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A study from the Tampa-based Genesis Group recommends ways to improve parking access in New Port Richey while making the city more walkable.

NEW PORT RICHEY — A consultant has given city officials several options for improving parking access and making the city more walkable.

The consultant, Robert Gibbs of Gibbs Planning Group, puts emphasis on walkability and on-street parking and other aspects of what the firm calls “urban intelligence.”

“I don’t think it’s any secret we’re trying to make historic downtown more walkable,” Councilman Jeff Starkey said in April. Downtown New Port Richey already is the envy of many other communities, he said.

Current city codes require restaurants to provide 10 parking spaces per each 1,000 square feet of commercial floor space. This, however, is a standard more suitable for the suburbs, where a chain restaurant like Chili’s Grill & Bar can be built and surrounded by parking lots, Gibbs said. Such a standard is not conducive for a walkable urban area, he said.

He recommended the city consider reduce parking space mandate to three per 1,000 square feet of commercial space.

Gibbs Planning is based in Birmingham, Michigan, a city with a population of a bit over 20,000 residents that has had parklets for about 20 years. The term parklet refers to the conversion of a combination of sidewalk and parking spaces into outdoor seating areas for restaurant customers or pedestrians.

“It really livens the downtown to have people dining outside. It’s been a huge bonus,” Gibbs remarked, although there is a danger that too many parklets will overcrowd a downtown area.

The parklet issue first arose in New Port Richey early this year. At the time, council members preferred leasing sidewalk space for firms wanting to add outdoor seating rather than creating parklets, which would function as public spaces more akin to parks.

Some streets are plenty wide enough to permit outdoor spaces along sidewalks, city officials figured, while other streets might be too narrow.

A November 2017 Downtown Parking Utilization Study identified areas with limited existing parking inventory within downtown New Port Richey and provided potential strategies to improve access to parking to support the redevelopment and reinvestment of the downtown, the report from Tampa-based Genesis Group summarized.

The city should focus instead on expanding alternative parking strategies and flexibility, the report from Tampa-based consultants Genesis Group recommended.

New standards should accommodate facilities for bicycles and golf carts, Genesis recommended. Plus, the rules should reflect the rise of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, most popular among adults with a median age of 33, research indicates.

The city could allow shared parking agreements between a group of users or property owners, the study notes.

Another alternative would let a developer contribute to a municipal parking fund instead of constructing on-site parking. Costs might include construction for centralized parking, shuttle operations and bicycle or pedestrian improvements.

Parking technology is evolving, the Genesis study said. Electronic devices installed in each parking space could communicate wirelessly back to a central parking system to deliver availability reports to smartphones or websites. This technology might enable automated vehicles to self-park.