John Sanchez has already printed up menus boasting a "warm blonde brownie bursting with things your nutritionist will hate" for the restaurant he's trying to open on 25th Street in Church Hill.
Sanchez, a native of Puerto Rico, wants to call it Que Pasa? and serve Latin American cuisine, but he has been unable to secure the necessary parking permit the city requires before he can open the doors.
His struggle to find enough parking spaces highlights a city zoning policy that experts call outdated and counterproductive.
The crux of Sanchez's problem lies in the city's requirement for sit-down restaurants to secure one parking place for every 100 square feet of building space. An aide to the mayor offered to rent 15 parking places to Sanchez out of the lot in front of the East District Center, a city-owned facility. City Council approved the plan, but the zoning commission objected, saying the spaces were not zoned for restaurants.
Looking around the neighborhood, Sanchez could only find eight additional spaces. He reached an agreement with the zoning commission to build an interior wall inside the building, closing off some of the space to bring the square footage down to roughly 800 square feet, though he hasn't built the wall. Sanchez and the city are at an impasse.
"He's repeatedly done work that went beyond the scope of the permits," says Art Dahlberg, the city's building commissioner. "He needed to put up a dividing wall between occupied and unoccupied space."
The parking requirements are standard, but counterproductive, says Todd Litman, executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, a Canadian-based think tank that specializes in planning issues.
"It's an indication of the foolishness of applying inflexible parking requirements which often contradict all your planning objectives," Litman says. "It's inflexible instead of being creative and using these resources as efficiently as possible."
Litman says that cities looking to revitalize their downtowns at historic districts should look for ways to be flexible with their parking, allowing spots to be shared by organizations with complementary schedules.
"You could have a parking spot used in the daytime by City Hall, a restaurant in the evening and on Sunday people for church," Litman says. "Instead of three different spots at three destinations, you have one that is shared." S