It’s subtle, but cars have a little more breathing room when they pull into many parking spaces in Darien.
The city’s zoning ordinance prescribes a minimum width of 10 feet for parking spots, which is relatively unusual for the area. Bolingbrook, Naperville, Burr Ridge and Downers Grove, for example, all set their minimum parking space width at 9 feet.
But the decision to recommend giving up a few extra inches in the Darien Towne Center lot was not one the Planning and Zoning Commission took lightly Wednesday.
“It’s one of the things that makes it nice to shop in Darien,” Commissioner Donald Hickok said. “You can get in and out of your vehicle.”
The commission nonetheless voted 6-1 to recommend that the city allow Walmart and Inland Southeast Darien to reduce the size of some parking spaces in the Darien Towne Center lot.
Nearly an hour and a half of discussion over the proposed space shrinkage preceded the vote.
Parking spaces in the lot now vary in width from 9-feet wide in some areas up to 10-feet wide in others.
As part of the deal for Walmart’s expansion into a Super Walmart, developers asked for a variation that would make the parking spaces in front of the store a uniform 9.5-feet across. The remainder of the spots, in front of stores such as Home Depot and PetSmart, would be drawn 9-feet wide—the same width most of them are now.
Darien’s City Code requires five parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of retail space, said Walmart’s civil engineer Greg Cresto, who works for Manhard Consultants.
The overall square footage of Darien Towne Center won’t increase too much when Walmart expands because it will, for the most part, be moving into space previously occupied by Sally Beauty Supply, Fruitful Yield, Panera Bread and Circuit City. But there will still be some increase, which requires additional parking. Shrinking some of the spaces by 6 inches will create two more spots per row, Cresto said.
The lot underwent similar scrutiny in 1993 when the city reached its agreement for Walmart’s original construction. That discussion resulted in the patchwork of parking space sizes in the lot today.
“It’s not really an exception,” Inland’s attorney Hal Francke said. “It’s already been approved. It’s kind of re-confirming an existing condition.”
Hickok said a previous variation to the city parking code wasn’t a good enough reason to approve a second round of changes.
“This is our chance to bring things up to snuff,” he said.
Commissioner John Lind noted the wider spaces make it easier for SUVs and pickup trucks to pull in and out of the spaces. The roomy spots would also prove beneficial once the Super Walmart starts selling groceries, he said.
Several commissioners questioned whether it was necessary to have as many parking spots as the City Code requires, given that the lot is rarely full.
City attorney John Murphey urged the commission to recommend the variation, noting upcoming negotiation deadlines regarding the conveyance of property behind the strip mall to Walmart.
“This is an extremely important project for the city," he said. "And I hope the commission will understand and fulfill the compromise that’s in the long-term best interest of the city.”
The commission finally voted to recommend the variation, with the request that the developer make as many of the spaces 9.5-feet wide as possible.
The item will likely appear on the agenda of Monday’s City Council meeting for formal approval.