A proposed change to city parking lot requirements would allow property owners to better develop otherwise vacant paved space and foster new business.

Existing standards require a minimum amount of parking spaces based on square footage and the number of customers and employees being accommodated.

Sites with indoor sales, for example, require one parking space per 500 square feet.

As a result, this can create an overabundance of parking space, make development projects more expensive and limit a city's ability to do urban "infill" projects that reuse existing and historic buildings.

Many of today's parking standards were developed several decades ago, Steve Josephson, Stark County planner, said.

"What's been found is, particularly in central city areas, if businesses want to expand and meet those parking standards, they've had to acquire properties, existing buildings, and tear them down," he said. "You could be using up land that could be used for other development."

At last week's meeting of the city planning and zoning commission, staff discussed ways to reduce the number of required spaces or offer exemptions to property owners.

Similar reduction efforts have been undertaken in Fargo and Williston, Josephson noted.

"Perhaps the standards the city of Dickinson has on the books now are maybe excessive," he said.

Existing standards are based on worst case scenarios, Walter Hadley, city planning director, said.

"A number of existing small and large businesses have what would appear to be an excess of parking spaces available based on their traditional use," he said. "The parking standards were probably modeled in the 1990s and the times have changed, and so have the public's habits, as well."

Spaces that could be more fully developed include the Family Fare parking lot at the Roers development or the Dickinson Walmart parking lot.

"If you look at some of the newer developments that were done and the parking, they seem to do good business," Josephson said, "but it seems like there are a lot of vacant spaces that never get used."

An amendment would allow the city to help better stimulate business without compromising the neighborhoods the businesses are in, Hadley said.

"The ability to loosen the parking requirements, in some cases, would allow businesses to start up more economically while still providing the required access for their patrons," he said.

Such a change could benefit Dickinson and its businesses, Hadley said.

"I believe this project is one step in our ongoing efforts to look at our current ordinances and amend them as needed to better reflect the community today," he said.

While changes have been discussed, an official amendment has not been submitted and no official actions have been taken.