Tory Gattis opposes minimum-parking requirements (as do right-thinking people everywhere), but wonders whether they make any difference:
Developers in Houston know the market demands parking, and they'd be committing suicide without it. What I'd really like to see, if someone has it, is data on approved apartment projects of the last few years, and how their built parking compares to the legally required minimums. If many of them are right at the minimum, then relaxing the regs could have an impact. But if most projects have more than them minimum required, as I suspect they do, then relaxing the minimums may have little practical impact.
Good idea. A lot of us (me included) assume that we'd have less parking if we relaxed minimum parking requirements. But what does the evidence show?
I haven't pulled up site plans and parking charts for every new downtown development. But I did check four new downtown developments: 360, Spring, Amli (Block 22), and the Gables at Park Plaza on Lamar, just south of Spring and the railroad tracks.
Downtown is a good place to start because downtown has reduced minimum-parking requirements. (Residential developments downtown need just 60% of the parking the city requires elsewhere; retail, just 20%.) If downtown developers are building less than the minimums required elsewhere, the minimums elsewhere are too high -- where "too high" means "more than customers are willing to pay for." Mandating unnecesary capacity is expensive and wasteful.
I'll address criticisms of this approach at the end.
The Gables at Park Plaza isn't eligible for relaxed parking because it is not zoned for downtown. But it is mixed-use like the other developments and is adjacent to downtown, so I doubt it needs more parking than the other developments. Think of the Gables as a control group of one.
To the numbers:
- 852 -- standard city minimum
- 466 -- reduced city minimum for downtown
- 648 -- spots provided (76% of standard requirement)
- 923 -- standard city minimum
- 368 -- reduced city minimum for downtown
- 799 -- spots provided (87% of standard requirement)
Amli (Block 22)
- 667 -- standard city minimum
- 299 -- reduced city minimum for downtown
- 430 -- spots provided (64% of standard requirement)
The Gables at Park Plaza
- 587 -- standard city minimum
- 645 -- spots provided (not eligible for reduced minimum downtown)
This is a small sample, I admit, but it suggests that the city requires too much parking outside downtown. Both Amli (64%) and 360 (76%) provided much less parking than the standard minimum. Spring took just a 13% discount, but then it includes parking for an office development.
The Gables will have 58 more spots than the city minimum. This suggests (as Tory hypothesized) that the developer thought market demand exceeds the city minimum. But I'm not convinced that's true. The Gables has seven stories of parking with roughly 90 units each, probably more for stories 2-7. The Gables could not have met regulations with just six floors because it would have been short 30-40 spots. Because the developer had to build a seventh floor anyway, it might as well have used the whole floor. Hence the extra spots.
Note that the reduced minimums downtown appear to be below market demand, at least for residential projects. 360 provided 39% more than the minimum; Amli, 43% more. Spring provided more than twice the minimum required, but then, again, it's also providing parking an office building. Thus, I'm skeptical that we would see a reduction in parking if we got rid of downtown parking minimums, at least for condos. (Of course, if the parking minimums don't matter, why not get rid of them?)
I can think of four objections to this approach.
First, four data points do not a sample make. This is a fair criticism. These conclusions are necessarily tentative. Ideally, we would get a complete census of downtown projects, comparing parking supplied to downtown minimums as they changed over the years. That's a project for a paid consultant.
Second, some may argue that these downtown projects need less parking because they are mixed-use. But because the City mandates very little downtown parking for retail and restaurants, being mixed-use just doesn't matter much. For example, 360 had to provide only 23 spots for its retail and restaurants. Suppose that 360 were purely residential. If its developer cut its parking by exactly the amount of the minimum required for the retail/restaurant uses, then 360 would have provided 625 spots rather than 648 spots, and its minimum would have dropped from 466 to 443. In that case, it would have 41% more than the parking minimum, rather than 39%. That's not much of a difference. (And even that 41% would be too high if the developer had internally set aside more than 23 units for the retail/restaurant uses).
The third objection is that we have parking minimums to protect neighborhoods from spillover parking that occurs when developers under-provide parking. Downtown developments are not good example, the argument might go, because they are not surrounded by neighborhoods. But the fact that downtown developers can't count on the spillover parking actually supports my approach. Because developers cannot assume that other parking will be available nearby, they have to build enough parking to handle the anticipated demand.
Finally, some may argue that downtown projects don't need as much parking because downtown residents drive less than average. I imagine downtown residents do drive less. But I doubt many of them have given up their cars yet. Austin is still too auto-centric. Even if a handful have gotten rid of their cars, I don't think developers would have counted on this when planning their parking. (It will be interesting to see what effect light rail has on auto ownership downtown.)
Again, I acknowledge that my sample is awfully small. We need more data. But it is consistent with the proposition that the city mandates way too much parking outside downtown.