Bakersfield to consider loosening parking restrictions downtown to spur development

In the city of Bakersfield’s ever-evolving quest to revitalize its downtown, local officials are considering loosening parking restrictions for developers in an attempt to bring more people to the city’s main hub.

A rule would get rid of the requirement that developers add parking when buildings undergo changes of use.

The change is targeted at the many downtown buildings that are underused or are plainly empty. Councilmember Bob Smith, who requested the city look into the parking rule, believes loosening the restrictions could allow more businesses to open downtown.

“There’s lots of opportunities,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of body shops (downtown). What if they want to get changed to a restaurant or some kind of entertainment spaces?”

Currently, if a developer wants to change the designated use of a building from, say, a warehouse to a restaurant, he or she must add parking spaces.

City regulations stipulate that a certain amount of parking slots must be provided for buildings downtown, and different types of buildings require different amounts of spaces. Because restaurants typically attract more people than warehouses, the city requires more parking spots for buildings that contain restaurants than warehouses.

Advocates of the plan say developers have not been converting warehouses and other downtown buildings into restaurants or entertainment venues because they cannot add the required parking.

“I think it will change the perception if the city encourages the renovation of existing buildings, and doesn’t require parking,” said local developer Austin Smith, who is Bob Smith’s son. “I think it will make people take notice and be more serious about renovating those properties than they might have been if the city wasn’t supportive of it.”

The rule change would only impact an area known as the Central District, roughly outlined by Golden State Avenue, California Avenue, F Street and V Street.

The Planning Commission voted on Thursday to recommend the change to the City Council.

At the meeting, Planning Director Kevin Coyle said the developer of a building that would become Citizens Business Bank on 17th Street had wanted to build a restaurant, but hadn’t been able to move forward because of the parking requirements.

Instead, the developer built the bank, which serves the customers of that particular institution, but doesn’t forward the city’s goals of bringing more life downtown.

“We can alleviate situations like this from happening in the future, and have more redevelopment in the downtown,” Coyle said during the meeting, “attracting more people, and keeping more people downtown.”

For Bakersfield residents who claim it is already too difficult to park downtown, Councilmember Smith counters with a recent parking study that showed the Central District had enough parking.

The planning director already has the ability to waive parking requirements for new restaurants that are less than 3,000 square feet. The 18hundred, a recently-built downtown restaurant, took advantage of this stipulation to open in an old bank on Chester Avenue.

While the old Bakersfield tradition of parking directly in front of downtown businesses to shop or eat may be on the outs, by allowing the same parking stipulation for all downtown buildings, some in the city hope more restaurants like The 18hundred will choose to move downtown.

The City Council will consider the issue at the Wednesday meeting.