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Parking a Problem at Ale House Columbia

Neighboring businesses are worried about the problem.


Over the past few months a problem has developed at Dobbin Center, the location of the recently-opened Ale House Columbia. People can't find parking, according to the businesses that operate there.

Employees at L.A. Boxing, Pei Wei, Dobbin Liquors and Jennifer Convertibles all said the parking situation has been a problem since Ale House opened in December of 2012.

"It's hard for our members to find parking," said Tre Newby, the manager of L.A. Boxing, which is located across the parking lot from the Ale House. "For us, it's kind of frustrating when people complain to us."

Newby said that area businesses had a meeting with the development's owner, to ask for dedicated parking spots for certain businesses, but that nothing has been decided.

"I've had customers tell me they've tried to find a parking spot and couldn't," said Phyllis Lipiner, the manager of Jennifer Convertibles, which uses the same lot as Ale House. "Some people look over their shoulders at illegaly parked cars, which can affect sales."

Lipiner said she has no way to tell how many customers come to her business, can't find a spot, and then go to nearby competitors.

It's a problem that hasn't gone unnoticed by the owners of the Ale House. Owner Justin Dvorkin said he is confident the businesses can find a solution.

"We're talking to the owners of the lot," said Dvorkin. "We are 100 percent willing to do our share."

Currently, Ale House is operating a valet service Tuesday through Saturday that shuttles customers' cars to a nearby lot behind the Ale House. Dvorkin said the restaurant encourages customers coming in for happy hours at the restaurant to use the free valet service. The valet is also offered for customers of other businesses Tuesday through Thursday, said Dvorkin.

"We're seeing where there's an opportunity to expand the parking lot," said Dvorkin.

Newby said the problem is bad between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weeknights and Lipiner said it's the worst on the weekends.

On a Thursday night last week, cars could be seen looping over and over through the parking lot. At the time, some were even on a grassy patch.

Documents from the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning note the lot was zoned for retail in 1984 at the request of the Rouse Corporation.  The Final Development Plan for the site requires five parking spots per 1,000 square feet. In comparison, stand-alone restaurant zoning normally requires 14 spots per 1,000 square feet, according to DPZ.

Currently the lot has 177 spaces, according to the zoning documents. A DPZ employee said the site provides little area to expand the parking lot and indicated there is nothing it can do to alleviate the parking situation.

Part of the problem is that Ale House Columbia, which has 300 seats in its dining room and is going to add another 100 seats on the patio when the weather warms up, has been doing brisk business.

"It has been pretty fantastic," said Dvorkin, about the restaurant's success. "Everyone seems pretty enthusiastic about the place. It made the months and months of the build-out worthwhile."

Even Lipiner, who said she may have lost some business due to the parking situation, also said the new restaurant has brought new customers who come into the store to browse for furniture after having dinner or lunch at the Ale House.

The restaurant, which is owned by the same people who operate Pratt Street Ale House in Baltimore, features dozens of beers on tap, upscale pub food and three different bars.

Dvorkin said when they originally began to develop, he believed there would be enough parking in the lot, but over time the problem became apparent.

The lot and the buildings are owned by Berman Enterprises, a real estate firm based in Rockville. A call placed to Adam Berman to discuss the parking situation and plans to remedy it was not immediately returned.

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Fran March 27, 2013 at 06:11 PM
One solution is a direct link there to the Columbia Association trail system. This link would allow customers to arrive on foot or bike and reduce parking demand. There is already a worn in unofficial rough foot trail making this link. This link has been identified, prioritized, and cost estimated ($91K) as part of the recent Connecting Columbia project. It is priority #22 in the table at this link: http://www.columbiaassociation.com/pdfs/getinvolved/ImprovementRecommendationsTable.pdf It is location #36 in Map #3 at this link: http://www.columbiaassociation.com/pdfs/getinvolved/ImprovementRecommendationsTable.pdf Connecting Columbia's top level web page with more info and contact info is: http://www.columbiaassociation.com/content/getinformed/connectingcolumbia/index.cfm
Fran March 27, 2013 at 06:47 PM
There is a footnote on the estimated cost: "**Estimated costs are based on average construction costsfor 10‐ft asphalt pathways and ancillary structures(ie.retaining walls and bridges), and does not include cost of feasibility studies or pathway design"
Fran March 27, 2013 at 08:15 PM
To provide perspective on the path construction cost, I looked up construction costs per parking space: $15K. This is labor and raw materials, in Baltimore, not including cost of land. Link to parking space cost: http://www.carlwalker.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/2010_Q2.pdf
Andrew Metcalf (Editor) March 27, 2013 at 08:57 PM
Thanks for posting this Fran, that's interesting, and I'm sure residents of the area would enjoy walking or biking there. I'll be sure to ask about that, as that plan develops.
Melissa March 28, 2013 at 11:55 AM
Great idea, Fran! More convenient for locals so they don't have to drive and fight traffic/parking and more convenient for non-locals so they CAN park. Win-win!
Fran March 28, 2013 at 01:09 PM
I saw a comment from a patron to the boxing gym in that location in a facebook group discussing this. The commenter would love to be able to bike to the gym. There is a growing trend with pro athletes cross training with bikes, and commuting to their events by bikes: Serena Williams, Ray Lewis, Lebron James, and Jeremy Guthrie. I noticed my map link was pointing to the table instead. Here is the map link, see Map #3, location #36. It is a large file. http://www.columbiaassociation.com/pdfs/getinvolved/ImprovementRecommendations_FinalMaps.pdf
Mark March 28, 2013 at 07:12 PM
This is nothing new. Going back to when that building was a Bob's Big Boy that lot has had problems. They are taking parking spots from not only their closest neighbors, but the the shopping center behind them (Fuddruckers, etc.)
Mark March 28, 2013 at 07:14 PM
Fran, most people don't bike to happy hour. I don't think they want to get sweaty and stinky to go meet new people, if you know what I mean.
Fran March 28, 2013 at 07:41 PM
Mark, I think the situation you describe (strenuous riding or hot weather and happy hour transactions) is obviously valid, but a limited view. Why not consider the full spectrum of users and business transactions ? There are many businesses and a variety of transaction types sharing that parking lot. For example, the boxing gym patrons are in fact *trying* to get sweaty. The happy hour situation you describe is similar to our bike club post ride happy hour at Crossroads Pub where we typically have about a $200 bill, and sit at the outside tables. The outdoor area at the Ale House could be ideal for a post ride happy hour by thirsty and hungry cyclists. No $15k parking spaces would be used.
Melissa March 28, 2013 at 10:22 PM
Mark, if you live just a mile or two from the bar you're not going to get super sweaty or stinky. Riding at a casual pace for 5 or 10 minutes is no big thing. There are plenty of people who bike to bars and restaurants, even ladies in dresses and heels: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-013XlQ-jKQE/UF4GG02bfUI/AAAAAAAAO3E/vQyAGXgjb04/s1600/IMG_9049.jpg


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