Housing Complex

Tregoning: Parking Minimum Elimination Was “Really Wigging People Out”

Public opposition led the Office of Planning to change course and scrap its plans to eliminate parking minimums in transit zones as part of its rewrite of the city's 55-year-old zoning code.

"We listened, and people were really concerned about it," says Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning. "The absolute no required parking was really wigging people out."

Tregoning made the announcement this afternoon on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, and explained the decision in a subsequent phone interview with me. The Office of Planning's proposal had included the complete elimination of minimum parking requirements in transit zones—within half a mile of Metro stations and a quarter of a mile of high-frequency bus routes—as well as downtown, allowing developers to build as many or as few off-street spaces as they thought the market demanded. While the proposal the Office of Planning will submit to the Zoning Commission later this month will retain the elimination of downtown parking minimums, the minimums in transit zones will be reduced, not cut out altogether.

Tregoning says that parking minimums for institutional uses like schools, industrial uses, and low-density residential neighborhoods near transit zones will be kept largely as is. For office buildings, residential buildings, and retail in transit zones, they will be about halved.

With one side of the zoning debate partially appeased, Tregoning expects to hear criticism from the other side now, the advocates of a market-based, minimum-free parking system. "Am I expecting to get the backlash from the other side? Yes, I am," she says.Tregoning has long argued that the current zoning code, with its parking minimums, is obsolete, given that it came from an era when the city was expected to become thoroughly car-dependent. But she says she's not worried that the new minimums will seem equally obsolete in 55 years—partly because it'll be easier for developers to get out of the requirements (they'll be able to do so through a special exception, which is easier to obtain than the current required variance), and partly because the Office of Planning will be monitoring the parking situation closely and adapting as needed.

Update 3:24 p.m.: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's Stewart Schwartz emails a statement criticizing the move. "We are disappointed that the opposition to progressive reforms has caused the city to back down on the important reform of removing minimum parking requirements," he says. "Parking minimums have driven up the cost of housing in a city that needs more affordable housing. The costs of too much parking are being passed on to all residents even if they want to save money by living car free.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Nick

    BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • NE John

    incremental positive change is better than no such change

  • Luke

    So, whining, lying and complaining get's your way in the District. Glad to know acting like a spoiled 3 year old wins.

  • Tom M.

    Luke -- I think that description could apply to all sides in this all too long running discussion. I've never tended to believe that any side of a public issue has all truth and justice on their side. Let's get done what is doable right now.

  • Corky

    No parking minimums is an outrageously stupid, ;ie in the sky idea. It simply defies the reality on the ground--people still have cars and always will. In fact, there are more cars in DC now than there have ever been and the population is increasing. You just can't legislate away the existence of cars. When are these "livable walkable" freaks zealots going to realize that not everyone can rely on bikes or even walking to meet all of their needs? Maybe when they have kids? When their knees give out? Not everyone is a 20-something, bacon eating PBR drinking, no car having hipster.

  • Tom M.

    Corky and Luke have made my case better than I could.

  • Typical DC BS

    @Tom M.: LOL

  • John

    @Corky - If so many people wanted to drive everywhere then surely a developer would build parking to satisfy this demand. What you want to do is have the government require a developer to build parking into their plans, thereby raising the costs of said development project, and ultimately subsidizing your car-based lifestyle. Your ad-hominem attacks about 20 something hipsters clearly demonstrate your lack of coherent argument on the matter. The big government zealots here are those who killed this intelligent, market-based policy.

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  • Tom M.

    @John -- If builders are able to off load externalities on others, it is not a market-based approach. If a new building can be constructed without any parking and there are people who have cars and park in the neighborhood, that will cause either greater competition for "free" parking on the street and/or higher fees for paid parking in said neighborhood. Isn't that a negative externality imposed on others? and would you agree that if the externality is significant, it is a clear distortion of the market?

  • Corky

    John--you have no idea of what you are talking about. Developers want to spend as little money as possible building their properties. That's why they don't want to include parking garages or use land for a parking lot that could be built upon with more rentable space. They would sell you a chicken coop with wire mesh screen for a front door and call it a "loft" if they could get away with it. Get back to me when you move out of your mother's basement and learn something about the real world.

  • Skeptic

    The challenge here is to make sure that reductions are data-driven and location-specific. We need to right-size parking and that involves paying attention to existing conditions/inventory in specific areas. It'd also be great to see incentives or requirements that new construction include smart parking infrastructure (e.g. entry/exit sensors, signage re spaces remaining) in cases where garages are publicly accessible. I guess that could be part of the TDM mandate.

    RE downtown. I think eliminating minimums there is a potentially big mistake. From a land use perspective, it's really important to keep parking underground and minimums have had that salutary effect. The current CBD is largely built out (unless the Height Act ends up repealed), but "downtown" under the new regs would be 3x its current size. So it's places like the ballpark district and NOMA that are probably most at risk.

  • John

    @Tom - I don't know if "negative externality" is the best term for it. However, the reality is that parking on the street should cost a lot more than it currently does. The price for parking in a given location should vary depending on the demand at a given time. The current model of simply handing out zoned street parking passes for the year is extremely inefficient. It artificially keeps prices low for those who barely drive their cars and keep them parked on the street for long periods of time. This policy was shot down because of a special interest group (people who own cars right now in DC and park them on the street) that want to continue consuming a good at below-market rate. That is all.

  • Corky

    That "special interest group" pays hundreds of dollars in registration and tag fees, parking tickets and income taxes (not to mention the occasional redlight or speed camrea fine). And we vote. By the way, this is the United States, not the Netherlands. People drive cars and have a right to park on the street where they live, so get used to it.

  • John

    @Corky- might I suggest you build your own parking spot on your own property? It's the same thing you're requiring of a developer when you force them to build parking so why should it not apply to you?

  • Anon2

    " have a right to park on the street where they live, so get used to it."

    yeah, its in the constitution, the bill of drivers rights, doncha know

  • Anon2

    tom M - i understand the value of compromise

    But if you believe in the case for parking minimums, whats right about this compromise? Why is it doing whats doable? The same arguments FOR parkign mins apply to keeping the existing ones, no? Whats magic about 1/6 spot per unit? It sounds to me more like you wanted no change, but realized full abolition was possible and so are glad to get this.

    Its not a compromise when the likely outsome was a complete win for one side, and the difference is split 50/50. A compromise needs to recognize the balance of forces. In this case should have been more like 80/20. Perhaps keeping reduced parking minimums in the bus corridors, and slightly shortening the distance to a metro station.

    The only hope for this is if "downtown" is really big.

  • Andrew

    Anyone want to look at the parking proposed at Park Van Ness and 5333 Connecticut Avenue and compare it to what is required by current zoning regulations?

    I'll give a hint: it is MORE than what is required. Said proposals seem to undercut the assertions of Corky and Tom M.

  • Corky

    John--People who live ona street in a single family home or townhouse tend to have one car and park on their block. If I build a dense residential high rise property housing 200 hundred people, then it is reasonable, in fact logical, to require that I include parking for those residents so as not to flood the neighborhood with cars from people living in that building and their visitors. In case you just arrived here from Portlandia, most of adults in this part of the country drive and have relatives that drive and we like for them to come visit every now and then.

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  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    Why, I was just at an event YESTERDAY where a SVP from DC's largest developer said, and I quote, about a major apartment complex they have under construction: "parking is extremely expensive and we lose money on it, but if we build too little we're going to pay for it by hurting leasing... right now we're over-parked from a zoning standpoint."

  • Skeptic

    Two points.

    One is that if the law requires you to build some parking, how much parking becomes a different decision than it would be if the law didn't require you to provide any parking at all. It's probably also a different decision when none of your competitors has to provide parking either.

    Secondly, "over-parked" as the developer is using it doesn't mean parking supply exceeds demand. It just means they're building more parking than the regs require because they think the regs underestimate demand for this project. What's the harm in that?

    Or are you suggesting that this anecdote is evidence that the unregulated market will always provide? If so, it's not really persuasive. Depends on the product, depends on how tight the market is, what else is available or being produced, etc. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won't.

    When it will, the minimums are superfluous but not detrimental. When it won't, they're necessary. Regulatory minimums are only a problem if/when they overestimate demand and there's little or no evidence that DC very low minimums do. And the existing regs allow developers who can demonstrate that parking provision in a particular project is cost-prohibitive (or unnecessary because there is excess parking available nearby which will be made available to tenants) to have the minimums waived on a case-by-case basis.

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  • Anon2

    "When it will, the minimums are superfluous but not detrimental. When it won't, they're necessary. Regulatory minimums are only a problem if/when they overestimate demand and there's little or no evidence that DC very low minimums do."

    The evidence is that developers are renting spots out at less than the costs of producing them, and want to produce less. Demand here means demand AT the cost of production - not demand when its free. In fact I know of one building that was looking at converting its unused spaces to storage (which is more in demand, but is NOT mandated)

    "And the existing regs allow developers who can demonstrate that parking provision in a particular project is cost-prohibitive (or unnecessary because there is excess parking available nearby which will be made available to tenants) to have the minimums waived on a case-by-case basis."

    But that variance process is itself costly and time consuming.

  • Anon2

    "John--People who live ona street in a single family home or townhouse tend to have one car and park on their block. If I build a dense residential high rise property housing 200 hundred people, then it is reasonable, in fact logical, to require that I include parking for those residents so as not to flood the neighborhood with cars from people living in that building and their visitors."

    there other ways to prevent said "flooding" 1. Price RPPs at what they are actually worth 2. Make the new buildings ineligible for RPPs.

    "In case you just arrived here from Portlandia, most of adults in this part of the country drive and have relatives that drive and we like for them to come visit every now and then."

    The part of the country is not relevant. Its only DC thats relevant. In fact its only particular neighborhoods near transit that are relevant.

  • http://via-architecture.com Kate

    We've done a lot of work in the west coast thinking about parking and how to "right size it" ... a project with King County Wa (Seattle) called Right Sized Parking might be of interest to this discussion... the County created an online model to help developers and our cities predict the "right" amount of parking - as parking needs are often shaped by demographic as well as locational factors in a building type. The County ran and applied a series of statistics -- (i.e. seniors require less parking, income influences how many cars your own, students in affordable units near transit won't likely own cars etc.) With access to data there is a lot the public sector can do besides just universally removing parking minimums (although it is a good place to start). I also agree that the issue here is mobility - so alternatives must be required - such as carshare programs, bike facilities, transit passes, pedestrian improvements, etc. to accommodate non-motorized movements.

    Basically the problem is the capacity of the streets - and our neighborhoods - we want to build a downtown for people not for their automobiles - this requires changes.

    Check out the site:

    http://www.rightsizeparking.org/

    Another great program in San Francisco - is transforms's greentrip see:

    http://www.transformca.org/GreenTRIP

    good luck!

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