Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Parking, Zoning, Hahahahaha

Parking code is one of those critical code elements in the formation and elaboration of the physical form of the city.  When a city has high parking minimums, developers are required to provide a certain amount of parking.  A surface parking space can cost around $5,000 (using very round numbers as these things change site by site, material by material, and city by city).  In dense, walkable developments, that usually means structured parking.  Because walkable = value.  And value means the developer wants to maximize the space on the site.  Structured parking spaces cost quite a bit more, even upwards of $20K per space.

Therefore, the irony of having parking minimums in the most walkable of places (if our goal is less cars on the road (public burden) and less car-dependence (private burden), though is it? Is it?), having parking minimums equates to more parking than necessary at a higher cost that is then even further amplified by the need for more density.

Parking minimums are a barrier to investment.  Hence, why conservatives are against such regulations.  They hinder property rights, investment, and the natural evolution of the market.  On the other hand, requiring a certain degree of parking also has a negative effect on adjacent properties.

So with that said, comes word that the city of Dallas Planning & Zoning commission is going to recommend a new parking minimum standard of 1 space per bedroom.  Really.  This is the culmination of the two year long process of looking to revamp the parking code.  Really.  The existing parking code (which is so rare due to the 900 or so PDs trying to get around such an irrelevant and unnecessary burden) is set at 1 space per 500 square feet.  So if you have a 1000 square foot 1 bedroom unit, you MUST have 2 parking spaces for your one car.  So this new code is "better than it used to be," right?  Right?  Wrong.

Let me drop the punch line:

1 parking space per bedroom is exactly what the market has been doing for the last fifteen years.  

State-Thomas neighborhood was found (after build-out) to be parked at .88 spaces per bedroom.  Less than the proposed "improved" code.  State-Thomas began construction in 1990 and is one of the preeminent infill development projects in the entire country.  Needless to say, we haven't done it as well since.  It was and continues to be clearly even ahead of our time today.

In other words, State-Thomas is illegal according to the recommended code.  Some people think State-Thomas doesn't have enough parking.  Those people don't live in State-Thomas.  In other words, they're value extractors.  Wildly successful and parking at a premium and hard to find.  Something tells me those two things are strongly correlated.  But like every other market-related project, the developer has to go to the city to get a variance or establish a PD, which is a form of localized zoning.

Let's back up to why parking minimums are in place in the first place.  To do so, we have to back up all the way to the 20's and 30's (when all modern codes are up to date and relevant they are).  Car ownership was 'democratized' via mass production and cities became invaded.  Since cities weren't ready for such an invasion, cars began to be parked on the street as if they were horses.  Spaces filled rapidly and other cars circled endlessly for that next available spot further exasperating the car-created congestion, traffic, and pollution.

To combat this, cities codified that all new development had to provide off-street parking.  The numbers were and continue to be rather arbitrary.  So now, finally.  They're meeting the market.  Even though the market has always been ahead of the code.  Because parking is a barrier and we're trending towards denser, less car-dependent development (because it is advantageous for developer, user, and city alike, so therefore it is inevitable), this new code is immediately out of date from the time of inception.  That means, if you want to do less than 1 space per bedroom, you have to go in for a variance or establish your very own Planned Development district.  Just like we do now.

So then the question begs, why even have parking minimums in the first place?

You've got me.  They are arbitrary, arcane, archaic, and out of touch with investment, development, and the trend towards walkability.

Instead, we should be establishing overlay zones based on Neighborhood Centers and Regional Centers that would be contextually based.

Neighborhood centers (and those scaled to serve the needs of just nearby neighborhoods) should have parking maximums in order to protect the character and value of place.  These include Greenville, Henderson, Bishop Arts, for example.  Invariably, these become places of conflict, overrun by cars from throughout the metroplex coming to enjoy the few human-scaled, interactive, social environments we have left.

Regional Centers should have parking management districts that would price parking by supply and demand.  And ideally, these would be in conjunction with regional infrastructure: highways and transit.  CityPlace is a perfect example.  These would direct resources, investment, and people to existing hot spots as well as places where we want to incent more development that is focused rather than scattershot across the city towards places that are built (or could be built) to handle the demand load.