Planning Commission continues pondering parking issues

FRONT ROYAL – A request for an off-street parking exemption by Virginia Beer Museum owner David Downes has spawned a wider discussion of town parking. 

The Planning Commission dedicated an hour-plus work session to both Downes’ request and the general state of downtown parking.

Planning Director Jeremy Camp explained that a 2017 parking study found that Front Royal has better parking than most towns and cities. He added, however, that at certain times certain lots are too busy.

The town’s last major parking lot improvement was the restriping of the Peyton Street Parking lot in the late 1980s.

Camp noted that the parking study recommended that the town pursue similar efforts in other parking lots and eventually consider the construction of a parking garage.

The Planning Commission’s discussion of town parking was initiated during a July work session in which Downes requested an exemption from off-street parking requirements for the Beer Museum’s 16 Chester St. location.  

Downes wants the exemption to remove several parking lots behind the Beer Museum and expand a beer garden.

He noted that Main Street businesses and some on Jackson Street are exempt from off-street parking requirements. He said it would only be fair to extend that privilege down a portion of Chester Street.

Downes said the spaces he wants removed are never used, and the Beer Museum is “surrounded by parking.”

The Planning Commission debated whether the exemption should be granted to all of the Chester Street businesses up to Laura Virginia Hale Place or just to the Beer Museum.

Commissioner Cee Ann Davis proposed implementing a $5,000 charge for any parking space a business wants to remove.

She said this rule would be better than granting a special use permit because it would make the process easier by avoiding “writing little amendments” when future requests are made.

Davis suggested that this money be used to make parking improvements. She said it would be fair because if parking is being taken away, more needs to be added.

Downes said he “is feeling a little frustrated,” noting that the town’s parking study showed that the Peyton Street lot adjacent to the Beer Museum is 20 percent full during peak hours.

He added that he is trying to “do something useful for the community” by turning a vacant building into a thriving location.

“It will go back to a vacant building … you can’t say you’re good and trying to encourage business and I keep feeling that people are pulling the rug from out underneath of me,” he said.

Commissioner Joseph McFadden told Downes that the board is sympathetic to his issue, but the commission needs to examine longer-term solutions.

“It’s very procedural as to how these documents should be updated to accommodate the entire 10-year plan,” he said.

The Planning Commission will continue parking discussions during a future work session, which will be followed by a September public hearing regarding Downes’ request.