Is there enough parking in Brainerd? The question continues

Brainerd Planning Commission takes up conversation

Cars line a downtown street on a snowy February day.
Vehicles line a downtown Brainerd street on a February afternoon.
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — It’s the never-ending chicken and the egg question. Are there too many parking spaces in Brainerd or not enough?

Do people avoid some shopping areas because they feel there is no parking nearby? Past parking studies noted there is a perception of no parking in downtown Brainerd and whether that is true or not, the perception is enough to make it an issue. Theresa Woodward, Brainerd Planning Commission member and downtown business owner of CatTales Books & Gifts, said if the parking spaces in front of her business are full, some of her customers will drive around the block six or seven times and then come back the next week and say they couldn’t get a parking space.

“Well, the spaces across the street were empty,” Woodward said. “The spaces in the lot were empty. They made it to Walmart and Costco and walked a farther distance, but there's a street to cross and there's a railing between the parking lot and my bookstore that gives a visual break, so you feel like you're walking farther even though it's a shorter distance to walk to that parking lot than it is to Walmart's parking lot.

“But there's a generational gap in that also. I don't hear those comments from younger generations who are fine leaving their car on the other side of town and walking somewhere.”

So how much parking is needed?


In 2022, the community development department commissioned a survey to collect data on off-street parking requirements. The city looked at nine business areas in the city. Dylan Edwards, Brainerd assistant planner, reported the city has 78.16% of the parking required by code. The parking research took a sample of 30 properties during normal business hours and looked at what parking spaces were being used and found 45% of the parking was used during the winter of 2023.

“That brings up some recommendations that we have the room to reduce requirements for parking, based on what is existing and any redevelopment surrounding that,” Edwards said. “But basically not touching any on-street parking, the off-street parking that is present is 4,000 spaces less than what is required — and still only utilized that less than 50%.”

James Kramvik, community development director, said next steps are for staff to craft a parking ordinance for the Planning Commission to review.

Kramvik said questions before the Planning Commission are to discuss major revisions to the off-street parking ordinance to institute lower minimums and the potential to look at targeting parking maximums to specific zoning districts with dense development. Kramvik said areas like main street and the commercial corridor could institute parking maximums.

A tiered approach could be used to make residential parking more efficient, Kramvik said. He noted the My Neighbor to Love Coalition’s apartment development where a number of parking spaces were required even though some of the spaces were for studio apartments. Kramvik said in a tiered approach, larger apartments of two, three bedrooms would have more parking spaces while a studio apartment may just have one. Kramvik said that would lower the number of off-street parking requirements and reduce the burden on developers.

To calculate the total spaces required, staff looked at the square footage of business properties and looked at the number in the zoning code and took a GIS map or onsite analysis of how many parking spaces were present. Schools may have been included, but not residential properties, and on-street parking was not counted, only off-street parking requirements. Commission members noted that potentially skewed the numbers.

Commission member Michael Duval said the utilization study didn’t look at the summer tourist season or summer weekends. Duval said if they’re going to look at reducing parking, it would be helpful to look at what those numbers are like. Duval also noted the winter use for storing snow. In addition, Duval noted other factors such as the pandemic and he wondered how the tracking worked with vacant stores.

Duval said he’d love to be able to drop the parking requirements to a lower level or perhaps flip it to a parking maximum versus a minimum, with a conditional use request. But he said the biggest gain may be in thinking about it differently such as where does the city have unnecessary impervious surfaces. Are there options to turn an empty parking lot into greenspace or a business opportunity? Duval asked what it would take to get an expanded parking use study to look at other seasons.


Kramvik said that is possible and the 45% use may go up in some areas and then go down in others, such as a manufacturing facility that only worked during the weekdays. Another suggestion came in the potential to use cameras to avoid people working on nights and weekends.

“Philosophically, is our goal to park everyone who wants to park at peak times? Because my, I guess I would say philosophically that would not be my goal,” Commission member Chuck Marohn said. “And so I'm reluctant to ask staff to do a lot of work to figure that out when it's actually not material to what we're trying to accomplish.”

Duval said he’d like to have a better understanding of the numbers and whether they would be turning away customers by saying they could do a 45% reduction in available parking.

“I would want to understand how many people would be turned away, your businesses will have concern about that. Our city council members would have concerns about that,” Duval said.

Commission member Don Gorham said he’d like to do away with minimums and maximums.

“I say the business owner wants 500 parking places. God bless them. They think they need that, who are we to tell them they don't need that,” Gorham said.

Council liaison Tiffany Stenglein said she grew up in Nisswa and comparing that to here, Brainerd has no problem with parking.

“Fundamentally I’m just not convinced there is a parking shortage in Brainerd,” Stenglein said. She asked if there was comparable data from other cities.


Kramvik said they haven’t gone to that process yet. Kramvik said he’s had another city reach out to see how not requiring parking works for Brainerd as most of the commercial zoning districts are exempt from the parking ordinance.

Commission member Kevin Yeager said looking at Highway 210 if everyone of those properties had half the parking than is currently there, and if there was more green space and vegetation, how different could that main corridor through Brainerd look.

Yeager also noted one of the drivers in previous conversations focusing on minimum parking requirements came from the proposition if there wasn’t parking for apartment developers, tenants would fill up the retail spots.

“I’m also of the mindset that maximum parking is the way to go,” Yeager said.

In addition, Kramvik said another aspect has been brought up a few times — parking on unimproved surfaces in rear properties. Basically parking in the grass behind housing.

“Essentially right now you're allowed to park all over the rear of the property on the grass, you know no rhyme or reason to it,” Kramvik said, adding options would be to restrict that to the rear yard or within so many feet of the setback. “Because right now we do get a lot of complaints on corner properties where they just drive over the curb and it's parked, you know, essentially across the entire backyard.”

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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