Bozeman parking commissioners Friday denied a developer from using 78 spaces in the garage downtown for long-term leases, saying they need more information on how the garage is used and updated policies for what parking downtown should look like.

Andy Holloran, the developer behind the proposed AC Hotel by Marriott, asked to trade 78 monthly parking permits in the Bridger Downtown Parking Garage for a lease of roughly 25 years. That would have covered all the parking required for the six-story building proposed for the corner of Mendenhall Street and Tracy Avenue.

The Parking Commission denied the request with a 4-1 vote.

The meeting at 7:30 a.m. drew a crowd. Some downtown workers supported the request and said there is plenty of parking. Some downtown business owners said the area is running out of spaces and new buildings should add new parking. Those against the change also said it would set a dangerous precedent to convert short-term permits for long-term use.

Holloran pointed to city data and said the garage “rarely achieves 50% occupancy during peak hours.”

“It’s an asset that is woefully underutilized,” Holloran said after the vote. “I certainly hope that the decision wasn’t made as a political one.”

Some people disagreed with the city’s data and said it didn’t account for parking permits already held in the garage for businesses that haven’t been built yet.

There are 435 parking stalls in the downtown garage. On the busiest weekday afternoon in April, there were 219 cars in the garage — 87 of which came in with a permit. Those numbers came from new technology the city installed less than a year ago to keep track of the garage’s traffic.

Parking Commissioner Kelly Wiseman said that information was pulled from a slow time of year and added he wants to see at least a year’s worth of data to compare whether more people are using the garage now than in the past.

Wiseman said the city is also considering parking districts north and south of Main Street.

“My hunch is we need as much firepower available in that parking garage to be able to structure the parking districts the way we want,” Wiseman said. “I think it would be putting the cart very far ahead of the horse for us to tie up an additional large chunk of spaces for 25 years.”

Commissioner Mark Egge, the sole vote in favor of the change, said data shows the parking garage isn’t used to its full potential. He said downtown has a parking problem, but added that’s because the city needs to make better use of what is already available.

He also questioned why the city’s policies put less pressure on a new hotel to create parking than a new office and said it’s time for an update. Egge said he didn’t love Holloran’s request, “but I can’t find any fact-based reasons to say ‘no’ to it.”

“The purpose of the parking garage...was as an economic development tool for downtown,” said Egge, adding Holloran’s request fell in line with that.

Parking Commissioner Pamela Bryan said the request showed a gap in city policies around how to decide when developers and businesses can claim parking permits.

Bryan was on the board when the downtown parking garage was approved in 2009. She said at the time, the goal was to leverage development downtown to bring more people and money to the area.

“Just about 10 years later, I feel like the mandate of the garage is changing and now it’s incumbent upon us as a commission to look at how we balance our users in the garage,” she said.

She said that means anticipating what needs are coming down the road with new developments and more people.

City staff said they expect to have more policy ideas to manage parking before the commission by August.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

Katheryn Houghton is the city government and health reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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