Buellton city officials are in the preliminary stages of deciding how parking will be managed.

Generally speaking, Buellton does not have too many issues with regard to parking, but that will change. 

Planning Commission members discussed parking space requirements at a recent meeting, informally agreeing that no large-scale changes in current requirements are necessary — with the possible exception of requirements for parking at local restaurants.

The city’s existing parking requirements mean one parking space for every 300 square feet of total retail floor space. Commissioners seemed to agree that is about what it should be.

Six other cities, including Santa Maria and Lompoc, have more stringent retail parking requirements, mandating one space for every 250 square feet of retail floor area. Four cities, including Guadalupe, have the same space requirements as Buellton. Two cities, including neighboring Solvang, require less parking per square footage. In fact, Solvang’s mandate is one parking space for every 500 square feet of retail floor space.

We certainly don’t want to disparage a friendly neighbor, but requiring fewer parking spaces per square footage of store area may be one reason why it’s next to impossible to find a parking spot when Solvang hosts one of its many annual big events, mostly on weekends and holidays.

Buellton isn’t exactly in that category of special-events territory — but it may be headed in that direction, and it’s an issue with which both the city’s Planning Commission and City Council will eventually have to deal.

Case in point: What happens when the build-out scheme for Avenue of Flags is finalized? If the city comes anywhere close to some of the proposed plans, we can see a huge influx of visitors, and a greatly enhanced need for adequate parking.

We don’t recall if a parking facility was part of any of the Avenue of Flags renovation blueprints, but it seems clear that if Buellton’s civic leaders embark on any strategy that will bring more visitors to the city, those folks are going to need a place to park.

Planning Commissioner Joe Padilla said he’s in favor of holding back on revising the city’s parking space requirements “without someone doing some math.”

Good suggestion, because it’s really difficult to consider how much parking will be needed in the foreseeable future unless you have some idea how pro-active the city intends to become regarding Buellton’s transition from a quick stop for gas and fast food for travelers on Highway 101, to being a destination for tourists.

It’s already trending in that direction, and the more Buellton and its citizens do to improve the community, the more likely its metamorphosis into a tourism destination.

But such transitions come at a cost, one of which is the city providing accommodations to an increase in the number of visitors. If there’s no place for them to park so they can get out and enjoy the city’s wonders, they will soon make plans to go elsewhere.

That is not to suggest construction of a huge parking structure, which is fundamentally ugly by nature and inclination. In plain talk — an eyesore.

Still, if Buellton’s leaders build a more attractive city, they will come. “They” being tourists. If you don’t accept that premise, just have a conversation with Solvang’s civic leaders.

The discussion about retail space parking requirements may be a yawner for the average Buellton citizen, but it is of crucial importance to the future of the community. This early planning and discovery phase is where you don’t want to make a bad mistake.

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