Removing Minimum Parking Requirements Where Unneeded

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On Wednesday, May 9, the Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee (PLUS) agreed to a revised proposal developed by the Seattle Planning Commission that adds portions of the City to the area already exempt from minimum parking requirements.  The action is part of a larger package of regulatory reforms designed to stimulate economic activity by removing unnecessary and redundant regulatory requirements.

Removing minimum parking requirements does not prohibit developers from including parking in their projects, and is not intended to suggest that cars will not play an important role in most household’s transportation system.  What it does is allow the market to play a greater role in determining how much parking will be included in a particular project. 

In many cases, developers are already including greater amounts of parking than required under code, and this is likely to continue where projects are designed to serve a market where tenants are willing to pay the extra cost of having parking.  However, for buildings that serve populations that do not tend to own as many vehicles and rely more on transit or other transportation alternatives (such as low income housing projects, senior housing projects, projects in areas well served by transit, and projects that serve students and younger adults), removing mandatory requirements allows the builder to plan for the appropriate amount of parking, thus reducing the cost of the building.  This can mean lower, more competitive rents, or, in the case of publicly financed low income housing projects, more units of housing for the same amount of funding.

The City currently exempts projects in downtown and certain commercial and multifamily zones from minimum parking requirements.  About 5670 acres of the City have no minimum parking requirements for residential development.  The new legislation removes approximately 540 additional acres from minimum parking requirements, in areas that have the highest level of transit service.  Another 2590 acres with frequent transit service would have the required minimums reduced by 50%.

Parking would continue to be required in areas where the presence of readily available street parking could tempt developers to reduce the amount of parking in a project to the point where parking congestion is created that adversely affects neighborhoods.

The proposal on parking requirements has been consistently misrepresented as a major change, and Councilmembers emphasized that this was a modest expansion of the current code and that it in no way prohibits parking – merely leaves the number of spaces up to market factors.

The package of regulatory reforms will next be discussed in Committee on Wednesday, May 23rd, and may be voted out to Full Council at that meeting.  Final Council approval is likely to occur by the middle of June at the latest.