Richfield Considers Lowering Parking Minimums

On Monday April 22, the Richfield Planning Commission split 3-3 on a recommendation by planning staff to reduce parking minimums in mixed use zoning districts. In areas near transit, the plan would reduce minimum requirements from 1.5 to one space per unit. Outside of areas with high frequency transit, parking minimums would be made consistent with existing rules in high-density zoning districts — 1.25 spaces per unit.

The proposal goes forward to the Richfield City Council, where it will be considered without a recommendation from the Planning Commission.

Richfield city planner Matt Brillhart told commissioners that approved apartment projects within the last two years had mostly been within the 1.25 to 1.3 range, with the exception of a building consisting mostly of studios that included one parking space per apartment.

Commissioner Sean Hayford Oleary — referencing the fact that Minneapolis eliminated parking minimums entirely in the recently adopted 2040 plan — said the reduction they were considering was still “a much higher number than what Minneapolis requires just a few blocks north of where many of these apartment buildings are.”

Commissioner Peter Lavin responded, “We’re not Minneapolis.”

Lavin argued for maintaining the commission’s ability to judge parking requirements on a case by case basis for each proposed development. Earlier in the meeting he voted against allowing a bubble tea cafe to open with 13 parking spaces — two spaces under the 15-space minimum.

Commissioner James Rudolph explained his own personal parking math: winter snow occupies 1/3 of every parking lot for nine months of the year, with just four months snow-free (he didn’t explain why his year includes 13 months).

Brillhart, the planner, pointed out that most new residential parking in Richfield is covered, and in cases where it’s not, they have dedicated space for snow storage. In cases where commercial development has been built at the minimum requirement, it’s specifically prohibited to store snow on site.

Rudolph called the idea of a residential parking minimum reduction a “nightmare.” He delivered a series of parking anecdotes throughout the meeting, which were called into question by a skeptical Commissioner Susan Rosenberg.

Rudolph: “I see it every day. You can drive by my house. You can drive by the new developments…”

Rosenberg: “You see people circling the parking lots not finding a place to park?”

Rudolph: “The parking lots are full.”

Rosenberg: “Everyday?”

Rudolph: “People are parking on the streets. Yes.”

Rosenberg: “Mhmm.”

“In my experience living in Richfield, we do have vast amounts of parking space,” Said Commission Chair Allysen Hoberg. “It does behoove Richfield to look at our parking requirements.”

Brillhart explained the justification for his staff recommendation:

“Richfield’s best transit days are ahead of it. We don’t have too many high frequency transit lines operating today. That’s going to change within about three years. The D Line will be running on Portland Avenue offering rapid transit service. The Orange Line will be running on 35W, stopping at 66th Street and 76th Street, offering high frequency transit between here and downtown.

“The zoning code is not looking backward at the past, it’s looking forward. The average household size is smaller than ever. Vehicle ownership rates are steady or dropping. Not every household in Richfield owns a vehicle.”

One thing unaddressed at Monday’s meeting is the sheer cost of parking. It’s expensive, especially when it’s structured. In 2015, a Minneapolis developer told the Star Tribune that the cost of underground parking is $25,000 per stall, plus maintenance, taxes, and insurance. This cost affects what sorts of buildings are possible and the price people pay to live there.

The proposed parking minimum reduction was one piece of a package of recommendations from Richfield planning staff intended to “address inconsistencies” and “make other adjustments based on lessons learned from recent and approved development projects.” The other proposed changes, mostly related to setbacks and permitted uses, were passed by the Planning Commission without controversy.

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9 thoughts on “Richfield Considers Lowering Parking Minimums

  1. Matt SteeleMatt

    Richfielders seemed quite concerned when Crossroads Apartments at Penn and 494 were upmarketed into the Concierge Apartments which resulted in nearly all tenants being kicked out. While there’s lots of reasons why situations like that happened and there’s lots of things that can be done as a result, it’s hard to think Richfield takes housing affordability seriously when it uses the heavy hand of city government to mandate massive amounts of off-street parking that may not be needed and have significant cost.

    Does Richfield want developers to spend money building housing for people or building housing for cars?

  2. Lou Miranda

    Is it safe to assume commissioners Lavin & Rudolph are among the most senior members, and will be retiring soon? Are there term limits?

    They seem to be from the Jurassic period of car dominance. This is not what’s best for the city.

    I wonder how many people on the commission live in apartments or condos?

    1. Monte Castleman

      There’s a substantial number of people (quite a few of them young) that live in the suburbs precisely because they don’t like Minneapolis (politics, policies, density, crime, and built form, etc) and will resist any attempts to make the suburbs more like Minneapolis, and don’t think making things harder for people in cars is best for the suburbs.

      Meanwhile there’s a lot of people moving into the suburbs that want to live like Minneapolis, but don’t either through circumstance or because they can’t afford a place in Minneapolis, but want to make the suburbs more like or identical to the Minneapolis they don’t live in.

      Between these groups are people that don’t care, and people that think that even if they dislike Minneapolis as a whole or just dislike elements of it, there are some good elements from them that the suburbs could copy. All this makes for lively city council meetings and Facebook discussions.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt

        People in the former group who like Richfield as “Minnesota’s First Suburb,” are free to build or buy the off-street parking they desire even if it is no longer required.

        People in the latter group, who like Richfield as the “Urban Hometown,” simply want the freedom not to build or buy something they may not want.

        This is a common sense proposal to reduce government social engineering, and it doesn’t limit anyone’s freedom. On the contrary, those pushing this change are expanding the bounds of freedom for Richfield residents.

      2. Tim

        How is this making things harder for people in cars who already live in Richfield, though? This is about future parking, not taking existing parking away.

        1. Monte Castleman

          If you could make an ordinance that no one can own more cars than their unit provides off-street parking for that would be one thing, but otherwise I have a feeling that people will buy units without parking because they’re cheaper and then immediately park a car on nearby public streets, or their life changes and they now need a car or another car to get to work, or their kid learns how to drive. Or they just get tired of going to get groceries in the cold and snow instead of the heated, air conditioned comfort of a car.

          Then you have problems with those cars taking up street parking in front of nearby houses and not getting out of the way of snowplows in the winter.

          1. Tim

            If street parking is allowed, I don’t see the issue with people parking in front of other people’s houses. If people are parking where (or when) they’re not supposed to, they can be towed. if people’s parking needs change and there’s no way around it, well, probably time to move, then.

            There are already ways to deal with this. I’m speaking as a suburban resident who lives in multifamily housing with limited parking, so this is already the norm in a number of places. Richfield will be fine.

  3. Frank Phelan

    All those who worship at the altar of the free market should be 100% opposed to mandated parking minimums.

    If you believe in free markets, let the market decide the most useful allocation of resources.

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