Ask the average citizen what he or she considers to be among the most important issues facing local government, and parking may be near the bottom of the list. Parking doesn't attract provocative newspaper headlines, but it's an important subject in many jurisdictions, particularly cities. In my 19 months in office, I've dealt with several parking issues in Downtown Towson, where we have worked to accommodate merchants and where there are numerous parking garages.
One of the most important parking issues concerns shopping centers. Do we really need to build parking lots that can accommodate Black Friday crowds, but sit half-full the rest of the year? Look at many shopping centers, and chances are you'll see a sea of unused parking spaces.
Next month, the County Council will consider Bill 45-12, which is sponsored by Councilmen Olszewski and Oliver. Bill 45-12 would allow the Director of Permits, Inspections, and Approvals to reduce the parking area for a shopping center by up to 40 percent of the proposal meets certain guidelines. Those standards may include open space, pedestrian improvements, and environmental features (I am sponsoring an amendment to include bicycle facilities).
I think this is a good concept, and for several reasons. First, a parking lot is an impervious surface. Reducing the acreage used for parking can curtail runoff into the streams that lead to the Chesapeake Bay.
Second, parking lots cost money.Asphalt is made from petroleum, the cost of which has increased sharply over the past decade.
Third, reducing the area used for parking is not just a recommendation of planning professionals and environmentalists; it's also an element of the Perry Hall Community Plan, which was drafted by my constituents. Here's what the Community Plan says: "Within central Perry Hall, the shopping center at Seven Courts, Super Fresh, Perry Hall Square, White Marsh Mall and the surrounding strip malls are covered in asphalt for cars that are not there."
For all these reasons, I believe Bill 45-12 is legislation worth supporting.