Back to Back Issues Page
Your July Useful Community Plus
July 28, 2022

This Month: Too Much Parking?

Visit us at the Useful Community Development Website.

July, 2022

Oversupply of a Good Thing?

We try for good-looking photos for the newsletter, but this month's topic doesn't lend itself to that. All our collected photos of an oversupply of parking look equally bleak.

Goals of parking requirements often have been noble enough. Neighborhood traffic is a legitimate concern if parking needs of commercial and multi-family residential buildings are not met on site.

But there is pushback now on minimum parking requirements because:

1. Parking adds significantly to development costs, raising the price of housing and commercial rents.

2. Empty parking lots are ugly. We have many more photos in our archive, but you'll be glad to know we are sparing you further illustration. Most of you can easily take your own photos close to home.

3. Excess parking, whether paved on the surface or in concrete garages, traps heat--something we don't need in a warming climate.

4. Paved surfaces produce fast-moving and polluted stormwater runoff.

5. Surface parking adjoining streets reduces street vitality dramatically and therefore creates a poor environment for walking, whether we consider walking in a business district, walking as transportation, or walking for recreation or exercise.

6. Rigid parking minimum requirements do not account for factors that might impact how much parking actually is required. For example, a business might be just steps away from a municipal parking lot. Another business might be within a quarter block of a popular transit stop. A residential building may attract mostly young people who would rather walk or take an Uber than own a car. A senior housing complex may have many residents who do not drive.

7. While still miniscule in many places, bicycling as transportation has become more frequent. "Biking to work" is now a thing too.

8. In another indication of the popularity of ditching the car among some circles of younger people, neighborhoods may predict the uptick in ride hailing usage will make a dent in the amount of parking needed.

9. Lastly, some percentage of people are likely to be able to continue to work from home, decreasing employee parking needs slightly.

For a few decades forward-looking cities tried to address all of these problems by allowing arrangements such as shared parking through their zoning, site plan review, or other land development ordinances. The often-cited example is that churches tend to need lots of parking on Sunday mornings, but could easily share their large lot with an adjacent store that is closed on Sunday. However, these shared parking agreements between entities take time and energy to arrange, and developers sometimes think they are not worth the effort.

Now another movement is gathering steam. We call this the market approach to parking. Its vocal proponents assume that developers, property managers, and business owners will figure out the optimal amount of parking for themselves.

So cities are either reducing minimum parking requirements drastically, repealing minimum parking requirements altogether, carving out exceptions or an easy variance process for minimum parking requirements, or most dramatically of all, doing away with parking minimums and enacting parking maximums to try to reduce the overall burden of parking on the community.

In practical terms, what are the baby steps if your community might like to try this approach?

1. Visually survey a sample of parking lots and garages at varying times of day and of the week to figure out actual usage patterns.

2. Talk with developers recently active in your housing market about the impact of parking requirements on their project cost and difficulty. Also ask about their observations on parking occupancy in their recent projects.

3. Consider immediately lifting parking minimums when there are municipal lots nearby. You can accomplish this by creating an overlay zone for a specific geography. (An overlay means that regulations are applied "on top of" the existing zoning district rules. These can loosen requirements as well as tighten them.)

4. Carefully observe any spillover of commercial district, venue, or multi-family parking into residential districts, and if necessary, exclude problem areas from any change in regulations.

5. Create an easy pathway for developers and businesses to reduce their parking requirement without going through a full zoning variance process. Perhaps you could require a parking plan as part of a building permit, occupancy permit, or business license application, giving city staff the authority to approve a reasonable plan or reject a permit if real-life parking seems likely to burden nearby property owners.

6. Reduce the parking requirement by half or a fourth, and observe what happens for a year or two.

7. Do enough research to reduce parking minimums selectively. For example, you might see that a particular retail configuration yields excess parking and reduce the parking requirement in that instance only.

8. If you are convinced already, ditch parking minimums altogether and regulate parking maximums instead.

We updated our lists of website pages of interest to particular audiences. Your feedback is that these lists of links are so helpful because what interests planning commissioners, congregational leaders, or distressed neighborhoods, for example, cuts across so many of our different topical areas on the site's menu. See the links to all of the lists in the yellow box near the top of our sitemap page.

The ones we updated to show additions from the last six months include:

-Planning commissioners

-Community development corporations (CDCs)

-Congregational leaders

-Rural interest

-Code enforcement topics

-HOA board or members


-Challenged city neighborhoods

Some of you will be quite interested in our new page about the relationship between zoning and social justice, since increasingly high housing prices are blamed on zoning restrictions, specifically single-family-only zoning districts.

Also we answered a question about:

City failing to uphold its nuisance ordinance concerning a hazardous tree

Feel free to reply with comments. To askg a question, use the public-facing community development questions page on the website. We'll be back soon on a Thursday in August.

Back to Back Issues Page