Proposed changes to New Bern’s downtown parking ordinance could benefit new businesses

Downtown New Bern
Proposed changes to New Bern’s downtown parking ordinance would expand the zone that is exempt from off-street parking regulations.

Changes to New Bern’s parking ordinance for downtown businesses have been given the green light by the city’s Planning and Zoning Board. The revised ordinance will now go to the Board of Aldermen for consideration.

If approved, the proposed changes would expand the downtown area’s exempted off-street parking area to include real estate to the west side of East Front Street and down to the south side of South Front Street.

Under the updated ordinance, the downtown zone exempted from off-street parking requirements is defined as: the area encompassing those properties abutting the east side of Hancock street, the south side of South Front Street, the west side of East Front Street, the south side of Broad Street from the west side of East Front Street to west side of Craven Street, and the north side of Broad Street from the east side of Craven to the east side of Street Hancock Street.

New Bern’s Land Use Ordinance requires off-street parking be provided for new commercial developments as well businesses moving into existing structures and utilizing a “change-of-use” occupancy.

New businesses moving into the exempted areas may occupy a building that is already there without having to meet parking requirements that could preclude the new use of the building due to a lack of parking spaces.

The proposed changes would also: maintain the current short term rental parking requirements even if the boundary is expanded; prohibit the elimination of any parking that exists within the new boundary after the date of adoption of any potential changes unless a Special Use Permit (SUP) is granted by the Board of Adjustment.

Jessica Rhue as Director of Development Services said the changes are meant to address a specific problem — businesses that call and ask about opening a site downtown only to find out the proposed location cannot meet the city’s parking requirements. She said one of the options for cleaning up the permitting problem was to expand the district designated for exempted parking.

A map of downtown New Bern shows the proposed expansion of the area’s off-street parking exclusion zone.

The Planning and Zoning Board has spent the last several months discussing ways to revise the ordinance to make it more suitable for new businesses, with lengthy discussion concerning exactly where the border should be for the exempted off-street parking area. 

According to Rhue there are currently 600 free available public parking spaces in downtown New Bern. She said she hoped the expanded parking standards would allow more businesses to open downtown.

“We’ve had discussions of the potential if this really takes off and every single building downtown had a business in it, would that impact adjacent residences,” she said. “I realize we have not really worked through that issue and we don’t know if that would be an issue but it’s certainly a concern of ours.”

Rhue said Development Services staff researched what cities similar to New Bern have adopted in terms of parking ordinances. She said most historical and coastal cities with public parking “do not apply parking standards in their downtown areas in order to facilitate the reuse of buildings, and also to protect historic buildings from being removed to create parking.”

Board member Rusty Ingram, who voted against the proposed changes, said he believed the board did not have enough hard data on how many businesses have made the decision not to move into the area because of the downtown parking requirements.

“To me, to make a change like this doesn’t necessarily make sense unless we have hard data that says it makes sense because there are enough businesses and it would create a problem if we didn’t do something,” he commented.

Ingram said if a proposed Pepsi Museum or hotel were to be developed in the area, they would also be exempt from the parking requirements. 

“To just exempt this whole area from off-street parking requirements with those kind of big development potentially coming in, I don’t think it’s good practice,” Ingram commented. 

Ingram made a motion that the board allow staff to gather data for approximately six months before moving forward with the changes.  The motion died for lack of a second.

Explaining his support of the ordinance changes, board member Brad Jefferson said he was scared people were being dissuaded from opening business downtown simply because of parking or other considerations. 

“I think if there’s anything that we can do to help anybody come into our downtown and provide services and provide goods and jobs more importantly for our citizenry, I don’t know that we should let the government be in the business of limiting that,” he commented.

By Todd Wetherington, co-editor. Send an email with questions or comments.