Can minimum parking requirements be “green?” Portland’s planners are considering new rules that claim to make parking more environmentally friendly, but the end result might just be more permanent (and more expensive) parking.
As part of an ongoing comprehensive planning process, the city of Portland is reviewing zoning and design guidelines for multi-family residential zones. The “Better Housing By Design” project released an 18 point concept report in July for public comment (the period for which has already ended). The report mostly deals with building design elements like setbacks and floor-area-ratio (FAR), elements which are better covered by our coalition partners at Portland For Everyone, but there is one concept in particular which raises a parking reformer’s eyebrows.
Concept 4 is part of a few proposals called “Green Site Design” and it deals with impervious surfaces, generally surface parking lots. The concern given is that too much paved area leads to heat island effects, water pollution, and stormwater management problems. The concept proposes to limit the amount of ground-level area that can be covered by impervious surfaces. In practice this would lead developers to either use permeable pavers (which need regular maintenance and can cost much more than asphalt) or to “tuck under” some of the parking, which displaces potential housing and makes parking a permanent part of the structure.
There’s nothing wrong with restricting the amount of impervious surfaces, but it’s a bit backward to require parking and then force developers to spend more money building it. If Portland planners are honestly concerned about urban heat and the environment then they should propose eliminating minimum parking requirements. If there are no parking minimums, then the restrictions on surface parking will likely lead to less parking, while the current proposal will likely lead to less housing.
Portland should have already learned the lesson that making it more expensive to build housing by requiring more expensive storage for cars is a bad political move. Planners and officials might be worried that neighbors will complain about developments with fewer parking stalls, but maybe it’s time to show city officials and planners that people concerned about housing affordability, climate change, and traffic safety can make just as much, or maybe more, noise.
Portlanders for Parking Reform submitted comments on the concept report calling for elimination of minimum parking requirements in the multi-family zones before any additional regulations are imposed which may lead to more expensive and permanent car parking. City staff are reviewing the comments and drafting code language which is scheduled to come back for public hearings and adoption later this year and in early 2018.
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