Frank Gray could see Salt Lake City emerging as a national leader in environmental sustainability long before he was hired as the city's director of community and economic development.
Now, not quite three weeks into the job, Gray is helping Utah's capital city take another step in that direction by suggesting an incentive program for pedestrian-friendly businesses located in neighborhood commercial zones.
Meeting with members of the Salt Lake City Council and small-business owners Thursday, Gray presented a plan that would reward businesses for providing and maintaining pedestrian-friendly amenities such as bicycle racks, baby-stroller parking areas and park benches.
By encouraging customers to leave their cars home, businesses in community shopping areas such as 9th and 9th or 15th and 15th wouldn't have to meet city requirements for parking stalls, he said.
"The goal is to provide a pedestrian environment," Gray said. "When (businesses) provide that pedestrian environment, they get a reduced parking requirement."
Under Gray's proposal, a portion or all of the square footage of a business would be exempt from city parking requirements. Currently, two parking stalls are required for every 1,000 square feet of floor space for retail services, three stalls per 1,000 square feet for retail sales and six stalls per 1,000 square feet for restaurants.
The first 2,500 square feet of a business with a pedestrian amenity within 100 feet of the building would be exempt from parking requirements. Businesses would get credit for another 1,000 square feet if its on-street parking has a time limit such as two hours or less to keep the spots open for shoppers, not employees.
Finally, Gray's plan calls for an additional exemption of 1,500 square feet for a total of 5,000 square feet for businesses with a pedestrian amenity, timed parking and angled parking stalls.
In addition to being more efficient, angled parking is a speed deterrent because it creates narrower lanes, Gray said.
A 5,000-square-foot exemption would eliminate the parking requirement from most businesses in the 9th and 9th commercial area, as well as those at 15th and 15th. Shops at 9th and 9th average a little less than 3,200 square feet of usable floor space, and it's even less at 15th and 15th, where stores average 2,600 square feet.
"I think, as a general approach, this is very proactive," said Councilman Soren Simonsen.
In addition to the proposed exemptions for pedestrian-friendly improvements, the council is considering an overall reduction in parking requirements for businesses in neighborhood commercial zones. The council is proposing a blanket standard of two parking stalls per 1,000 square feet for all businesses retail services, sales and restaurants in neighborhood commercial zones.
Options for shared parking among businesses and the use of off-site parking to meet requirements also are being considered. The proposal, initiated by council Chairwoman Jill Remington-Love and former Councilwoman Nancy Saxton, has been in the works for nearly six years.
Betsy Burton, owner of the King's English independent bookstore, said she sees the collective proposals aimed at assisting small businesses and promoting sustainable development as another positive step for an increasingly progressive Salt Lake City.
"This city has come so far in the past few years," said Burton, chairwoman of Local First Utah, a nonprofit organization that promotes independently owned Utah businesses.Gray's pedestrian-friendly incentive plan will be presented to the council Tuesday. If it's as well-received as it was during Thursday's meeting of the city's small-business subcommittee, it could be adopted by the council as soon as July 22.