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My kingdom for a parking spot ...

Posted by Leslie Anderson  February 3, 2009 07:48 AM

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By James O'Brien, Globe Correspondent

Ever feel like you can’t find a place to park in Needham Center? A new study suggests why.

Needham requires fewer parking spaces at its retail locations than most surrounding communities, according to the report released last month by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. And that’s a good thing, the authors add.

The amount of parking required at retail locations in some eastern Massachusetts communities is so high, the study says, that there’s more space devoted to parking than to the stores themselves — eating up valuable real estate and adding to the stormwater runoff generated by those acres of asphalt.

The scales are tipped in favor of parking once a community requires more than 3.3 spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail space.

Needham requires just 3 to 3.9 spaces per 1,000 square feet — and a state grant is fueling a study for further reductions.

Planning director Lee Newman said ‘‘the retail standard has been in place for at least 24 years. We’re actually reducing it further in our downtown context to promote mixed-use development, and we’re talking about exempting our retail services that are under 800 square feet in area.’’

But Newman acknowledged that such plans elicited ‘‘some conversation that there is inadequate parking downtown.’’ That, she said, could be addressed by a shift in perspective.

‘‘When you look at Needham Center, and the amount of asphalt dedicated to parking, it’s not that there is insufficient parking,’’ Newman said, ‘‘but how parking is being utilized that is the issue.’’

From Newton to Marlborough, from Sudbury to Wrentham, the majority of communities in western suburbs require 5 to 6.9 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail space, the study said.

Reducing parking requirements would ‘‘allow towns to build more on their lots’’ and hence reap tax revenue, said Jim Gallagher,.the council’s senior transportation planner.

And the reduction in stormwater runoff would also be considerable, Gallagher said. Every parking space, at an average size of 300 square feet, generates 8,000 gallons per year of pollutant-bearing stormwater runoff.

Sherborn, Dover, Wayland, and Medfield are among the towns with the highest number of required parking spaces, at 7 to 10 spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail.

Gallagher said higher parking requirements are typical of more rural communities, which lack a surplus of retail development.

Officials in such communities often rely on boilerplate national or regional standards, Gallagher said, ‘‘skewed towards the worst day of the year. The tendency is to make sure there is enough parking on, say, the Friday after Thanksgiving, which then sits open for the rest of year.’’

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