Holland strives to keep parking free


Much of downtown Holland’s parking is located right in front of the retail stores along Eighth Street. Courtesy City of Holland

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) As the region’s population continues to grow and multiple cities respond with downtown development, each city has its own parking issues and ways of dealing with them.

The goal for downtown Holland, at least for now, is to keep parking free, said Jenna Elswick, senior planner for the city of Holland.

That’s what residents want, she said.

Elswick said downtown businesses fear customers would not visit if parking becomes priced or difficult.

Amy Sasamoto, Holland Downtown Development Authority coordinator, said meters in downtown Holland were removed in the late 1980s. Now, people are used to not paying.

“We hear from tourists and locals alike that they like not having to pay for parking,” Sasamoto said.

“I just think it gives the impression that we are welcoming and we want everyone to come downtown to Holland … and not have to worry so much about parking.”

Elswick said Walker Parking Consultants conducted a study in 2016 that overviewed potential outcomes if $500,000 were used to establish metered parking. Elswick said it was not a good fit, particularly because of the inability to enforce payment mandates.

Nothing is free, though, and that includes Holland’s downtown parking.

Sasamoto said downtown property owners within 400 feet of a public parking lot contribute an annual payment that covers public parking maintenance, according to a DDA policy, keeping the spaces free for visitors.

Last year’s base rate was $0.3408 per square foot on the ground floor. Upper floor office space is assessed at 60 percent of the rate, storage at 5 percent and hotel room floors at 15 percent. 

Some credit is given for each private parking space. Residential properties are exempt. 

For a 2,745-square-foot space, such as the one occupied by Cherry Republic at 29 W. Eighth St., the base cost would be $935.50.

Downtown Holland residents can purchase a city permit for $120 per year — a price that may begin incrementally increasing — allowing them to park in designated areas.

Residents who have the option to park in their buildings’ reserved spaces must do so, rather than purchasing a city permit, Elswick said.

Unless drivers have a permit, street parking is not allowed from 2-5 a.m.

With the amount of commercial development, Elswick said city leaders have been worried about where everyone will park in the future.

Downtown Holland is seeing multiple development projects worth tens of millions of dollars, and with that will come additional people downtown.

Elswick said it’s important for the city to strike a balance between continuing to grow and keeping parking free and accessible for visitors.

“We don’t want a bunch of surface lots,” she said. “We want to make sure that the sites are being used to their best potential, which isn’t just housing a bunch of parking.”

That’s why including parking spaces is not required for downtown commercial development.

On the residential side, Holland requires developers to include at least one off-street parking space per unit, though they can build more if they would like.

Elswick said downtown has a “robust” code regarding where, how and what parking structures can be built. She said the city also is encouraging developers to build parking underground when possible.

Elswick said the city is working on “totally rewriting” the zoning ordinance over the next year, with plans to look all aspects of overall development, including parking.

She said the city will work to incentivize more bike parking and other alternatives.

The city also will consider offering developers the ability to make payments in lieu of parking, which would go toward a fund for future public parking plans — maybe a ramp or even metered parking someday.

A lot of ideas have been tossed around about how to deal with parking, she said, and this seems like this could be a good option.

Sasamoto said the Walker study suggested moving to paid or timed parking. After bringing the suggestions to downtown merchants, the majority agreed that the city should implement ways to better manage parking.

She said they identified which parking lots they would like available for customers versus employees, and then point drivers to those areas with new wayfinding signs.

The city also recently included 15-minute parking spaces to give the perception of available parking with high turnover, she said.

Sasamoto said a parking ambassador was hired part time, as well. Her role is to keep communication lines open between the city and downtown businesses, encouraging employees to utilize parking outside high-traffic areas.

The ambassador also may help direct drivers toward available parking. During Holland’s annual Tulip Time festival, she handed out parking surveys, the results of which the city will compile next month.

There seems to be a common theme among cities in the region when it comes to parking availability and cost: controversy.

It exists in Holland, too, though Elswick said “it’s not a hot-button issue,” as it is in some communities.

“Some will say there’s a parking problem here,” Elswick said. “Others say it’s a walking problem.”

She and others would say it stems from a regional cultural expectation that drivers can park within eyeshot of their destinations.

But seeing the destination does not necessarily mean walking less. Even if people are parking around the corner from their destination, she said it seems as though they’re dissatisfied.

But, in a mall parking lot, for example, customers may park the same distance or more without an issue, she added.

“A lot of it is you can see your destination, so you’re willing to walk more,” she said.

New Holland Brewing Company’s Pub on 8th location in downtown Holland does not have its own parking. Employees typically park in a lot on East Seventh Street, while customers park where they can, said Shawna Hood, the location’s general manager.

“I know a lot of people have complained, but it’s almost a parking issue everywhere you go now,” Hood said, adding that the public parking situation seems to be working overall, and many customers understand the implications of visiting a busy downtown.

“I think the majority of people are used to just having to walk a distance after finding places to park,” she said.

Hood said parking does not seem to be quite as busy during the summer when Hope College is not in session. That’s the busy time of year for the Pub on 8th, she said, so it works well for the brewery.

Elswick said the wayfinding signs also are a good reminder there are sometimes nearby spots available out of eyeshot.

“We’re very fortunate in Holland that looking for parking is an issue because our stores are busy,” Sasamoto said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

Downtown Holland — the core of it encompassing three city blocks — has about 4,000 parking spaces, half public and half private, and more are coming.

A 380-space parking garage is being built as part of the 42,000-square-foot, four-story building at 44 W. Eighth St. set to open next year, which will include a movie theater, restaurant and retail space, as well as accompanying residential buildings also in the plan.

The city is purchasing the garage and leasing 144 spaces for residential use, with the rest going toward public parking.

Sasamoto said the city has been counting available downtown parking spaces three times per week between noon and 2 p.m., the busiest time of day. There is an average of 200 spaces per day available during that time, she said.

Elswick and Sasamoto agreed parking will remain free for visitors for the foreseeable future.

“We really have not gotten into a discussion about having paid parking,” Elswick said.

Nothing lasts forever, though.

Elswick said there eventually might need to be a compromise if residents would like to see the downtown continue to grow.

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