We can’t let the arts threaten parking

A few years ago, in a Statesman profile about the preservationist v. urbanist divide, vociferous preservationist (and vehement paid sick leave opponent) Mike Lavigne slandered urbanists thus:

“The biggest difference between us is that when they see a nice, quiet tree-lined street, they see an opportunity for a parking lot and I see a place where I can take my kid to go ride his bicycle.”

There couldn’t be a less accurate characterization of urbanists, whose dream is a city with fewer parking lots and more bicyclists. In fact, those who are fiercely lobbying for parking lots are on the other side.

The most recent example comes from a Board of Adjustment hearing that my new colleague at the Monitor, Ryan Young, summarized:

Lauren and Joe Cunningham are seeking to turn a derelict building at 101 E. North Loop into a cooperative space for artists, musicians and architects called The Commune. According to Lauren Cunningham, the site was home to Mrs. Johnson’s Bakery until 1975, after which it has been on-again, off-again occupied by various owners. Currently, the graffiti-covered building is disused, serving as shelter for the homeless and parking for broken-down cars.

An independent space for artists with a funky Austin backstory? Preservation + #KeepAustinWeird should = Slam Dunk. Here’s a photo of the site from Google Maps:

Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 10.51.47 AM

But there is a major issue with the Cunninghams’ vision. Their property has five parking spaces – one of which is designated for disabled users – while current city codes require at least seven general-purpose spaces. So Lauren Cunningham got up in front of the Board of Adjustment to ask for a variance that would allow her rehabilitated space to open with just four….

The Cunninghams have entered into a parking agreement with the restaurant next-door for an additional eight parking spots and are offering discounts to those who work within a 2-mile radius to bike/walk/bus there, but a couple members of the board remained unconvinced. So much so that Don Leighton-Burwell, Council Member Leslie Pool’s appointee to the board, said this:

“I’m wondering if the highest and best use – since this (property) has had a problematic history to keep anyone in it, and I’m guessing it’s partly because of inadequate parking – might be tearing the building down and creating a parking lot to better serve the other businesses around it.”

This is why we can’t have nice things. Fortunately, in this instance, the board voted 9-2 to grant the variance. Unfortunately, over the past 60 years it has generally Leighton-Burwell’s mentality that has won.

One thought on “We can’t let the arts threaten parking

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