parking would pay a fee, which has never been set, for each parking space they were lacking.
“It’s not supposed to go in the general fund it’s supposed to be in a parking fund that over time should grow,” he said. “We’re playing a lot of catch up now if it were to start. But if it’s ever going to happen it needs to start. It makes opening or operating a new business, it’s another expense. I understand that. But we generally don’t have to chase economic development like some places on the Eastern Shore.”
Councilmembers indicated they felt further discussion of a parking fee for businesses was merited. Engelhart said the town needed to do something because it received very little funding from the state related to economic development but that new businesses did impact town services.
“The retailers, the merchants, they get a lot of services from the town,” he said, adding that if there was an issue with electricity, water or safety the town’s departments typically responded. “There’s costs associated with that.”
Tyndall said the discussion was one worth having but added that the businesses played a vital role in Berlin.
“I do want to make sure that everybody’s aware, the business community is very important to Berlin’s success,” he said. “I remember a time not too long ago it was quiet… We do need to take a holistic view.”