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Eliminate Minimum Parking Requirements

Testimony to County Council, presented by Ben Ross, Vice President, June 11, 2013

The Action Committee for Transit urges you to delete Division 59.7-2, the minimum off-street parking requirements, from the new zoning code. Minimum parking requirements unnecessarily raise the cost of housing and interfere with the development of walkable communities. Abolishing minimum parking requirements does not mean no more parking — it means that the supply of new parking will be better matched with the demand.

In our urban centers, underground parking can cost upwards of $50,000 per space — costs the developer must pass on to the buyer, whether or not the buyer actually wants the parking. Mandatory parking is especially burdensome for small landowners, because access and parking spaces are often hard to fit onto small lots. We often hear the complaint that our new downtowns are too bland and corporate — one of the main causes of this problem is that parking requirements squeeze out the small landowners.

In less dense areas, surface parking lots built to meet parking requirements spread out buildings and discourage walking, bicycling, and transit use. Parking lots also generate little tax revenue, employ few or no people, and occupy land that could otherwise be used for stores, parks, offices, or homes.

As applied in residential neighborhoods, parking requirements do not ensure that there will be parking. We all know that many homeowners fill their garages with lawn care equipment, shop tools, or storage items. If the house was built after 1958 and there is only one space in the driveway, this is a violation of the zoning code.

These houses must have two off-street parking spaces, each at least 160 square feet in area. Encroachment on the required parking spaces by “any other use” is forbidden. Not a single complaint about such violations has ever been filed with DPS. The concerns about parking availability that are heard so frequently in this room seem to vanish once the builder has paid for the garage. As the rule operates in practice, it does much more to prevent the construction of affordable housing than to create places to park cars.

The organizations which support minimum parking requirements are advocates of strict code enforcement. Surely they, and you, intend that Division 59.7-2 will be enforced against residential landlords and commercial buildings. But I don't think anyone wants DPS to inspect homeowners' garages when a busybody neighbor complains that a lawnmower is encroaching on the parking space. Passing a law with the intent of selective enforcement raises serious legal and constitutional questions.

This seemingly complicated issue has a simple solution: let the market decide. The zoning code does not require builders to provide stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, and yet there is no shortage of such things. Why? Because the builders know that is what the buyers want and are willing to pay for. The builders will provide enough parking spaces for exactly the same reason.

What's more, this solution is self-enforcing. A successful builder will provide as much parking as the buyers want and are willing to pay for. A builder who does not provide enough parking will go under.

There should be no minimum requirements for off-street parking in the zoning code. (The design standards in Sections 7.2.6-F through L should remain in the code.) The market will ensure that there is as much parking as people want and are willing to pay for — no less, and no more. All we will lose is high housing costs, excess traffic, and wasted and unproductive use of land.