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The Parking Garage: Citizens' Parking Study - 06/08/02 (Last updated 10/18/02)

City Hall is determined to build a parking garage on the Main Beach Parking Lot.

This website has its roots in the successful opposition to the Ocean Park Referendum, a proposal that would have combined public and private commercial development with a municipal parking garage on the Main Beach Parking Lot.

The citizens who opposed Ocean Park hoped that City Hall would get the message once and for all that the majority of residents simply oppose development of this part of the beach. They did not. The beach parking garage issue has surfaced again. A new plan has been floated which will cost the city's taxpayers more than $11 million.

In this article, we will lay out as best we can why we believe this project would be a mistake and a terrible waste of public funds if it were built.

The following issues will be covered in this report:

  • The cost of a parking garage.
  • Will a parking garage solve the parking problem?
  • Is there a parking problem?
  • Current parking.
  • Utilization.
  • The impact of the MOP parking garage, if built.
  • Social costs.
  • What the city could do now.

There are also other related issues which may impact parking in the future:

  • A proposed charter amendment on a parking garage which would limit the size of any multi-story parking facility on the Main Beach Parking Lot.
  • The pier restaurant project which would eliminate about half of existing pier parking.
  • The proposed Regional Activity Center (RAC) which would permit "mixed-use" and potentially larger structure development.

We support a revitalized and esthetically improved beach business district, as well as upgrades to the Cove Shopping Center and the "gateway" area west of the Intracoastal.

Our concern is public incompetence and corruption. City Hall's obsession with a parking garage, in light of all that has happened so far, raises concerns in both of these areas.

We believe that Deerfield Beach is one of the best beaches there is in this part of the world. It's quiet, it's safe, it's beautiful. It is because of the way it is that developers lust over it, and why many citizens oppose "excessive development" that they believe will destroy the very qualities that make it such a great asset for this community.

Introduction

The city is drafting plans for a parking garage on the Main Beach Parking Lot, which occupies most of the 100 block of Southeast 20th Avenue (A1A) in the beach area. Voters have twice rejected proposals for development of this property, plans which included parking structures.

A group of private investors is planning two parking garages in the business district near the beach. The first MOP project is marked on the following graphic. The second facility will be built within 18 months along A1A across from the new restaurant projects.

When the Main Beach Parking Lot was built at a cost of more than $5 million, this was going to solve the parking problem. A decade later, the city says we don't have enough parking. The truth is there will always be shortage of parking, on occasion, no matter how many spaces the city provides.

The idea of "going up" has been around for a long time. The problem is that building multi-level parking structures costs exponentially more than surface parking, and taxpayers have to pay to build and operate these facilities. Some citizens believe that developers and businesses will benefit more from these plans that ordinary town's folk.

User fees have not raised enough to pay for the existing parking lot. Why would we think that a parking garage would in any sense pay for itself? We think City Hall already knows this, and this is why they have tried to pass the project off to private investors in the past.

In fact, the cost of building a parking garage will far outweigh the benefits, will not be self-supporting, and will not solve traffic congestion along the main traffic corridors or on the beach front. Congestion may be worsened by drawing even more people to coastal Deerfield Beach.

We are guessing that before the project is completed, it will incorporate all the major features of Ocean Park, the plan turned down by voters in November, 2000. This time the city will try to achieve its redevelopment goals for this property without a city-wide election.

We submit that a parking garage would be a costly mistake which will inflict irreversible damage to the landscape of the beach area which citizens time and again have said they want to preserve.

If the city proceeds with the project, it will come when the city is already financially strapped and is searching for ways to provide just an acceptable level of essential services such as fire and police protection. Soon the city may be burdened with additional expenses, because of a mandated annexation of adjoining unincorporated areas which are too poor to provide for their own upkeep.

How Much Will It Cost and Is It Worth It?

It is incumbent upon city officials fully and accurately to disclose projected costs of the parking garage project and how these costs are to be met. This disclosure should encompass all elements of cost:

  • The cost of construction. The city should state how many existing spaces will be taken and net cost of any additional spaces.

  • Cost of associated projects. Outlays may be required beyond the structure itself. Will new access/egress roads, improvements to existing traffic infrastructure and changes to drainage systems be needed?

  • Continuing maintenance and operating costs such as lighting, repair, cleaning, and law enforcement. How will these be paid for?

The city block adjacent to the ocean that is now the Main Beach Parking Lot was once occupied by several small houses and a condominium, La Cote, which still stands at the corner of A1A and Southeast 2d Street. The land was purchased by the city except for La Cote, three small houses along A1A, and a vacant lot along 2d Street that was later conveyed to the city but has never been developed for parking spaces.


Main Beach Parking Lot Site Viewed from Beach circa 1985

The new Main Beach Parking Lot was financed by a revenue bond. Because the city did not maintain parking meters or collect other user fees such as parking sticker or smart card fees, nor have other revenues that could be applied to the project, FPL franchise fees were pledged to offset the bond.

In a sense, the belief that the new lot would take care of the beach parking problem was true. Most of the time parking at the beach is not a problem. It may just not be right on the sand or right outside the door of one's favorite bar.

The perception that the Main Beach Parking Lot is filled most of the time is simply not correct. In fact, while it may be fully occupied for a few hours at a time during "season" and on special days like the 4th of July, on most other days the lot is hardly used by beach patrons. There is very little use in the late-afternoon or evening hours, except for special events. Parking is not permitted from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.


Typical View Main Beach Parking Lot. Time: June, 1:00 p.m. Weather: Mostly Sunny

The city has indicated it is prepared to commit at least $11 million dollars for the current project. This is considerably more even than the projected cost of the earlier proposal, called Ocean Park, which would have included a commercial element.

Ocean Park called for the construction of a 450 space parking structure at a cost of approximately $4.5 million. However, because at least 313 existing parking spaces would have been taken for the project, the net gain of spaces would have been 137 or fewer. This means that the net cost of each space gained by construction of the new facility would have been approximately $33,000.

Because Ocean Park was conceptual and not a completely developed plan, projected costs were only estimates. We think they may have made conservative for public consumption. That could also be the case now. It is not difficult to see how project costs could now far exceed $11 million dollars.

A parking garage, if now built in this location, would be accessed from Hillsboro Boulevard by a new road which would be constructed on the city land behind the Ocean Terrace parking lot and the fire station. The CRA plan calls for northbound A1A to be rerouted from its current location to east Hillsboro.

Ironically, the city could add around 70 spaces right now, at a fraction of the cost of a parking garage, simply by building ground-level parking lots on this property and on the vacant "Ocean Plaza" land adjacent to the current main lot.

Will the Project Solve Parking Problems at the Beach?

The idea that there is a need for additional parking at the beach is a popular and pervasive mythology which City Hall has exploited. In truth, objective evidence of such a need does not exist and has never been demonstrated.

In fact, we suggest that the exact parking requirements for the beach are not a known or even knowable value. No one can authoritatively state that we need more parking at the beach.

If we say "we need more parking at the beach," it must mean that we know, in specific terms, how much parking is needed. It implies, at least, a reasonable guess as to what these numbers are.

In previous articles we have suggested that a parking garage (or any other additional parking) would most likely only increase the demand for parking. This phenomenon, when applied to roads and streets, is called induced traffic and is almost universally recognized by traffic engineers and experts. A similar economic theory, Say's Law, holds that supply creates its own demand. The more traffic lanes or parking spaces, the more people who will use them.

Numerous traffic studies have shown, for example, that when road capacity is increased, traffic along the road tends to increase also; thus, after a short period of alleviation, congestion comes back. It is on the basis of this principal that many experts believe that money slated for higher capacity roads in urban areas would be better spent on mass transit.

Only one extensive scientific study has been conducted on traffic and parking issues at Deerfield Beach. This was the study conducted by USF in 1994. This study recommended that beach users be encouraged to access the beach area in other ways than by automobile and did not recommend additional parking.

Another study, considerable less complete and based upon data provided by the city, conducted recently by Walker Parking Consultants, concluded that parking for beach patrons was adequate, but that the new restaurants along the North beach front, which had been developed without adequate parking, had or would create parking problems in the business district. The Walker study did not consider how the planned MOP parking garages might alleviate the problem of parking in the business district.

The so-called need for more parking is based almost entirely on anecdote and has not been determined by any objective or valid criteria. "Cruising" by young people has been cited as evidence that more parking is needed at the beach. The proponents of this argument were obviously never teenagers.

There are many possible causes for traffic congestion. A contributing cause is the arterial function of A1A. Increasingly, people are using A1A as an alternative route between Pompano Beach and Boca Raton, but the road itself was not designed for this heavier traffic. The USF study also mentioned the gridlock caused by the Hillsboro Bridge as a factor. Beach residents are all-too-familiar with this problem.

A more effective solution to traffic congestion would be to reduce traffic to the beach and discourage use of A1A as a traffic artery. How you do that is another question, but plans for tourist-oriented commercial projects, bigger hotels, and more dense residential development would not seem to be the answer. This is, of course, the direction of redevelopment plans for coastal Deerfield Beach and the CRA district. Centralized parking, which is a result of a parking garage, would also more likely contribute to traffic congestion than solve it.

Additional parking would not alleviate the congestion associated with the traffic corridors. In fact, additional parking opportunities combined with increased commercial activity at the beach as envisioned in the redevelopment plan would probably only increase congestion by attracting even more people to the coastal area.

How Much Is Enough?

If additional parking requirements at the beach were represented by actual known values, that would be one thing.

The logic for additional spaces would be: We need a total of x spaces, we have y spaces, therefore we need to add (x-y) spaces. If we knew what the values x and y actually were, we would know how many spaces, if any, we need to build. We wouldn't need Sir Isaac Newton to figure it out. Wayne Newton could even do it.

Unfortunately it is not that simple. Who we really need is Miss Cleo.

While we know how many spaces already exist, there is no way to determine objectively the total number of spaces that would be needed to accommodate parking at the beach in all situations over a period of time.

Beach usage is fluid. There are busy days, not so busy days, rainy days. There are peak hours, weekends, weekdays, nighttime, "season," and special events. For which of these situations do we plan parking?

We know from experience (4th of July fireworks) that we can cram tens of thousands of people into the beach area. Does this mean we should build thousands of parking spaces?

We think that the only known or knowable value of x in our logic scheme is whatever already exists and therefore the need for additional spaces (x-y) is zero.

This does not mean you do not build additional spaces if there is room and money. Whether this expenditure holds up in terms of cost-benefit and is good public policy is the public interest question that the Commission is supposed to decide. In other words, whatever is spent on additional parking is spent, but there will no tangible benefit, in terms of meeting known or knowable requirements for beach parking.

We could build a parking garage to make a few hundred additional spaces at a cost of $11 million or build parking lots with 70 new spaces on vacant land already owned by the city for a fraction of that cost. The lower cost project provides essentially the same benefit, in terms of "need," as the parking garage. What makes more sense?

How Many Parking Spaces Do We Already Have?

A survey conducted by a group of private citizens counted 733 public parking spaces available for beach goers. These include the spaces along Ocean Way and in municipal parking lots. The survey did not count private and commercial spaces, some of which are also available to beach and business patrons.

They identified two other parcels of city-owned property which could accommodate an estimated 69 spaces. That would bring the total to 802 slots available for beach patrons if these lots were developed.

One of the two vacant parcels contains 24 potential spaces and is adjacent to the existing Main Beach Parking Lot (currently occupied by the Ocean Plaza construction office). Approximately 45 other potential spaces are on the city-owned land west of the Ocean Terrace property. This is the property we said could be used as an access corridor for a parking garage, if it were built.

The Main Beach Parking Lot has 234 slots south of Southeast 1st Street and 79 spaces behind the fire station on the north side of the street.

There are 195 parking spaces along the beach front and 32 in the North Pavilion lot. Parking lots on the south beach provide 84 more spaces.

Actual Utilization of Beach Parking

Obviously the number of available parking spaces at the beach is not equivalent to the number of cars that can be accommodated. The existing spaces offer over 12,000 hours of parking opportunities every day. Millions of automobiles could theoretically park at the beach each year.

If parking at the beach were at 100 per cent capacity, the city would realize almost $4.2 million in meter revenues annually. The actual figure is less than $600,000.

In writing this report, we tried to find a way to calculate actual utilization of existing beach parking spaces. We are not aware of any credible "official" count. At the very least we wanted to be able to make a reasonable guesstimate which would lend support to the proposition that additional spaces make good sense. By using projected meter revenues as stated in the city budget, we made some broad findings:

  1. Parking space utilization is less than 15 percent on an annual basis.

  2. During daytime hours, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., parking space utilization is less than 30 percent.

  3. Parking spaces at the beach are used, on average, 2 hours, 20 minutes each day (out of a possible 17).

The MOP Parking Garage

The Mogerman, O'Leary & Patel developer group (MOP) plans to build a 393-space parking garage on land located at the lower end of the business district which was once occupied by a bank, but has long since been vacant. The city once flirted with the idea of putting a public parking lot on this site, then Walgreens wanted to build here.

MOP also operates a parking facility on A1A across from the North Pavilion, which is now slated to be developed into a larger parking garage after the first project is completed.

The MOP projects would raise the number of parking spaces available to the public in the beach area to well over 1000.

The city, however, insists this is still not enough and plans to go ahead with the municipal parking garage to replace spaces that will be lost by the pier project, the rerouting of A1A, and other plans for the business district that are just now coming to light.

Social Costs

We will address the question of how a parking garage impacts on the environment briefly.

The area around the proposed site of the garage is largely residential. Townhouses are under construction on Southeast 2d Street as part of the Ocean Plaza project. They would face the garage.

Kinsale, a condominium located next to the parking lot, would be impacted. The view from La Cote would be obstructed. The bungalows behind the project and the Elizabeth House would be dwarfed by a parking garage. By concentrating so much parking into a small area, traffic in this neighborhood could make resident access more difficult. There could be noise and public safety issues.

Zoning laws and land use designations are supposed to protect residents. CRAs and RACs, performance zoning and secret deals are eroding this protection in the beach community. The destiny of coastal Deerfield Beach is in the hands of outside forces and political influence.

How many residents of the CRA area sit on the CRA board? How many members of the so-called Beach Advisory Committee were residents of the beach community?

"The beach belongs to everyone" is the clarion cry of the pro-development axis. The beach may, but the beach community does not. The impact of the parking garage and other redevelopment plans on the community most impacted needs to be given greater consideration.

Alternatives

Are there things City Hall can do? There are, but it will be hard to get everyone to agree.

First of all, the city could develop the vacant city-owned lands in the area of the Main Beach Parking Lot with around 70 additional parking spaces. This will not solve parking problems for the reasons we have suggested above, but will accomplish a lot and at a much lower cost than a parking garage. If nothing else it would assuage those who say we need more parking at the beach and probably would not encounter a lot of opposition from the public.

Eliminate parking stickers. Parking stickers and smart cards diminish revenues that could be used to offset the cost of the parking lot as well as some of the costs of maintaining the beach.

It would be nice if all the spaces on the beach were reserved for residents and were free. Unfortunately, that is not practical. User fees, equally applied to all beach patrons, is the smartest and fairest way to go.

Separate the issue of reserved resident spaces from revenue-generating parking stickers. Issue resident stickers for a nominal fee that could be used for reserved parking if you must, but let residents pay the same for parking as visitors.

Bring back free parking after dark. This will reduce enforcement costs. We can't imagine anyone seriously opposing this. And if you want more people at the beach after peak hours, to patronize the restaurants, etc., make parking free after 6 p.m.

Using the same rationale, the parking curfew might be reconsidered for the North Pavilion and parking spaces close to the business district.

Create an independent CRA board consisting of CRA residents. The Commission has talked about this. The CRA should have its own staff independent of the City Manager. The independent CRA and staff should then launch more thoughtful studies of parking and development issues and find solutions balancing property rights and the community's heightened interest in what happens in the beach area.

We also suggest a very strong code of ethics for an independent CRA board to insure that they act in the public interest and are not unduly influenced by developers.

What the Citizens Found: Current Status of Beach Parking

In Mar. 2002, a group of citizens conducted a survey of public parking spaces on Deerfield Beach. They counted 733 public parking spaces available for beach goers. These include the spaces along Ocean Way and in municipal parking lots. They identified two other parcels of city-owned property which could accommodate an estimated 69 spaces. That would bring the total to 802 slots available for beach patrons if the vacant lots were developed.

These are the results of the survey, shown graphically:


Image credit: Global Explorer/Bett Willett.

The Deerfield Beach beach community occupies a section of a barrier island approximately one mile long and three blocks wide (about 40 blocks). Other sections of the island are occupied by the Town of Hillsboro Beach and the Boca Estates portion of Boca Raton. Public access to the beach in Hillsboro Beach is somewhat restricted. Palm Beach County operates one small public beach on the Boca portion of the island. Most of the Deerfield section consists of private homes, apartments, condominiums, and small "mom-and-pop" motels.

Beach patrons are not permitted to park in swales or treelawns or on private property. There are three large hotels in this area. Most public spaces are near the beach itself, as shown on the graphic.

Spaces on the North Beach include 31 slots which are used mostly by restaurant and store patrons and the 39 spaces reserved for pier fishermen.

Conclusion: Why We Will ALWAYS Need More Parking at the Beach

The cornerstone of the redevelopment "vision" for the beach is additional parking which could only be accommodated by a multi-story parking structure.

If there is logical validity in the argument that we need more parking at the beach, then we must know how many spaces are actually required and, therefore, how many more we need to build.

When we added the 234 parking spaces in the main beach parking lot, voters were told that this would take care of the parking needs at the beach. A decade or so later, we are told we need more parking which can only be provided by "going up." Did the main beach parking lot take care of parking needs or increase the demand for parking at the beach?

The reality is that there will never be enough parking as a practical matter, if we think about this is terms of what we need right now. In other words, the more parking that is made available, the more people who will want to use the beach. (It's the supply side. Demand follows supply. In other words, if we provide something that people want and increase the supply, then demand for that product or service will increase.)

On the other hand, if we take away existing parking to make way for commercial or "mixed-use" development, we may create a need for parking at the beach not necessarily there now. A parking garage built on the basis of the politically-expedient mythology that we need more parking at the beach that "everybody" knows we need paves the way for development that would be objectionable under the current parking infrastructure.

The real plan is to create more parking to accommodate higher-density commercial development at the beach.



©2002 DeerfieldBeachUSA.com.