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Parking panic: Solutions for Bardstown Road – The Courier

Construction is already well underway for a two-story taproom on Bardstown Road, yet residents say they’re unsure how the city could have approved a design that includes fewer than 30 parking spaces for a building with a capacity of 600.

The concerns – centered around Michigan-based HopCat – may sound like a retread of past issues that have routinely arisen from neighbors living along the Highlands corridor. But before writing off the latest surge, consider what’s changed in the last 10 years.

Since 2005, 15 new bars and restaurants have opened on a 3-mile stretch of Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road – attracting more customers and cars. But instead of adding parking alongside the increase, Metro officials have revised the city’s land development code to require even less parking in urban areas.

The thought is that the city will instead focus its efforts on transportation alternatives, such as improving existing bicycle and transit routes. But Louisville leaders acknowledge that making those options successful will take time – as well as extensive funding and a citywide shift away from driving.

Bardstown Road will likely continue attracting new visitors and businesses, so with the same concerns coming up again, the question is – where do we go from here?

PARKING FREE-FOR-ALL

Metro Councilman Tom Owen still remembers when Highlands residents marched from Barret Avenue to Baxter Avenue in 2004, protesting a growing late-night bar scene they linked to rowdier behavior and an even tighter parking crunch.

It wasn’t the first time the issues had come up during Owen’s 27 years in office, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last as the increasingly popular entertainment district grappled with its own success.

“One of the very positive sides is that a lot of people, even the people that have mixed feelings, love the restaurants and the sale of alcohol in those restaurants and, in some cases, the bars,” Owen said. “… But has it all been good? Of course not.”

The 2004 complaints eventually led businesses to improve their relationships with residents by getting more involved in the area’s clean-up and security. But one of the area’s major issues seems to have remained without a long-term solution: parking.

In 2009, Metro Council members revised the city’s land development code to help decrease the amount of parking needed in urban areas – like Bardstown Road - by giving businesses more options for reducing their minimum number of required spaces.

“The theory behind doing that is more people in urban areas walk and ride their bicycle and ride transit to get to the businesses,” said Joe Reverman, assistant director of Metro Planning and Design Services.

HopCat, now under construction in the former Spindletop Draperies building at 1064 Bardstown Road, has reduced its required parking by 50 percent under the code – including 10 percent for being located near a transit route, 20 percent for rehabilitating a historic structure and 20 percent for meeting certain design criteria.

Chris Knape, vice-president of marketing and communications for BarFly Ventures, which owns HopCat, said the restaurant expects to serve 200 to 300 customers on a typical night. But he added that – with multiple event spaces booked – it could hold up to 600 people.

Some residents have since expressed shock at the number, asking how the city could require so few parking spaces with such a high capacity.

“The city wants to fill empty spaces; they want to bring in more economic growth,” said Matt Blair, president of the Original Highlands Neighborhood Association. “… It’s great, but you need to put the right animal in the right cage, and they’re not thinking that through well enough. With HopCat, anyone who had any sense at all would realize that intersection is already crazy as hell.”

Reverman said the land development code calculates required parking based on a business’s square footage, and the planning department reviews designs on an individual basis.

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He added that the city has previously developed a Highlands neighborhood plan that examined parking issues, but it has not been updated in years.

Blair is conducting his own parking study for a section of Baxter Avenue as part of a Center for Neighborhoods program, but he said he’d like to see a serious study done for the entire corridor.

“There needs to be a count done of what is there, what is needed for residential and what is leftover for commercial,” Blair said. ”Then divvy it up with the businesses that are already there, and if there are any spots left, then let’s bring in another bar. But if not, no.”

In the past decade, 15 bars and restaurants have joined the stretch of Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road between Broadway and Trevilian Way – taking the combined total from 51 in 2005 to 66 in 2016, according to lists of liquor licenses provided by the Louisville Metro Alcoholic Beverages Control office.

Additionally, the lists show a shift has taken place since 2010 – with bars increasing while restaurants decreased.

For parking, that shift can mean an even tighter constraint because the city’s code requires five times more spaces for bars than for restaurants or retail shops.

“Restaurants typically have people sitting at tables, bars typically have people standing around,” Reverman said. “You can have more standing than sitting.”

Businesses like the Highlands Taproom and O’Shea’s have attempted to combat the parking issue by adding spaces behind their buildings, but with little or no room to grow, other businesses don’t have that option.

“In the Highlands, it’s always kind of been a free-for-all, get in where you can get in kind of thing,” said Tommy Clemons, co-owner of the Highlands Taproom at 1056 Bardstown Road. “Thankfully, most of our customers walk or ride their bike or kind of just know how it works around here.”

SETTING UP FOR THE FUTURE

Back to that original question: What needs to happen to get people in and out of Bardstown Road more easily?

Some residents are quick to say the answer is more parking. Maybe a garage at the top of a stretch where people can park and walk down.

“I think people are going to keep driving because that’s what people do,” said Rhonda Petr, a trustee of the Cherokee Triangle Neighborhood Association.

But city officials say finding more space to put cars doesn’t have to be the only option. For one, the only way to build more lots or a garage is to tear down buildings – which is prevented by the Bardstown Road Overlay District. And if the city were to think only of motorists, it would neglect to invest in other transportation options that will set Louisville up for the future.

“We say with roads, you’re not going to build your way out of congestion,” said Jeff O’Brien, deputy director of the city’s advanced planning team. “You’re not really going to build your way out of parking problems. … We need to look at finding ways to get folks to think about alternatives. And part of that is making investments in those alternatives.”

One example investment is the $29.4 million in state, federal and Metro funding the city plans to put toward installing rapid bus transit along Dixie Highway - one of Louisville’s most highly frequented routes.

O’Brien said rapid transit is meant to make the bus system more convenient by moving buses faster through high-traffic corridors. But while the city has received grants to move forward with the Dixie Highway project, it has not yet identified a way to fund rapid transit along its second high-frequency route: Bardstown Road.

Earlier this year, the city released its proposal for a $50 million Smart City Challenge grant offered through the U.S. Department of Transportation. The proposal included plans for bus rapid transit on Dixie Highway and Bardstown Road, but Louisville is not one of the finalists.

The city is now seeking other ways to fund rapid transit in the Highlands, but O’Brien said officials will keep encouraging people to use the current system.

“I think bringing some of these advanced transit modes to Louisville will be helpful in that,” O’Brien said. “But ultimately, that’s going to be something that’s going to have to be a behavioral shift.”

Councilman Owens said he serves by example – choosing to travel by bus or bike – but he understands that most people would prefer to drive. That’s why he likes some of HopCat’s ideas for encouraging other forms of transportation.

Knape said the restaurant plans to install a bike rack in front of its property and is considering how it could give customers a discount for using a cab or ride-sharing service. The company is also working on an agreement for valet parking with the owner of a nearby lot, similar to an agreement Seviche has down the street.

“It’s a selling point for us because parking’s a commodity around here,” said Hap Cohan, general manager of Seviche. “… We’ve got enough spots to maintain our business levels and even grow some, so we haven’t felt the push that most businesses on Bardstown Road feel when it comes to parking and valet and that sort of thing. I’m interested to find out how (HopCat) handles it, with a building of that size.”

Knape said HopCat chose the Highlands for its character. And while he understands the business can’t alone change how Louisville residents travel to Bardstown Road, he said HopCat hopes to be part of the discussion.

“As Louisville continues to grow and more and more businesses move into Bardstown Road, there needs to be a long-term vision for it,” Knape said.

Reach reporter Bailey Loosemore at 502-582-4646 or bloosemore@courier-journal.com.

BY THE NUMBERS

Through an open records request, the Courier-Journal gathered information on bars and restaurants with liquor licenses on a 3-mile stretch of Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road. Here are some key numbers:

  • 51 businesses had by-the-drink liquor licenses in 2005, including 10 bars and 41 restaurants
  • 64 businesses had by-the-drink licenses in 2010, including 10 bars and 54 restaurants
  • 66 businesses have by-the-drink licenses currently, including 16 bars and 50 restaurants
  • 30 businesses have licenses allowing sales until 4 a.m., including 14 bars and 16 restaurants
  • 16 businesses have licenses allowing sales until 2 a.m., including two bars and 14 restaurants
  • The 900 block of Baxter Avenue and 1500 block of Bardstown Road have the highest concentration of bars and restaurants, with eight on each block

Through a five-year Census estimate, the Courier-Journal also gathered information on the number of homes and vehicles in the area.

  • 4,284 homes are occupied between three neighborhoods bordering Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road - the Original Highlands, Cherokee Triangle and Tyler Park 
  • About 51 percent – or 2,216 – of those homes are renter-occupied
  • About 49 percent – or 2,112 – of occupied units have one car available
  • About 35 percent – or 1,508 – of occupied units have two cars available
  • About 9 percent – or 386 – of occupied units have three or more cars available

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