Thursday, October 15, 2015

Oakland Proposes Eliminating Parking Requirements for New Downtown Housing Developments

By Sam Levin
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 at 5:36 PM

ILLUSTRATION BY ROXANNE PASIBE
  • ILLUSTRATION BY ROXANNE PASIBE
The City of Oakland's Planning Department has released a proposal to overhaul parking requirements for new developments — an effort that would eliminate some of the outdated policies that transportation and affordable housing advocates have increasingly criticized in recent years. As I outlined in an August 5 Express cover story, "A Green Solution to Oakland's Affordable Housing Crisis," Oakland's archaic zoning laws require developers to build unnecessarily huge parking garages in new buildings — typically one on-site parking space for every single unit. This requirement can significantly drive up the cost of construction and thus lead to higher rents and less affordable housing. The car-oriented rules are also environmentally backwards since the construction of large parking lots — which, data shows, often end up having high vacancy rates — encourages residents to own cars and drive more, even in neighborhoods with good access to public transportation.

Under Oakland's proposed policy changes released today, developers in certain areas would be able to build significantly smaller parking garages in new buildings, which could help discourage car ownership and could make it more financially viable for projects to include affordable housing.

The most notable part of the proposal is the elimination of parking requirements for all new residential buildings in downtown Oakland (see page one of the report). Under current rules, which have remained largely intact for decades, developers in downtown are required to build one space per unit. As a result, developers continue to propose new apartment buildings with a huge excess of parking — even in projects right next to BART stations that could easily attract tenants who don't own cars and don't want to pay for parking.

Current zoning laws allow downtown developers to apply for a special "conditional use permit" to build as few as 0.5 parking spaces per unit, but projects rarely take advantage of this option. In the proposed rewrite, developers in downtown would no longer need to apply for a special exemption to construct greener buildings and could instead build as few spaces as they want.

See Also: 
Lori Droste Proposes Reforms to Prioritize Housing Over Parking
Oakland Council Discusses Housing Crisis, But Action Still Awaits


As I noted in my feature story, when Seattle eliminated parking requirements in some of its denser urban areas, many developers proposed and built projects that included zero on-site parking or significantly fewer parking spaces than one per unit. Those projects, advocates said, demonstrated that developers want to build less parking than what cities have traditionally required. And the resulting buildings can be much more affordable and can result in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions due to reductions in driving. Some cities with progressive parking policies have even imposed parking maximums in certain transit-accessible neighborhoods — restricting projects from building large garages where they aren't necessary. Oakland's new proposal does not include maximums, which means developers could still build one parking space per unit (or more) if they wanted. 

Oakland's proposal would also require downtown projects to have so-called "unbundled parking," which means that the building sells or rents parking separately from the units. In other words, instead of including the cost of parking in each tenant's monthly rent, residents with cars who want a parking spot have to pay extra. That can save car-free households thousands of dollars per year, making housing significantly more affordable for residents who use public transportation.

Neil Gray, city planner, told me today that the proposal also calls for the elimination of parking requirements for most of the so-called Lake Merritt Station Specific Plan Area (neighborhoods surrounding the Lake Merritt BART station). Currently, developers around Lake Merritt BART must construct 0.75 spaces per residential unit and can only build fewer parking spaces if they pay a so-called "in-lieu fee" to the city. 

Outside of downtown and the Lake Merritt area, the city's proposal calls for lower parking requirements for new residential buildings along commercial corridors and in certain high-density residential zones. Currently, these areas generally require one space per unit. Under the proposal, developers could go as low as 0.5 spaces per unit if they meet specific criteria. Projects located within one-half mile of a BART station or a Bus Rapid Transit stop could build parking spaces 20 percent below the standard requirement. For example, a 100-unit building proposed near MacArthur BART station in North Oakland currently would have to build 100 parking spots, but under the new proposal could build 80 spots. And under the proposal, an affordable housing project within one-half mile of a BART or BRT station could automatically get a 50 percent reduction in parking. 

This part of the proposal (outlined on page three) includes a number of other options for developers outside of downtown who want to build less parking. If projects include car-sharing memberships on-site or nearby, they can receive 10 percent reductions in parking requirements. If they provide tenants with free transit passes, buildings can also construct parking that is 10 percent below the standard. And if they offer "unbundled parking," the projects can go 15 percent below the standard. A project could also combine these different features for a larger reduction — meaning a building that offers car-share memberships, transit passes, and unbundled parking could build 35 percent fewer parking spaces. 

Developers can often afford to provide these types of amenities once they are able to build less parking. That's because it costs roughly $50,000 to construct a single space in a structured garage, meaning a 35 percent reduction in parking spaces in a large building amounts to huge savings — finances that can then be invested into features such as transit passes. 

Certain "medium-density residential zones" — in parts of North Oakland, West Oakland, and East Oakland that are not commercial corridors or high-density residential areas — currently require new developments to include 1.5 spaces per unit. The city's proposal (page eleven) says that this requirement discourages development in these neighborhoods, which are typically a mix of single-family homes, duplexes, and smaller apartment buildings. The city is proposing to reduce this requirement to one space per unit. 

The planning department is hosting two public meetings this month to introduce the proposal and solicit feedback. The first is 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 22 at the West Oakland Senior Center (1724 Adeline Street). The second is Thursday, October 29 at 6 p.m. at the San Antonio Senior Center in Fruitvale (3301 East 12th Street, Suite 201). 

You can read the city's full proposal here

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