In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, two hours of testimony, mostly from Shoupistas and affordable housing advocates, convinced a majority of Portland’s City Council to hold off on extending minimum parking requirements into NW Portland.
In the days leading up to the hearing it seemed that members of the NW Parking Stakeholder Advisory Committee had convinced a majority of City Council that a “tourniquet” was needed to stop new buildings with no on-site parking from being built in the
very walkable NW Portland neighborhood. A seeming majority of the 10 Portlanders who requested minimum parking requirements from City Council recognized that the policy they were asking for was flawed and needed reform, but they felt it was better to take action now and fix the citywide policy later.
For most of the 19 people who spoke out against an expansion of the current policy, however, the potential for harm to our already critical housing crisis was too great to take such a chance. Chris Smith, a member of the Portland Planning Commission, pointed out that there were roughly 25 parking management strategies identified by the Centers + Corridors Stakeholder Advisory Committee and nearly all of them should be tried before minimum parking requirements.
The hearing was notable for the breadth and quality of discussion around parking policy. Commissioners Nick Fish, Steve Novick, and Dan Saltzman were genuinely engaged and participating in what at times seemed to be an ad-hoc brainstorming session on parking management strategies.
The biggest impact of the hearing might be the shot-in-the-arm it gave to the on-going process to develop an overnight Residential Parking Permit program. Steve Novick, the transportation commissioner, was asked several times about the status of the recommendations from the Centers+Corridors SAC, a process that has seemed to stall out in recent months. There was a general consensus that the residents of NW Portland needed more tools, sooner rather than later, to deal with on-street parking congestion, and more effective parking permits are a likely solution.
One of the bigger obstacles to implementing an effective residential permit program has been the expected resistance of City Council to higher permit prices. Currently, the annual cost of most residential permits is $60, with the exception being the Central Eastside Industrial District where employee/residential permits now cost $140 annually. But the prospects for market-rate permits may be changing. Mayor Charlie Hales commented that “five bucks a month [for parking permits] is crazy low” and Commissioner Dan Saltzman said that he now agrees that “on-street permits are woefully underpriced.” We’re unlikely to see the price of on-street parking approach the $150+ a month it costs to rent a dedicated space in NW Portland, but $25+ a month for residential permits now seems like far less of a stretch than it did a week before the hearing.
Repeal or Reform?
So what is next for Portland’s minimum parking requirements? While an outright repeal seems unlikely, council members seemed ready to revisit the 2013 thresholds, ratios, and exemptions. Most notably, Commissioner Nick Fish was concerned that the 30 housing unit threshold he authored in 2013 was having unintended consequences on the housing market, as previously reported.
There appears to be an opportunity for a reform of the 2013 requirements to mitigate the impact on the housing market. Exempting affordable housing from the requirements (such that a 40 unit building with 10 affordable apartments would have no parking requirement) was mentioned as one strategy. In-lieu fees are another possibility, which could be particularly potent if the proceeds went to affordable housing and/or affordable transit subsidies.
We surely haven’t seen the last of this issue. The next few months will be critical to watch and participate in any efforts to change the current regulations and, likely, expand them into NW Portland.