Parking: By now, you will have heard about it. It’s sort of an amorphous and complicated issue, where, in the words of Bill Lindeke, “logic seems to twist and transform like hallucinated dragons.” It can be very emotional–in the space of a couple minutes, you go from flying through your world at fifty miles an hour to suddenly circling a block seven times to find a space ten steps from your destination. Are those pedestrians looking at you? Have the patrons of the sidewalk cafe you’ve repeatedly passed noted your license plate number? It’s unclear.
What is clear, though, is that parking is very expensive to build. Often priced in manageable per-Twins game increments for the average consumer, developers and builders will tell you that it costs tens of thousands of dollars per spot. Circumstances will vary, but generally a structured parking space in an above ground parking podium or underground ramp is going to run somewhere from $20,000 to $55,000. The full costs of residential parking are often not completely paid through user fees–in a simple example, the monthly payment on a $40,000 parking space is a little under $300/month, if you get a 15 year loan at current interest rates. If the management company is charging $150/month per spot, the difference is passed on through the rent regardless of whether or not a tenant is using any of the spaces.
Since the 1960s, the City of Minneapolis has required off-street parking for new residential buildings. There are recently enacted exceptions in downtown and university area neighborhoods, but the current requirement across most of the city is one parking space per unit. A great deal of the city was built before the 1960s, and much of it is still there–that area is grandfathered in. You can’t build a neighborhood like Loring Park or Stevens Square anymore. Much of the current, subtle density of South Minneapolis would be unbuildable as of right.
Next week, the Minneapolis City Planning Commission will be considering a proposal from 10th Ward Councilmember Lisa Bender to reduce or eliminate off-street parking requirements for residential developments along bus and rail transit lines. The full text of the amendment is available here, and it is fairly easy to skim. Here are the basics laid out in a table:
This proposal would eliminate all minimum off-street parking requirements for residential developments very close to high-frequency transit stops. Three hundred and fifty feet is a little bit longer than the short side of a long Minneapolis residential block, and a quarter mile is a bit longer than four short sides. Here’s a map to help you visualize the area this would impact.
So the light blue area would qualify for the 100% reduction for any type of building, and the yellow area would only get the 100% reduction in developments with less than 50 units. The area around the University of Minnesota has a separate parking overlay and is not included in the proposed change. Areas close to future rail transit stations are included. At present, about 30% of rental households in Minneapolis do not own a car. Given demographic trends and the increasing availability and accessibility of alternative means of transportation, it stands to reason that this percentage will continue to increase.
Possibilities and “the Missing Middle”
Since 2009, most of Downtown Minneapolis–an area including the central business district, the North Loop, and Downtown East–has had no residential parking requirement. Not too many developers have taken advantage of this (one in fact ran up against the downtown parking maximum in a proposal) though Village Green recently proposed a project at Marquette and 10th Avenues with 293 units and just 12 parking spaces. Down Marquette Avenue, a rehab of the Soo Line building converted that former office building into apartments, and added zero dedicated parking spaces. It’s hard to directly compare it to new construction, but the units in Soo Line were priced considerably lower than other new apartment projects downtown, and it leased up very quickly even without parking in the building.
Those are a couple large downtown developments with associated high land costs, but the more interesting part of this proposal is that it would allow three to fifty unit developments with no off-street parking in a pretty huge swath of the city. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for new types of residential infill.
Right now, we’ve got lots of tear downs in Southwest and lots of half and full-block projects in Uptown and Downtown. But there’s not much of the three or four story infill development many folks will tell you they’d be okay with when protesting a six story building at a neighborhood meeting. That so-called “missing middle” is hard to build–shimmying in parking on a small lot for a small, short building is generally going to be cost prohibitive.
Tossing some numbers around with a practicing architect last week, we thought a little bit about what it might cost to hypothetically build a typical older Minneapolis brownstone in 2015. So, a three or four story building with twenty to forty relatively spartan residential units and no structured parking. Numbers, of course, will vary from project to project and city to city, but generally when talking about a “luxury” apartment building in South Minneapolis, your costs are going to be about $100,000 per unit. Breaking down those costs–removing structured parking, granite countertops, and Mariah Carey’s former concierge–you can hypothetically get your costs down to about $65,000 or $70,000 per unit, keeping in mind that the buildings will have to be built to ADA standards in 2015.
So, that $1500/month one bedroom becomes a $1000/month one bedroom, if you’re willing to forgo that underground ramp and other frills. This is a real and tangible step we could take to improve the affordability of housing in Minneapolis.
Reducing minimum off-street parking requirements along transit routes would test the market for buildings similar to what we have and already like all across the city. The proposed changes don’t compel anyone to build a project a certain way, they just give builders the option.
You can weigh in on the proposal at a public hearing before the Minneapolis City Planning Commission on Monday, June 15, 2015 at 4:30 PM. If you’re unable to make the hearing to testify in person, you can also submit written comments to Aaron Hanauer, Senior City Planner, at firstname.lastname@example.org.