Public Money Won't Deliver Original Parking Promise In Short North

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It was a City of Columbus plan that was supposed to relieve the frustrating dearth of parking in the Short North: use public money pooled from property taxes to fund a parking garage to create additional spaces.

But Watchdog 10 has learned that while developers are approved to receive up to nearly $25 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money, the public will not get the "relief" originally promised.

The TIF was adopted by the Columbus City Council in 2007 based on a 2005 parking study.

That study showed a deficit of up to 3,277 parking spaces during "peak times" in the Short North, just north of Downtown Columbus.

The study recommended the city construct one or more parking garages to create an additional 500 spaces to relieve the "large deficit in spaces."
The 2007 council resolution approved the TIF to "relieve parking overcrowding."     

The TIF sets aside revenues generated by increased property values in the Short North development area.

Proponents argue it is self-sustaining because the values only increase because of the development leverage by those funds that are later reimbursed to the developers.
Two developers are splitting the TIF money, according to city documents and city development director William Webster.
A Watchdog 10 investigation has found the publicly funded garages will net no additional parking to relieve the deficit and may create a net loss, according to city building codes and city documents that waived certain building requirements.

Ordinarily, a city ordinance requires developers to build a certain number of parking spaces for every square foot of commercial building space it erects.

However, the Short North developers, Pizzuti and Elford Realtors, got a waiver  
called a variance to build less than the city code mandates.

 Columbus City Council officials approved the variances last year.
Pizzuti is building an office and boutique hotel.

Elford is erecting a development called the Hubbard that will include residential, retail and restaurant facilities.
The Pizzuti variance stated that it would build parking for 92 of that required. The variance approved for Hubbard stated that it would allow a reduction in parking from 1.5 parking spaces for every dwelling unit to one space for each unit.

The variance also approved "required parking to zero for up to 17,850 square feet of restaurant area."     

Columbus city council spokesman John Ivanic sent Watchdog10 an email statement.

Ivanic said the publicly subsidized projects will "more than satisfy the demand for parking created by the new development."     
Ivanic also claimed there will be an overall parking benefit for the Short North.
"(The garages) will help ease the overall demand for parking," Ivanic wrote.
Neither developer would comment.
But the City's Development Director seemed hard pressed to explain how the project will improve the Short North parking deficit.
Watchdog 10 asked Webster, "I need you to explain it to me then. How is the public getting a net 500 increase out of this?"
"Because those 500 spaces aren't there today," Webster said.
"But nor is the retail area. And that's the point. Those 500 spaces are going to handle the load of those additional retail and commercial centers," Aker said.
Webster said the garage projects are just the beginning of other projects that will address the issue.
"But it doesn't relieve overcrowding," Aker said.
"This helps to provide public parking," Webster said.
Drivers in the Short North were upset by the prospect of public dollars going to a project that could aggravate parking conditions.
"I've been circling for a half hour. It's the worst (parking) in the city, by far," said one driver. "Yeah, it makes me upset," he said.
Italian Village resident Amanda Zechiel said frustrated drivers often steal residential parking spaces because they can't find any other spaces.     
"It sort of suggests the city is more interested in development than the residential people here," Zechiel said.
Webster sees it differently. "I think (parking) is beginning to get better," he said.

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