GRAND LAKE — A new mini-golf course is looking to come to town, but it’s digging up a decade-old issue many business owners say stifles development.
The manager of Grand Lake Hardware, Alan Funk, is looking to add the 18-hole putt-putt course in the paved patio next to his shop. Town code requires business owners to provide a certain number of parking spaces, based on a calculation that takes into account the type of business and square-footage of the operation. If the business owner can’t provide those spaces on-site, they’re required to provide the town a one-time “payment in lieu of parking.” The idea is that the payments are earmarked to help the town buy land and develop more downtown parking in the future. In 2000, however, those payments jumped from $2,500 a space to $10,000, a fee many business owners say is onerous.
At the proposed putt-putt course, the town has calculated Funk will have to provide two parking spaces, or pay the town $20,000.
“The condition about the two parking spaces, I have a pretty strong issue about,” Funk told the planning commission during a meeting on Feb. 5. “If this is hard and fast, I’d respectfully ask for my deposit back and paperwork; the putt-putt isn’t going to happen.”
Funk told the planning commission that the cost of building the golf course would cost him $30,000 alone, and that another $20,000 for parking “will kill the deal.”
Since the town’s parking-payment code soared to $10,000 a space in 2000, Grand Lake planner Joe Biller said he could find no record of any businesses making the payment.
Brad Hajim toyed with the idea of the parking payment when he built Tallaqua Square. The six-unit shopping center across from Town Square was built shortly after the town raised the parking payment fee. His on-site parking covered the parking requirement for the retail operation, so no payment was needed. But Hajim said he had considered adding residential condominiums on a second level at Tallaqua Square, until he realized would have required him to buy another 10 to 12 parking spaces. He said that expense made the project not worth doing.
“The projects in the town of Grand Lake are not incredibly profitable,” Hajim said, who has also developed several homes and condos in the area. “When you look at those parking fees, that could be a big chunk of your profit.”
Hajim said the lack of payments the town has collected in the 13 years since the parking payment was raised indicates the policy isn’t effective.
“They have good intentions, to collect enough money to build a structured parking lot, but that’s not happening because they’re not collecting any money,” he said. “So they’re not achieving their goals, and they’re theoretically slowing development by making it harder for developers to be profitable.”
The Grand Lake Downtown Assessment, completed last spring with the goal of bringing more vibrancy to the downtown area, observed business owners were “unable to accommodate the town’s parking requirements and/or fees.” It recommended amending the $10,000 payment and replacing it with a “more realistic strategy.”
Donna Ready of Mountain Lake Properties, located on Grand Avenue, said she’s seen an assortment of developers come and go, abandoning projects because of what she sees as various restrictive codes in town, including parking payments.
“The town has a lot of regulations that stunt business growth, and has for many, many years,” she said.
Ready said her complaints and those of other businesses to the town board don’t seem to produce results. Part of the problem, she said, is that many of Grand Lake’s business owners live outside of the town’s boundaries.
“If you don’t live within city limits, you can’t vote or hold public office, so that doesn’t help,” she said.
Ready also pointed out that town officials don’t have concrete plans for using parking-payment funds.
Town planner Biller confirmed that the parking payments the town collects are supposed to be deposited into the general fund, not a specific parking project fund, but they’re earmarked for parking.
When asked if he felt the town needed a more business-friendly code, Biller offered businesses and developers some options.
“Anyone who feels our code is too strict can always request a variance,” he said. “Those can be for all kinds of reasons, they just have to present their case to the planning commission and board to have an exception to the code adopted.”
For Funk and his putt-putt course, the planning commission granted him a two-year special use permit, which won’t require the parking payment until it’s renewed. Biller explained during the meeting that it was meant to give Funk time to develop a profitable business. The two-year grace period could also allow him to tweak the square-footage of the business and drop his requirement to one parking space, or find a way to develop parking spots on-site. Or, as Biller explained, the town board could reconsider its code during the next two years.
“Maybe our parking regulations do change by then, but we’re not there, and I have to go by what I have now,” Biller said.
For the time-being, it seems at least one supporter of code reform sits on the planning commission.
“There has been nothing more destructive to the economic development of this town than parking regulations,” said commissioner Elmer Lanzi. “It won’t improve their business, it won’t expand their business, it’s a drag.”
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.
“They have good intentions, to collect enough money to build a structured parking lot, but that’s not happening because they’re not collecting any money.”