Park­ing equa­tion chal­lenges de­vel­op­ers

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY KATHER­INE SHAVER

A 28-story build­ing re­cently ap­proved for down­town Bethesda will sit atop both a Metro Red Line sta­tion and a stop on the fu­ture light-rail Pur­ple Line. A cycling and jog­ging trail will run be­neath it, and dozens of shops and restau­rants will be within walk­ing dis­tance.

The high-rise, which will have of­fice space as well as apart­ments, is just the kind of high-den­sity, tran­sit-ori­ented devel­op­ment Mont­gomery County and other U.S. sub­urbs are plan­ning on to at­tract younger res­i­dents as well as down­siz­ing baby boomers look­ing for a more walk­a­ble, ur­ban life­style.

But one de­tail of the build­ing plan has drawn skep­ti­cism: a park­ing garage, with room for 700 cars.

“Why is it good to build vast quan­ti­ties of park­ing for a build­ing that is sup­posed to be tran­si­to­ri­ented devel­op­ment, lit­er­ally on top of a Metro sta­tion and a Pur­ple Line sta­tion?” one Bethesda Magazine reader re­cently asked in a back-and-forth ex­change on the magazine’s web­site.

It’s a dis­cus­sion tak­ing place in

sub­urbs and sprawl­ing cities across the coun­try, from Los An­ge­les to At­lanta, as they strad­dle a vast di­vide be­tween their au­to­cen­tric pasts and fu­tures that hinge on more peo­ple get­ting around by foot, train and bus. Ex­perts say the amount of park­ing in ar­eas de­signed to be more tran­sit-ori­ented will help de­ter­mine how suc­cess­ful they are in curb­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion, mak­ing walk­ing and bik­ing at­trac­tive op­tions and pro­vid­ing more af­ford­able hous­ing.

“It’s cer­tainly turn­ing out that one of the big­gest fac­tors that ei­ther in­hibits or fa­cil­i­tates good tran­sit-ori­ented devel­op­ment is whether you get the park­ing right,” said Ste­wart Schwartz, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Coali­tion for Smarter Growth. “It really looms very large in the qual­ity of life in these walk­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties.”

Am­ple — and, tra­di­tion­ally, free — park­ing has been a sta­ple of Amer­i­can sub­urbs and auto-de­pen­dent cities for more than 60 years. Vast park­ing lots and mul­ti­level garages were the re­sult of off-street park­ing re­quire­ments that as­sumed most peo­ple would reach new homes, of­fice build­ings and shop­ping cen­ters by car.

But stud­ies have shown a strong link be­tween the amount of park­ing and how much peo­ple drive — and that be­comes a prob­lem in ar­eas where lo­cal gov­ern­ments are in­vest­ing mil­lions in tran­sit sys­tems and en­cour­ag­ing high-den­sity devel­op­ment with the po­ten­tial to gen­er­ate even more traf­fic.

When Fair­fax County of­fi­cials first en­vi­sioned trans­form­ing Tysons from a traf­fic-clogged sea of sub­ur­ban of­fice parks into a walk­a­ble, liv­able down­town clus­tered around Sil­ver Line Metro sta­tions, the North­ern Vir­ginia com­mu­nity was de­vot­ing more land to cars than to peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to a county re­port.

The 2010 Tysons plan low­ered min­i­mum park­ing re­quire­ments for new res­i­den­tial build­ings within a half-mile of Metro sta­tions and scrapped those min­i­mums al­to­gether for new of­fice build­ings near tran­sit. For the first time, the county also set max­i­mum park­ing lim­its for both new res­i­den­tial and of­fice build­ings near Sil­ver Line sta­tions.

“The tra­di­tional way we’ve done park­ing in the sub­urbs is a min­i­mum num­ber of spa­ces re­quired for each kind of use,” said Leonard Wolfen­stein, a Fair­fax trans­porta­tion plan­ner. “We didn’t want to do that in Tysons. It would just be counter to the be­hav­iors we wanted to shape in the fu­ture — of peo­ple driv­ing less and us­ing tran­sit more, and peo­ple liv­ing and work­ing in Tysons.”

Mont­gomery re­cently be­gan en­cour­ag­ing de­vel­op­ers in some ar­eas near tran­sit sta­tions to build less park­ing by giv­ing them credit to­ward any traf­fic-mit­i­ga­tion projects they could be re­quired to pay for. New max­i­mum park­ing re­quire­ments also took ef­fect coun­ty­wide in 2014. De­vel­op­ers in some ur­ban ar­eas, all of which have a Metro sta­tion, have long been al­lowed to go be­low min­i­mum park­ing re­quire­ments and even pro­vide no new park­ing, as long as they pay into a county fund that main­tains nearby pub­lic park­ing garages.

“When projects come in, the first thing we ask is, how can we re­duce the park­ing?” said Robert Kro­nen­berg, the Mont­gomery plan­ning chief for Bethesda, Friend­ship Heights, Sil­ver Spring and other in­ner-Belt­way ur­ban ar­eas. “The ques­tion is, how much is really nec­es­sary? That’s a tough nut to crack.”

Iron­i­cally, the 700 park­ing spa­ces that have at­tracted at­ten­tion for the high-rise planned at Wis­con­sin Avenue and Elm Street in down­town Bethesda are al­most half the min­i­mum county zon­ing code re­quired, plan­ners said. They’re also less than one-quar­ter of the max­i­mum 3,000 spa­ces al­lowed.

Austen Hold­er­ness, of Carr Prop­er­ties, which is de­vel­op­ing what’s known as the Apex site, said the build­ing needs park­ing for the 50 to 60 per­cent of of­fice work­ers ex­pected to drive there. He said Carr was able to limit the park­ing to 700 spa­ces be­cause some will be used by of­fice work­ers dur­ing the day as well as by res­i­dents in the evenings and on week­ends. The ad­di­tional park­ing amounts to a net in­crease of 334 spa­ces, com­pared with those in the build­ing there to­day, he said, and there will be rel­a­tively far less park­ing for the amount of den­sity on the site.

With con­struc­tion costs for un- der­ground park­ing run­ning up to about $60,000 per space, Hold­er­ness said, de­vel­op­ers have plenty of in­cen­tive to pro­vide only the amount needed for fu­ture ten­ants.

“As long as we can build eco­nom­i­cally vi­able park­ing to meet the de­mands of the mar­ket,” Hold­er­ness said, “de­vel­op­ers will be first in line to build less park­ing be­cause of the mas­sive costs it adds to our project.”

The stakes are high for find­ing the right bal­ance, as the garages built to­day could be around for 40 to 50 years.

Build­ings that in­clude too much park­ing, ex­perts say, en­cour­age more driv­ing, un­der­cut pub­lic in­vest­ments in tran­sit, make ar­eas around sta­tions less walk­a­ble and drive up con­struc­tion costs, which will be passed on to ten­ants through higher rents.

Yet build­ings that pro­vide too lit­tle can create higher park­ing prices in the sur­round­ing area and scare away stores and restau­rants wor­ried about hav­ing enough for cus­tomers. Sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties con­cerned about traf­fic and park­ing spilling into their res­i­den­tial streets also can in­crease po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion to high-den­sity devel­op­ment, ex­perts say.

Mak­ing an ac­cu­rate pre­dic­tion for park­ing needs might re­quire a crys­tal ball. Rapid changes in tech­nol­ogy, par­tic­u­larly the ad­vent of Cap­i­tal Bike­share, car­shar­ing ser­vices like Zip­car and ride-hail­ing com­pa­nies such as Uber and Lyft, have cut into car own­er­ship. Mean­while, the po­ten­tial for driver­less cars in the notso-far-off fu­ture could re­quire far smaller garages or even make them un­nec­es­sary.

When Wash­ing­ton Prop­erty be­gan build­ing the So­laire apart­ment high-rise near the Metro sta­tion in down­town Sil­ver Spring just seven years ago, it in­cluded an av­er­age of one park­ing space per unit. Zip­car was be­com­ing more pop­u­lar, but ride-hail­ing com­pa­nies were just get­ting started.

To­day, the build­ing’s park­ing garage is about 30 per­cent empty, and the de­vel­oper is plan­ning to in­cor­po­rate that space into the garage for a sec­ond tower it plans to build next door. The to­tal sup­ply will give both build­ings an av­er­age of about 0.7 park­ing spa­ces per unit, a big cut from the pre­vi­ous one-to-one ra­tio.

“Cities are giv­ing up on the idea that they know how much park­ing is needed.” Don­ald Shoup, UCLA

“The amount of dis­rup­tion in the ur­ban trans­porta­tion sec­tor is un­like any­thing we’ve seen in gen­er­a­tions,” said McLean Quinn, a vice pres­i­dent for the de­vel­oper EYA. The tech­no­log­i­cal changes, he said, “have all of us scratch­ing our heads about the de­mand for park­ing over the next sev­eral decades.”

Ex­perts say it’s also still hard to de­ter­mine how quickly — and how much — the de­mand for more walk­a­ble, ur­ban life­styles will trans­late into sub­ur­ban­ites giv­ing up their cars. How many mil­len­ni­als, a gen­er­a­tion still emerg­ing into adult­hood, will con­tinue to shun driv­ing? How many will be able to af­ford to live in the mostly “lux­ury” apart­ments and town­houses be­ing built near Metro sta­tions? Will baby boomers down­siz­ing from their three-car garages con­tinue to want at least two park­ing spa­ces in their Metro-friendly town­houses — one for the car they keep and an­other for their golf clubs and bi­cy­cles?

Some ex­perts be­lieve that pri­vate de­vel­op­ers, more than ur­ban plan­ners, are in the best po­si­tion to make those pre­dic­tions. De­vel­op­ers, they say, have a fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive to build enough park­ing to clinch ten­ants and not waste money that they could spend on roof decks, eye-catch­ing lob­bies and other ameni­ties their build­ings need to com­pete.

“Cities are giv­ing up on the idea that they know how much park­ing is needed,” said Don­ald Shoup, an ur­ban plan­ning pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Los An­ge­les and a na­tional expert on gov­ern­ment park­ing poli­cies.

“They’re look­ing more to de­vel­op­ers and the mar­ket to de­cide how much park­ing there should be. More and more peo­ple are beginning to be very du­bi­ous about where these [tra­di­tional] park­ing num­bers come from.”

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