Rule may not limit plans of builders
developers said Tuesday that market forces, for both office and residential properties, typically require more parking spaces than the city minimums, and that abandoning those thresholds could have little or no effect on the number of garage spaces built for large downtown projects.
“I doubt that you would see much change in the near future,” said Charles Betts, executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance, which represents downtown property owners. He added the group has no problem with eliminating the requirement. “Developers and their lenders will build what they feel like the market requires for their project.”
“It doesn’t matter what the city says, or what the city thinks is going to happen in 20 years,” developer Ed Wendler said of developers. “They don’t want to have a building they can’t lease.”
Riley acknowledged that most buildings exceed city parking minimums now, but he said that the trend nationally is for developers to build less parking and that eliminating the city rule “would put us in a better position to adapt to changes in the marketplace.”
Larry Warshaw, one of the developers of the Spring condominiums at 300 Bowie St., said the move could create change over time.
“Perhaps by taking away those restrictions entirely it sends a message, and maybe someone brave enough will come along and take a chance,” Warshaw said. “Nobody wants to build parking. It’s expensive and doesn’t yield a return.”
The city’s Downtown Commission endorsed the proposal in October, and the Urban Transportation Commission followed suit Tuesday evening. The initiative must clear the city Planning Commission before going to the council, Zapalac said.
Parking requirements in the city code are complicated, varying by geography and the type of use for a building. But for buildings downtown — bounded by Lamar Boulevard, MLK Jr. Bou- levard, Interstate 35 and Lady Bird Lake — office buildings generally must have at least one parking space for every 1,375 square feet, and condo and apartment buildings must have 0.9 spaces for a one-bedroom unit and 1.2 spaces for a two-bedroom unit.
At the 252-unit Spring, Warshaw said developers provided one space for each one-bedroom, and two spaces for each twobedroom.
The extent of downtown’s parking surplus isn’t clear. The April council resolution said that the average occupancy rate of off-street parking is 26 percent and that peak occupancy is 67 percent.
Those figures, Transportation Department spokeswoman Karla Villalon said, were based on a December 2011 survey by the city’s Transportation Department of a sampling of downtown garages and surface lots totalling 14,600 spaces. The 26 percent usage figure was from Sunday through Wednesday, and the 67 percent usage was for Thursday through Sunday, and the snapshots appeared to be taken during evening hours, Villalon said.
She was not aware of a comprehensive city study of downtown parking inventory or usage.
Developer David Kahn hopes to build a 28story boutique hotel on the northwest corner of Eighth Street and Congress Avenue with no parking spaces as part of the building. The project, as conceived now, would also have offices and a live music venue.
Kahn has asked the council to grant several variances to city ordinances, including allowing use of existing off-site parking to count toward meeting the city’s minimum parking requirement for the project. He said the quieter north end of downtown has “an abundance of parking” and that the hotel would use valet services for guests. The Driskill and Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin hotels, built before automobile parking was an issue, do not have garages either.
So, would removing the minimum requirement change Kahn’s parking plans?
“No,” he said. “We need a certain amount of parking for our customers. You still have the majority of people driving their cars. That’s not going to change anytime soon.”