La Ca&ntildeada is looking to reduce parking requirements for restaurants and other shops.

La Cañada is looking to reduce parking requirements for restaurants and other shops. (File photo / January 9, 2013)

Restaurants looking to move into La Cañada Flintridge may be required to provide parking spaces based on the size of their operations, rather than a set number.

Currently, eating and drinking establishments outside of the Foothill Boulevard area have at least 12 parking spaces. The rule is the same for all restaurants, from small fast-food joints to roomy sit-down restaurants. Planning officials don’t think it makes sense.

“So, even if it’s a little hole in the wall, it has to have 12 spaces,” said Fred Buss, the city’s Senior Planner, “and that’s generally prohibitive in terms of trying to find a space in the city for a restaurant.”

Members of the Planning Commission discussed a proposal Tuesday night to amend the law so restaurants would be required to provide 10 spaces per 1,000-square-feet of dining space. The proposed changes also reduce the parking requirement for commercial spaces from five spaces to four spaces per 1,000-square-feet.

The City Council adopted similar changes to the Downtown Village Specific Plan area in 2009. But the commission decided to delay voting on applying those parking requirements to the rest of the city until next month.

Planning Commissioner Herand Der Sarkissian, however, argued the proposal would oversimplify the parking requirements. He argued that the city should create different rules for different types of eateries.

“I have a problem with categorizing restaurants in all one category,” he said. “This gross square footage to me doesn’t work. I think we should articulate that to have a sit-down area number and a [take-out] area number.”

Sarkissian named Panda Express on Foothill Boulevard as an example of a small restaurant that demands extra parking spaces because many customers stop in for take-out orders.

While not perfect, the proposed changes are a “huge improvement” to the current law and can be revised over time, said Commissioner Rick Gunter.

“This is one of those cases where I believe one size does fit all,” said Gunter. “There is value in being able to say that it’s fixed. If there are too many moving parts, it’s just too difficult.”

Greg Powell, an architect with Architecture Plus, suggested that the city could benefit from a parking structure.

“I always saw having a parking district or structure that would somehow be located remotely somewhere, much like [Old Pasadena] does,” he said. “It would allow the opportunity for people to offset their shortage by buying into that parking structure and allow them the ability to expand or do improvements to their properties.”

Powell said projects are limited by the city’s parking requirements and changing the standard wouldn’t fix that. “We need to find a long-term solution.”

Buss said setting a standard was important so businesses moving in knew what to expect, but that the law could still have some flexibility through conditional use permits if a restaurant saw a need for more or less parking.

The proposed charges to the parking ordinance would only apply to new restaurants or commercial businesses, he added.

A main issue, Buss said, is that much of the city was built before many residents owned cars. “The automobile has grown up, but the size of the community has not changed.”

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