Charlotte’s tight parking spots often smaller than city rules allow

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Maybe your crooked parking job isn’t your fault. An investigation into Charlotte’s notoriously cramped parking spots shows that many of them are actually smaller than city rules allow.

We took a measuring tape to parking lots and decks around the city to bring you answers.

The reason why some of them are so small, however, defies easy explanation.

Charlotte has specific rules on how small parking spaces can be.

They’re spelled out in the Charlotte Land Development Standards Manual. This thick book requires regular parking spaces to be at least 8 feet, 6 inches across — but the city recommends they be at least 9 feet across.

Designated compact car spaces are allowed to be a foot smaller, at 7 feet, 6 inches.

These rules have remained fairly consistent over the past 30 years. The oldest known parking space requirements date to 1987 and are just 1 inch smaller than today’s standards.

Most developers use a combination of minimum and compact spaces, city zoning administrator Shad Spencer said.

Most Charlotte mainstays are in good standing.

Harris Teeter spaces come in at 8 feet, 6 inches. The new Dowd Y parking deck, SouthPark Mall and Lowe’s Home Improvement South End lots are 8 feet, 8 inches wide.

Parking spaces at the Agenda HQ are a luxurious 9 feet, 7 inches across.

But the Agenda found that not all spaces follow these rules.

At 7th Street Station, the deck attached to the 7th Street Public Market, the regular-sized parking spaces come in at 7 feet, 11 inches — more than half a foot shorter than the city guidelines.

The compact car spaces are a minuscule 7 feet across.

The Metropolitan parking deck in Midtown is only slightly bigger. Its spaces come in at 8 feet even.

Across the street at the Midtown Target, the inner lines of the spaces are 7 feet, 4 inches — but the outer lines are 9 feet, 9 inches apart.

The spots at Reid’s Fine Foods on Selwyn Avenue are 8 feet, 1 inch across — as are the spaces at Phillips Place in SouthPark and at Piedmont Town Center‘s deck.

Contrast these with the parking situation at One SouthPark Center on Piedmont Row Drive. Even its compact parking spaces measure 8 feet, 2 inches across.

What gives?

Developers have an obvious incentive to create smaller parking spaces. The more spaces they can fit, the more cars they can fit, and the more customers they can accommodate at one time.

And oftentimes with new development, buildings are crammed onto high-dollar pieces of property that don’t leave much room for the large number of spots that building codes require.

However, it’s difficult to know for sure why these spaces were allowed to be so small. Nobody I talked to at the city offered a specific explanation. But here are some theories I have based on my reporting.

1) Old parking lots. The earliest parking standards city staff can find date to the late 1980s. Before that, it’s unlikely that any parking space requirements existed. Things built before 1987 would be grandfathered in.

2) Conditional rezoning. Charlotte allows for deviations from the standards if approved by the city in the rezoning process. At both the Metropolitan and Reid’s Fine Foods on Selwyn, developers applied for a special zoning classification before building. These applications could have included smaller parking spaces.

But since these two projects are both more than 10 years old, the city doesn’t have their construction maps on file — so we can’t know for sure whether they got approval for the smaller spaces.

If this is the case, it’s worth asking: Do we want Charlotte to continue to allow smaller parking spaces?

3) Nobody checked. Of course, some small parking spaces might just have flown under the radar.

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Andrew Dunn
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Editor-in-Chief