Friday, October 9, 2009

Parking Space Legal Contango...

Almost every jurisdiction has some form of a minimum parking requirement as part of their zoning code or subdivision regulations.  This has always been a curious thing to me. 

"Curious" because the legal rationale (health, safety, general welfare) is not nearly as clear as, say, maximum stories, lot use, or even signage or landscaping regulations.  Ultimately, one might reasonably ask "Why do cities require minimum amounts of parking?" 

This is especially curious when most places where you seem these requirements (such as your local strip mall) rarely end up using all, or even most, of the mandated spaces.  Indeed, even at the most popular Publix here in Montgomery, the huge lot is rarely more than half full.  That's alot of asphalt and striping paint and (resulting stormwater runoff from the impermeable surface) that the law requires to be built even though its rarely used.

Donald Shoup's book, The High Cost of Free Parking, does an excellent job detailing how parking requirements actually end up hurting the public health, safety, and general welfare more than helping.  The result is a strange type of police power contango where the intended good ends up bad and vice versa.

The reason this land use topic popped back into my mind today was a recent Washington Post article discussing how the District is re-evaluating whether it's laws should actually mandate certain amounts of parking--especially the off-street/on-site variety:

The empty garage is part of the evidence that District officials cite as they rewrite 50-year-old regulations so they will no longer require developers to build a minimum number of parking spaces for new retail outlets, offices and apartments in areas near Metro stations. Instead, the District would like to leave it to developers to analyze market conditions and determine the appropriate parking levels.

Read the whole article here.

Chad Emerson

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It strikes me that the problem with the relationship between minimum parking requirements and the police power is that too often the minimum requirements far exceed the actual demand for parking. However, the principle that certain developments need to provide adequate parking to meet demand is very much related to the public health, safety, and welfare. We can see this in infill projects where there's very little room on the parcel footprint to place parking. The result often is overparking on the street or illegal use of parking on other properties. This becomes a safety hazard to pedestrians (especially children) who are hidden from motorists' views. Accidents occur when people pull out into oncoming traffic when visibility is limited. Conflict arises between competing users of parking spaces. Enforcement of parking laws is never adequate when the demand for parking exceeds the supply. And it simply doesn't work to assume that if parking isn't provided, people will come by public transit instead, at least in the numbers that are needed to alleviate the demand for parking. There's no inverse of the "parking lot of dreams" -- if you don't build it, they will come another way. Instead, if you don't build it, they will create their own parking arrangements (a kind of Hernando de Soto analysis).

The disconnect from the police power justifications is not in parking itself but in: 1) the quantity of parking spaces required, which is often far greater than the demand, particularly considering the specific context of the proposed project (although a number of cities have addressed this through regular grants of parking variances) and 2) the design of parking lots, which has typically focused on sprawling impervious pavement, which produces increased quantity and velocity of runoff and degraded quality of runoff and which is regularly recoated with carcinogenic sealcoat that ends up in waterways, instead of using low-impact design (LID) standards for parking lots like pervious pavement, efficient design of spaces, green infrastructure (e.g., vegetated bioswales, detention or retention basins, etc.), and storm drains with pollutant control mechanisms, etc. Tony Arnold
Boehl Chair in Property & Land Use and Chair of the Center for Environmental Law, University of Louisville; Huber Hurst Visting Eminent Scholar, University of Florida Levin College of Law, Fall 2009

Posted by: Tony Arnold | Oct 10, 2009 6:31:08 AM