Oxford explores parking garage options
● By J. Chambless
Oxford Borough officials and business owners have long identified the need for more convenient parking in the business district. One possible solution is building a parking garage, and the initial findings of a parking management study were unveiled at a public meeting on Oct. 28, with an emphasis on an analysis of some of the potential locations for a parking garage.
At the public meeting, the draft of the study was reviewed, with elected officials and business owners commenting about the importance of parking to the longterm vision for the revitalization of downtown Oxford.
“Addressing parking is a major consideration for attracting a major employer downtown,” explained John Lawrence, the state representative from the 13th legislative district that includes Oxford Borough. “Sooner or later, parking will have to be addressed. This is an absolute lynchpin for moving toward that.”
Oxford Borough enlisted Steve Krug, principal of West Chester-based Krug Architects, to complete a parking management study. Krug has vast experience working with communities on projects like this, and his firm has overseen five different parking garage projects in West Chester Borough alone.
“We think parking facilities and parking structures are economic drivers,” Krug said, pointing out that parking structures in West Chester and Kennett Square played a role in boosting economic development opportunities for both of those boroughs.
Oxford Borough has been identified in several county initiatives as a good candidate for commercial growth in the near future.
Krug said that the team working on the parking management study relied on a wide variety of resources, including a 2012 parking study that focused on parking demand, a multi-municipal comprehensive plan for the Oxford area, Landscapes 2, the county’s comprehensive plan, as well as the Oxford Revitalization Plan update that was completed earlier this year. The 2012 parking study found that there was a deficit of about 300 parking spaces in the business district.
While borough officials will ultimately determine the size and scope of any project, Krug incorporated that figure of 300 parking spaces into some of the concepts that the team looked at. The study includes plans for a three-story parking structure with room for 75 cars on each level, including a top level that would also accommodate 75 parking spots, bringing the total to 300 spots. Metered parking could be included on the ground floor of the parking garage, but that decision is further down the road.
One of the most important questions that needs to be answered is where the parking garage would be located. Business owners will say that customers always want parking spots close to their destinations.
“Everybody is looking for the close proximity,” Krug pointed out.
The study focused in on four potential locations for a parking structure: A portion of the fire company’s parking lot; a lot near the intersection of South Third and Broad; and two different possibilities for the parking lot owned by National Penn Bank. One of the options for the National Penn lot would be situated north to south, while the other would be situated in an east to west direction. One would impact the Verizon property more, while the other would affect the side of the lot that is closer to Second Street and would require a relocation for one business.
Krug explained that the parking garage could be designed to accommodate some small retail space.
The National Penn site offers several advantages, starting with the fact that it has been a historically commercial parking lot that is situated directly behind businesses. The lot is also located in the primary area of need that has good pedestrian access to Third Street. A majority of the land can be acquired at a low cost, which is a major advantage. However, a drawback for the site is the fact that there are multiple property owners to work out a deal with before work on the parking garage could begin.
A second potential site, the parking lot for the fire company, has a single property owner and is located in a primary area of need. But the cost of the land would be higher than the National Penn site. It would also require a change of use for the property.
The lot on S. 3rd and Broad is adjacent to municipal parking and offers easy access to Third Street. However, it is located at the edge of the primary area of need, and the cost of land may be prohibitive. It will also require a change of use.
Before a parking garage can be built on any of the potential sites, borough officials will need to come to a consensus that a parking garage will be worth the costs involved with the project.
Krug noted that the borough has already implemented some of the low-cost recommendations to make the most of the parking spots that are available in town, including continuing to enforce parking time limits, extending overall hours for metered parking, and converting unmetered spaces to metered spaces for the efficient turnover of those spaces.
The parking management study that is being working on also has a series of short-term ideas to increase parking in town, including the following:
~ Organize and configure parking spaces along Niblock Alley;
~ Re-stripe the Broad Street parking area;
~ Continue to improve parking signage;
~ Continue to update parking maps;
~ Change traffic flow on Second Street and North 4th Street to make them, at least temporarily, one-way streets, to open up parking spaces;
~ Negotiate with private property owners for parking spots at the fire hall, churches, or businesses like the Miss Oxford Diner to secure additional parking when those spaces are not being used.
Krug’s presentation also included images of the Oxford area as it has grown from the 1990s until now. Oxford’s population has grown by about 25 percent between 1990 and 2010, which is one reason why the borough has been facing an issue with parking for quite some time.
Krug said that the borough would explore all the grant funding that might be available, and that the project may be eligible for county or state grants, as well as federal funding through the Federal Transit Authority if the scope of the project meets certain criteria.
Cost projections for each option have not been completed yet, but the two options for the National Penn lot are considered to be the less expensive than the other two options because of the costs associated with purchasing the property.
The options for the National Penn lot received most of the attention at this meeting.
Lawrence noted that a parking garage in the National Penn lot would be convenient for pedestrian traffic heading to stores on Third Street. A three-story parking garage on that lot would also be visible to motorists, but it would not dominate the borough’s downtown district the way that a garage at other spots might, Lawrence said.
If borough officials decide to move forward with one of the parking garage options, securing any possible funding from county, state, or federal sources would be a priority. The borough would then need to issue parking revenue bonds to pay for the rest of the project. The parking revenues that the garage would generate would be used to offset the costs to build it. While the borough would have initial costs to get the project underway, there shouldn’t be a need to spend tax dollars annually to pay for the garage because revenues that the parking garage generates should be sufficient. But all those details will need to be worked out in the future.
The immediate goal is to finish the parking management study. Now that the initial draft of the study has been unveiled, there will be some time for borough residents and business owners to comment on the plans.
“At this point,” said Krug, “we need input from the community.”
Anyone with ideas or concerns regarding the parking management study should email Oxford Borough Manager Betsy Brantner.
Revisions on the study will continue and a final draft is expected to be completed in time for another public meeting in December. Oxford Borough Council is also expected to accept the parking management study in December.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email firstname.lastname@example.org.