The town’s downtown parking supply is meeting current demand, but relies heavily on unofficial dirt, gravel and grass lots, according to a study presented Tuesday to the Board of Commissioners.
The $55,000 study was commissioned last August as part of a broader effort by Fuquay-Varina to prepare its downtown for anticipated growth and redevelopment. A final report is expected in March.
Among other issues, town officials hoped the study would address how the town can manage the parking demand that’s anticipated when the downtown’s expanded arts center opens early next year.
Experts from Carl Walker Inc., a structural engineering firm, presented preliminary findings Tuesday. The presentation focused on assessing the current parking situation and included few specific recommendations. They said they are still gathering resident input and held a public forum Wednesday morning to do so.
But they suggested that the town standardize and improve its parking signs, which currently sit at ground level and aren’t clearly marked to guide drivers.
Among the findings, consultants Andrew Miller and Jon Forster said Varina is the closer of the two downtowns to operate at parking capacity. It offers 96 publicly owned spaces. Fuquay offers 338. Of those, 146 are in lots and 192 are streetside.
The study involved comparisons with nearby towns of comparable size, none of which yet ask patrons to pay for parking.
Miller and Forster said Fuquay-Varina might consider wider use of two- or three-hour limits on public spaces instead of requiring metered parking.
Commissioner Marilyn Gardner said she is concerned that unofficial lots were found to be so critical to meeting the town’s parking needs.
“It bothers me we’re counting on unimproved lots when the owner can decide for whatever reason – liability or whatever – to block them off,” she said. “We have no control over them. They could be gone tomorrow.”
Miller acknowledged the safety and reliability problems those lots present, but said he wouldn’t recommend action to shutter them without replacement.
“Both areas have unimproved lots, which is not an ideal use for valuable urban land,” he said. “But because (the town) relies on people parking in those lots, it’s a touchy thing.”
As for the arts center parking, the approved building design only includes a handful of on-site spaces. But town staff and board members said that would encourage arts center patrons to park elsewhere and stop at local restaurants and shops on their way to and from performances.
Miller and Forster’s findings show the town could meet that demand without building more parking if patrons are willing to walk.
“We’ll be cautious not to create 120 spots for the arts center that’ll sit vacant 330 days a year,” Forster said.
“But you have to make sure you have well-lighted, paved pedestrian-ways that make those connections,” Miller added. “The more defined and easier to navigate they are, the greater walking distances are acceptable.”
Growers market returns to Centennial Square
The Growers Market of Fuquay-Varina, having expanded to three locations, was granted permission Tuesday to consolidate operations again at 102 N. Main St. – better known as Centennial Square – and use about two-thirds of an adjacent parking lot on market days.
The Growers Market previously hosted vendors at a Raleigh Street parking lot on Saturdays and at the Hook & Cleaver and the Fuquay-Varina Chamber of Commerce on Wednesdays. Market Manager Shelia Stanton said in a letter to the town that a single, larger location would help accommodate a growing number of vendors and make it less confusing for shoppers trying to keep track of the market’s hours and location.
The market will be open 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and from 3 to 6 p.m. on Sundays. During that time, 19 parking spaces in the Centennial Square lot will be blocked off for vendor operations.
“We strongly encouraged them to keep the market downtown, because it does help to support businesses,” Town Manager Adam Mitchell said. “All patrons would be able to walk to businesses. There’s good sidewalk connectivity, and the surrounding businesses are in support of request.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan