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Clarksville cuts parking requirements for commercial, industrial sites

A large, mostly empty parking lot in Clarksville
Town of Clarksville
Clarksville officials have cut what they say are outdated and arbitrary minimum parking requirements for commercial and industrial developments in the town. Pictured is a mostly empty lot on Black Friday of last year.

Clarksville officials are taking steps to reduce the vast and underused space dedicated to parking lots — which they hope will improve the town’s economy and address environmental concerns.

Clarksville has long been a major commercial hub in Southern Indiana, with shoppers traveling from nearby cities daily to visit its stores and restaurants.

With those businesses have come sprawling parking lots — many of them now mostly empty. They’re a result of development codes put in place decades ago, which until recently had minimum parking space requirements based on the size of the development.

“A lot of communities, they were very afraid that if you didn't have enough parking, that businesses would fail and jobs would go away and your city would collapse,” said Town Planning Director Neal Turpin. “So they started providing these minimums on the off chance that everybody wanted to show up at the same store at the same time. But they're just not based on anything.”

But officials are changing that. The Clarksville Town Council voted unanimously this week to amend the town zoning ordinance and remove the minimum parking requirements for commercial and industrial sites. They’ll still need to adhere to ADA and safety standards. The vote followed unanimous approval by the plan commission last month.

It’s a way to help address environmental issues, fill in underused space and respond to evolving shopping habits.

Officials said that in several of the main commercial areas, parking lots make up four times the space of the actual businesses.

“Clarksville is relatively landlocked. Space is at a premium here,” Turpin said. “So requiring so much of our scarce land to be dedicated to parking lots that are really not necessary … it's not good development strategy.

“The parking lots aren't creating jobs. Businesses are.”

The excess of concrete and asphalt has also contributed to increased stormwater runoff and an urban heat island effect. Town staff did a heat analysis a few years ago, capturing data from different parts of town. Areas with more parking and bigger roadways had higher temperatures. The area at Veterans Parkway and Interstate 65 near Walmart registered as the hottest.

“There's just so much asphalt and so much concrete and so few trees,” Turpin said. “That is really making temperatures a problem and it's very clear where those [areas] are.”

Officials have also heard from developers and planners about the need for change. A recently approved medical facility with 40 beds was required to have 245 parking spaces under the decades-old requirements. Developers asked for a variance to lower than to 100 spots.

And Turpin said Home Depot sold a portion of its parking lot several years ago, where another business now operates.

That’s what this change could bring more of, with existing and future developments free from the old parking standards.

“Best practices in urban planning and design focus on minimizing the amount of urban area dedicated to car storage,” according to the updated zoning ordinance. “Every amount of land taken up by cars and parking means less area for people, businesses and open space.”

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec Inc., the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation, and the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.