Neighborhood Group Votes for More Parking, Higher Rents

The Southwest Journal reports on a housing competition in Minneapolis:

Lyndale neighborhood residents heard two competing development concepts Monday for 3329 Nicollet Ave., and voted 20-11 in favor of the pitch that provided the most parking.

The developers’ concepts ranged from eight-unit townhouses rising three stories with garages, to a four-story apartment building with at least 32 units and nine surface parking spaces.

The article gives the impression that this vote was a referendum on parking, and how to build as much of it as possible. For anyone who’s been to a neighborhood development meeting, this preoccupation with parking should sound familiar. Local landlord Carol Greenwood, speaking about about new people moving to the Lyndale neighborhood, said, “they all have cars, and they all want a parking spot.” It’s worth pointing out that 32% of Lyndale households own no vehicle. You might say an apartment building with reduced parking is compatible with the existing neighborhood character.

mncompass.org is a great tool car-free residents can use to prove they aren't mythical creatures.

mncompass.org is a great tool car-free residents can use to prove they aren’t mythical creatures.

Despite having a significant number of car-free households, new apartment buildings in Minneapolis were required starting in the 1960s to provide parking at a minimum ratio of one space per dwelling unit. Parking minimums are a problem because parking is expensive to build. Overbuilding parking for people who don’t need it is a bad idea, if you care about housing affordability. In 2015, with an eye towards easing the cost of housing, the Minneapolis City Council enacted parking reform which allowed developers to build less parking at locations near frequent public transit. The vacant lot at 3329 Nicollet Ave is one such location.

People complain a lot about private developers building unaffordable luxury housing. Here we have a case where the city is selling the land; unlike with those other, luxury projects, the city gets to choose. It would be great if we could favor the proposal that provides the most affordable result.


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16 Responses to Neighborhood Group Votes for More Parking, Higher Rents

  1. Janne Flisrand
    Janne July 27, 2016 at 11:44 am #

    About the same landlord, per the article linked, “She said her vacant apartments are filled within a day.” Parkig is not a barrier to getting her units filled.

    I’m a landlord in a tiny, owner-occupied four-unit building. I, too, live on a transit corridor. I market my building that way, and also higlight the better-than-typical bike parking on site.

    I have a couple of parking spaces available to rent out, but more often than not over the last 10 years, there are fewer resident-owned cars than spaces AND no one is willing to pay for them.

    Praking, for units that are located and marketed right, is not a barrier to filling units.

  2. Stuart July 27, 2016 at 12:05 pm #

    This proposal is just a block and a half from where I live. Unfortunately, I was out of town for work so I couldn’t make it to the meeting. The result is disappointing but not surprising.
    I’ll add that calling the townhouses “artist” housing because the garage could be used as studio space is some class A marketing bullshit.

  3. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman July 28, 2016 at 7:00 am #

    If the neighborhood is afraid, justified or not, that people are going to choose the cheaper rents that don’t include parking and then own cars and park on the street anywayt, is it possible to write into the lease conditions that the tenant will not park on the street? How would this affect lease rates or marketability (as opposed to simply not providing parking)?

    • Scott Shaffer
      Scott Shaffer July 28, 2016 at 8:17 am #

      Streets are public space, so it would be weird/illegal to take away certain people’s rights to use that space. Prices are a better way to allocate scarce resources.

      • ae_umn August 2, 2016 at 10:47 am #

        I agree that it would be weird and certainly unethical to deny newcomers to the neighborhood the ability to park on the street when long-time residents get to do so for free. But would it be illegal? I don’t know. I can’t find the link at the moment, but I recall hearing about a Chicago apartment near the Blue Line L that had residents agree to live car free (or maybe I’m just making this up – I have no clue).

  4. Daniel Choma
    Daniel Choma July 28, 2016 at 9:44 am #

    I want to quote a comment from John on a previous article here:

    “The neighborhood association process privileges people with predictable/traditional schedules, free time, and the endurance to participate; this usually means older, white homeowners. Compounding the problem is that over the decades in Minneapolis, money has been earmarked primarily for priorities like home rehab: this money recruits homeowners to the process in a vicious circle that skews these groups even further towards the priorities of one class of people.”

    I agree with John on this, and I think that he brings a case study forward in this article that proves his point. Bravo!

    My opinion with regards to the neighborhood group here is that the neighborhood group is being given an opportunity to make an official statement on something that is well out of their core competencies as a neighborhood group.

    I would argue that neighborhood groups although given opportunity to plan infrastructure are much better suited to plan culture. The groups in my opinion essentially function as a club that is given the ability to cast a non binding vote. It makes people feel important (which is great for self esteem. Value!) but it doesn’t actually hold binding power and can disconnect people with less time from actual binding power. (Aww, man, drag.)

    I DO think that these “clubs” can be a resource, but I think bandwidth in these “clubs” is best served trying to find ways to plan cultural events that invite the diversity of the whole community to engage in culture. Although this doesn’t seem to officially effect change, I know personally that I didn’t get involved in advocacy because I love graphs and data, I got involved in advocacy because I went to concerts/artevents and experienced the culture that advocacy created.

    For me, the challenge of these community groups is whether or not they are going to get over themselves, realize their influence is for show at best, and use their social capital for something they are actually good at: being social. The question for me is “Can these older white people learn to social accept a growing demographic of people ethnically and economically?”

  5. robsk July 28, 2016 at 10:49 pm #

    Reading the full Southwest Journal article gives me a different impression.

    Good to point out that 32% of households might not have a vehicle. But I’ll argue that you need to add up all of the multiple car owning households to better understand how many cars are actually in the neighborhood. Spread those 2 and 3 vehicle households out, and the no-car camp seems more like 23%.

    Looking at Google’s latest aerial of the Lyndale neighborhood, there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of cars during the daytime.

    I’m also not certain that the townhouses are “luxury” or that the density argument (24 bedrooms vs 34 units) holds up. 3310 across the street kind of looks out of place in the neighborhood.

    The City has an interest allowing the development that will generate the most revenue from taxes and fees. Does anyone have stats on what would generate more property value?

    • Joe July 29, 2016 at 9:01 am #

      What are we doing with 2 and 3 car households??? I think there may be another statistic to quantify what you’re saying, but I don’t understand what you’re trying to do. Are we looking at the average number of cars per household? Why are we saying that actually 1/3 of the no-car households actually have a car because some have 3?

      I really want to understand this, seriously, I do, but I am very confused on what statistic you’re trying to generate.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini July 29, 2016 at 9:26 am #

      The residents are quite clearly saying they prefer to leave their own cars on the street for free and keep other people from doing so (which, it pretty much what they said). Would it be any crazier for the city to come out and say that any registered vehicles owned/leased by anyone in the city must have proof of off-street parking? In any case, Joe’s comment is good – we know that 1BR renters are even more likely to not have a car than the neighborhood average of 23%. It’s not a bad assumption that 50% or more of people in a building like this won’t have a car. And the more buildings we allow like that, the more households without cars there’d be.

      Google aerials (the 3D satellite view as well as “3D off”) do show a lot of cars. They also show a lot of open on-street spaces. Two snapshots don’t paint the entire picture, but they are still two data points that can’t be ignored. And I’d also guess that a large chunk of the cars we do see on the street are people parking out front out of convenience rather than putting the car in the back garage they already have. I know I do it, and tons of residents on my block do too.

      Why is a building that looks “out of place” bad?

      • robsk July 29, 2016 at 11:32 pm #

        It is not unreasonable for a single family home to have 2 cars. It is not unreasonable for a duplex to have 4 or 5 cars depending on who lives there. I live in a duplex with 2 on-site parking spaces. For 2 people to own 3 cars is not outrageous. 1 for longer drives and commutes, 1 for shorter trips, and 1 “work truck”.

        Open on-street spaces are great for local businesses, visitors, and bicycles.

        I’ll backtrack a little on the “out of place” character of the condos at 3310. On the one hand, they represent density, on-premise parking, and flexibility (if you are into the condo thing), etc. On the other hand, they promote gentrification (pro-and-con argument for another day), totally shade out the residence to the north of them (maybe that was okay at the time of construction), and I prefer the nice old houses on 1st ave.

        My biggest issue here is that cars do not always equal bad. Jobs change, relationships change, housing preferences change. If you want a car-free lifestyle, that is great! But don’t push it on other folks who are looking for city living, but also need/want cars. This is a long walk from downtown.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke July 30, 2016 at 9:43 am #

          Yeah, but it is unreasonable to own three cars in a dense part of a walkable city. If someone wants to own three cars, there are many many places in the Twin Cities that they could live. The “three-car garage” has become standard fare for housing built from Lakeville to Rogers and Hudson to Chanhassen. But there are precious few places in the Twin Cities metro where you can walk to a store and take transit to work, and demand for this kind of “low car” housing is very high as a result.

          While I empathize with statements like this defending the norms of our society — and after all, this is “normal”, even if I think that our automobile society is deeply harmful to the planet — there is a place for the three-car family, and it’s not in the middle of Uptown. We need to be building housing with fewer parking spots that thrives on walkability and improves its walkable surroundings. The future of Minneapolis is going to be one where people can live without driving everywhere, and I’m looking forward to it!

          • Monte Castleman
            Monte Castleman July 30, 2016 at 10:30 am #

            I guess the way I see it, if we’re going to provide free parking on the street (whether for homeowners in this neighborhood or businesses on Cleveland) you’re going to have people investing in the neighborhood, buying homes and opening businesses with the idea that this won’t suddenly be snatched away; relying on street parking rather than making sure they have space to store all the vehicles they need off the street. That’s why I was asking above if if was legal or desirable to give these people dibs on the on-street parking if the new people in the building can go into this from the beginning knowing that it is not going to be an option.

            Also, things change. Maybe when they bought a house they were a young couple where one worked in the office downtown and one worked in the neighborhood so one car was fine for occasional use. Now they both lost their jobs and found new ones and one works in Plymouth and one works in Edina. Meanwhile their kid has gotten his license and bought a $1000 car with his money from his job at McDonalds.

            Is there an actual parking problem? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter because the point seems that there is a perception of one which was enough to sink the denser project.

            • Janne Flisrand
              Janne July 30, 2016 at 2:15 pm #

              I think it’s also important to look at whether this is a problem or a PERCEIVED problem. Every time there’s a development (even a duplex), the neighbors and block freak out about what it will do to on-street parking. I’ve watched this for 20 years. I’ve never seen the feared changes actually happen at the end. (Most recently with 2320 Colfax. No noticeable change in on-street parking availability on that block.)

              Responding to fears by legitimizing them and saying, “Oh, of course we’ll humor you!” when they are unfounded creates a vicious cycle.

              (I’m not saying there have never been any changes, but I’ve never seen any personally. The only exception I can think of is not a housing project, but rather the Greenway. There IS more parking on Bryant where there’s an entrance than there used to be. And even that is fine and there are usually still spots on the block.)

            • Rosa July 31, 2016 at 9:54 am #

              Nobody really expects easy unlimited street parking if they’ve ever lived in the Minneapolis, because we often have a winter one-side parking ban and ALWAYS have snow emergencies.

  6. Michael July 29, 2016 at 9:27 am #

    As one of the neighbors who voted in favor of the town homes, it wasn’t the parking or lack there of that made the difference. These are three bedroom rental units, which are sorely lacking in the city. The proposal that had the supposed higher density (town home option only had 8 fewer bedrooms), was made up entirely of 1 bedroom units, going for about $900 per month. These are very small one bedroom units as well. It’s going to be a tight squeeze to get two people in there comfortably. For me it was the opportunity to provide the family rental option, something which we need.

    • Matthew Steele July 29, 2016 at 9:47 am #

      The surrounding neighborhood is full of 3br rentals. I’m not sure it’s fair to say the neighborhood lacks “family rental options” just because they don’t come in the suburban townhome form factor.

      Also, not all bedrooms are equal in terms of density. If you have 34+ one bedroom apartments, you are going to have 34+ people, minus a small buffer for rental churn. If you have 24 bedrooms in 8 units, there’s a very high likelihood you’ll have even less than 24 people in those bedrooms. Nearly everyone I know who has multiple bedrooms in Minneapolis – whether renting a 2BR apartment or owning a 3/4 bedroom house – has bedrooms that are really guest rooms, TV rooms, hobby rooms, home offices, etc.

      There’s nothing wrong with 3BR townhome rentals, and nothing wrong with developers building more of them. But this is a city-owned lot. The 8-unit option produces less tax base for the city, less equity outcomes, and less affordability for the city.