Mandy Keener
PARKING LOTS EVERYWHERE: That’s what the pink represents.

How much of downtown real estate should be devoted simply to parked cars? Not so much, city planners across the country write. Beside the fact that parking lots aren’t the highest use of urban property, asphalt expanses create unappealing dead zones. But, as Little Rock Planning Director Jamie Collins said recently, “Arkansas is a strong property rights state,” meaning it’s unlikely Little Rock is going to restrict surface parking except in designated historic areas.

The most recent demolition to allow for more parking came this summer, when buildings at Second and Louisiana streets, including the 1931 Trip Building that featured playing card suits as architectural features, were leveled for a parking lot for Stephens Inc. employees. When the building permit came before the Planning Commission, a couple of members of the Little Rock Planning Commission noted their objections. “No one hangs out and chats around a dark parking lot at night,” commissioner Craig Berry said.

The city could not provide a percentage of surface parking versus buildings. However, the pink blocks in the map at left, provided to the Arkansas Times by the Planning Department, appears to show that at least three-fourths of downtown real estate is dedicated to parking, surface and deck. The department did provide the following information from a 2017 parking inventory report:

Estimated surface parking spaces downtown: 19,746.

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Estimated parking spaces in parking decks downtown: 7,960

Number of parking spaces on privately-owned parking lots downtown: 1,559 (verified in 2019 via aerial photos).

The estimates were based on a ratio of lot size to spaces at sampled lots.

Collins told the Arkansas Times that his department is seeking funding to do a downtown master plan that would address surface parking. “But the situation is that we are the state capital. We are a city that people commute to. … there’s going to be areas where there’s a need” for surface parking, he said.

Department staff advised the commission in September that the parking lot proposed for Second and Louisiana streets was appropriate for the Urban Use district zoning, writing, “The property is located in the downtown area which contains a number of surface parking lots serving surrounding buildings and uses. The parking lot should be compatible with surrounding uses.” According to city zoning regulations, UU zoning “is designed to help create a compact, dense, distinguishable core area.”

Collins said there have not been “official discussions” on the issue of demolishing buildings for parking lots. “There is a concern. I wouldn’t say a strong concern, as far as not allowing [demolition]. We would rather see development happen” in UU districts.”

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