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Portsmouth parking: City may stop win-win solution

September 17. 2017 6:05PM

Parking is at a premium in downtown Portsmouth.

Even as the free market comes up with a solution, busybodies in city government are threatening to get in the way.

Many downtown businesses have parking lots that sit mostly empty even as people are driving into Portsmouth for dinner.

So a private company is renting those spaces out on nights and weekends. Drivers get more convenient parking, restaurants get customers with less hassle, and downtown businesses make a little extra revenue. It’s a win-win-win solution, without forcing taxpayers to build a new parking garage.

But councilor Brad Lown’s first instinct is that these business owners didn’t first seek permission from the city to use their parking lots like this.

Lown wants the city to investigate whether renting out empty parking spots in a residential or mixed-use district is allowed. Planning Director Juliet Warner thinks some businesses might need to get a zoning variance because such an innovative solution wasn’t “reasonably expected.”

The principal benefit of free markets is that they can exceed the expectations of central planners. As Lown points out, sharing economy services such as Uber and Airbnb weren’t anticipated by local regulators. So local regulators react by putting up barriers.

Opening up private lots to the public is both efficient and disruptive. If such an arrangement runs afoul of Portsmouth zoning codes, it is the codes that should be changed.

Business Politics Editorial Portsmouth

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