As Fuquay-Varina works to draw more people to downtown with a new arts center and other amenities, it faces a challenge encountered by larger cities: parking.
With the town outgrowing its small town roots, it no longer can afford to let people park when and where they please.
The town board approved a $55,000 study earlier this month to study the future of parking in downtown Fuquay-Varina. Commissioners also approved new one-hour parking regulations in the town’s downtown Varina district to increase turnover among streetside spots.
Plans approved for the town’s new arts center are taking into account that most patrons will park off-site, which suggests the town’s available parking will become more critical and require more active management as the planned mixed-use district brings in bigger crowds.
Never miss a local story.
“The days of being able to park right in front of your business and stay there for eight hours, that’s just not going to happen,” said Jim Seymour, the town’s economic development director. “There’s only so much real estate downtown, and we need to get into the habit of off-site parking.”
Engineering consulting firm Carl Walker Inc. will deliver a comprehensive report on the town’s parking conditions, future needs and possible solutions by March 2017. That gives the town a little more than a year to figure out where future arts center visitors, which could be several hundred for a production, would park by the time it opens in the first half of 2018.
The study was approved at the recommendation of the Development Finance Initiative, a consultancy run out of the UNC School of Government that advises North Carolina towns, including Fuquay-Varina, on smart growth practices. It could point toward the need for more surface parking, metered parking, or even parking decks.
The Varina downtown is in greatest need of new parking solutions, according to DFI’s prior analysis.
“I bought my store about two and a half years ago, and Varina could have gone either direction,” said Kristin Farrington, who owns The Glittering Frog, a children’s clothing boutique in the Varina downtown on Broad Street. “Parking was not an issue. But with downtown revitalization came people parking all day, and employees couldn’t find parking. One-hour parking that’s honored even a little bit, that’ll be fantastic.”
Fuquay-Varina doesn’t have a dedicated parking enforcement team, which means businesses who notice cars lingering in public spots are primarily responsible for raising the issue with police.
Police Chief Laura Fahnestock said those complaints aren’t yet at a volume to justify hiring civilian parking enforcement personnel, although that possibility will likely be examined in the study. So far, the downtown’s only parking restrictions are a handful of two-hour spots in lots along Main Street and, now, four spaces along Broad Street will be restricted to an hour’s use between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
But parking will become increasingly scarce, Mayor John Byrne predicts, if the character of downtown changes to include more apartment homes, as the town is hoping.
“We’re going to be doing more of these mixed-use developments where people are living upstairs,” Byrne said. “We need to encourage them to parking in the back instead of just right in front of businesses.”
Seymour said business owners disagree about whether the downtown already has a parking problem, although he said their assessment often depends on whether they’re a restaurant, which people are often more willing to walk to, or a “pop-in” store, which people prefer to access immediately.
There have been complaints about downtown parking spaces in the Centennial Square lot at the intersection of Main and Academy streets in the Fuquay downtown district. Many of those spaces are occupied by vehicles for long periods of time, town staff reported in May, and some have been left overnight. Some of those vehicles are in the care of Fuquay Tire, a nearby garage, which has for years stored cars there before and after servicing them.
The ad-hoc solutions in response to specific complaints have been sufficient for the moment, but the parking study’s success will hinge on finding proactive ways to anticipate and address more serious parking challenges. That’s what developers need to see before they invest in an up-and-coming downtown, Seymour said.
“Our town board is taking the aggressive position as developer in downtown,” Seymour said. “They understand that spending millions of dollars requires the presence of sufficient parking.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan