A 21st century parking plan

With the revelation that Base Village may generate up to 6,000 vehicle trips per day during peak season, the next logical question is: Where will all these cars park? That was the topic of two long Planning Commission meetings, and a question on the minds of many citizens at the first community forum earlier this month.
logo.gifDevelopers made a convincing argument that Base Village would necessitate many fewer parking spaces than what the town’s land use code actually requires, it was not convincing enough. On Wednesday, planning commissioners told Intrawest and Aspen Skiing Co. representatives to come back with a detailed parking management plan, as well as a backup plan, or Plan B, that could be implemented if in the first couple phases of construction parking is not adequate.

For the Base Village core, which consists of the first two phases of construction and the first nine buildings, the code requires nearly 1,200 parking spaces. The developers are proposing a total of about 600 spaces in a multi-level parking garage that would extend under most of Base Village. The code allows an alternative parking plan, if it meets some criteria and if developers can convince elected officials that it will work. The total number of spaces required for all phases of the project comes close to 2,000 spaces.

“It’s tricky, because their experts say it’s enough, and they showed a detailed graph on how it will work. And to be environmentally sensitive we don’t want more parking than is necessary,” said Planning Commission Chair George Huggins. He added that while visiting numerous ski resorts around the country on familiarization tours, commission members saw a lot of half-empty parking garages.

“But I have a gut feeling that they’re shy by about 50 to 100 spaces,” Huggins added.

That feeling was echoed by fellow Planning Commissioner Mark Stout, who said that a number of his colleagues were “quite uncomfortable” with what is currently being proposed. “But with a detailed management plan we can better formulate a recommendation to (town) council,” he said.

The essence of Intrawest’s plan is a shared parking arrangement within the parking garage, which would be accessed under the arrival building from Lower Carriageway, or from a separate entrance on Wood Road. Many of the people who are staying in Base Village will also be shopping there, explained consultant Chris Fasching in a July presentation to the commission. So why provide the full quota of parking spaces for residential uses and for retail parking? A similar argument can be made for sharing day skier and restaurant parking. Since skiers from Aspen or downvalley usually leave the village by 5 p.m., the spaces they occupied can then be used by people driving into town for dinner.

Utilizing information from other resorts, Fasching also pointed out that many vacationers don’t even come by car. He said that on average, just 60 percent of occupied units have a car. That justifies the proposed rate of .75 spaces per residential unit in the core (176 spaces for 234 condos).

The garage itself will be carefully designed to control the flow of various types of users and maximize the use of the parking spaces.

Based on these theories, as well as the projected ebb and flow of cars during various times of day and at various points in the season, total peak demand for the garage will be 573 spaces, Fasching predicted – which is still short of the facility’s capacity.

Well planned mass transit, valet service and shuttle vans are also in the plan, which will also help reduce the need for extra concrete at the base. But while the idea of alternative transport was fully embraced by the commissioners, they want to see more details to better convince them that it will work.

A parking management plan might include details such as how valet service will address being able to double load parking spaces, a technique used at other resorts to maximize prime garage space. Another suggestion was to require a certain number of shuttle vans for the residential units. The parking garage could also be off limits to condo owners who aren’t occupying their units. Year-round car storage happens frequently now at many condominium complexes in Snowmass Village, several property managers affirmed, and can exacerbate a tight parking situation in high season.

Similar requirements were made of Snowmass Center developers during the Planning Commission’s review of that plan, which also fell short of the code-required number of parking spaces. During those discussions, Planning Director Chris Conrad pointed out that the sophisticated analysis of how it would flow may very well work, “but what happens if you’re wrong?”

Ultimately, an alternative parking plan and Plan B was approved. But as some commissioners noted, given frustrating peak time experiences at the Snowmass Center now, some spaces simply need to be available at any given time. Balancing the desire for a less car dependent community is the concern about providing a less than pleasant Snowmass experience, if frustrated customers are turned away because they can’t find parking.

Another concern was the reduction in day skier spaces at the base – from 450 to 200. But as Snowmass Village Transit Manager Dave Peckler pointed out, “that’s the easiest group to manage” with public transit. The town’s Comprehensive Plan calls for only 200 spaces at the base, citing a desire to relocate most day skier traffic below the Woodbridge.
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