Sometimes the City of Seattle does something awesome. On Wednesday, the City Council Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee might move forward on reduced or eliminated parking requirements in new residential and commercial buildings in some core neighborhoods with good transit, as part of a broader Municipal Code update. Of course nearly all developments will continue to include parking, often lots of it; the point is the City won’t force developers to build it, or as much, in some areas. The Council is considering overlapping concepts by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and the Seattle Planning Commission. The Planning Commission link has a good map showing the relatively small areas affected.
Less parking required?
Here are some reasons reduced requirements are outstanding policy:
1. It’s about “right-sizing” parking to what will actually be used. Developers want to have enough – too few spaces and their housing or commercial space won’t rent or sell, or won’t at the right price; too many and they’re wasting money. So they’ll guess, probably conservatively in most cases. The exceptions will be developers who specifically target tenants without cars, such as students, 20-somethings, or low-income seniors. Others will build more spaces than average. In neighborhoods with precedent, the developers have gotten good at predicting demand. For example, new mid-price apartment buildings on the edges of Downtown will often build 0.7 to 0.9 spaces per unit or thereabouts, with zero required.
2. Its about affordability. Unused spaces cost tens of thousands of dollars each to develop, even before specific site challenges such as inefficient geometries or groundwater. That’s a huge added cost shared by the developer (if the project pencils at all) and the residents of the building. Skipping that cost is a big help for providing new housing at reasonable cost. Regarding the lower price points not covered by subsidy, all housing tends to move downmarket over the decades; the units we’re talking about will drop at a similar pace from a lower starting point (or more quickly if you believe these units won’t be in demand). Also, with less parking architects can design more housing units or commercial space on a given site, which ought to reduce land costs per unit, even if the land itself is worth slightly more because it’s more developable. (Some detractors claim developers won’t pass the savings along, but when developers and building owners compete against each other, of course they’ll compete on price.)
3. It’s not a big reduction. The reduced requirements only apply to new buildings (obviously!). Even decades from now, most housing will still date to the years when parking was required for all units nearly everywhere. Mix in some buildings with ratios like 0.8 and the average won’t drop much. Tenants will self-select, with the car-less not paying extra for parking and those with cars choosing to pay their way. Detractors claim street parking will be jammed…not relevant if developers meet their targets, and a self-limiting factor regardless.
4. It’s about equality. Currently, people without cars are generally required to pay for parking they don’t use, effectively subsidizing the people who do use it. With reduced parking ratios, most owners will rent parking separately, and pay their own way – they’ll pay about what they do now, and the rest of us will pay less.
5. It’s already working. Much of greater Downtown hasn’t required parking in decades. Other districts reduced or eliminated their requirements more recently. So we’re seeing a lot of more reasonable ratios in those areas, balancing cost and demand. It’s the free market at work. Since there’s precedent, developers can see how a price point, unit size, and location translates, on average, into a number of parking spaces that will be used, meaning they can predict demand with decent accuracy.
Please pass this, Council!