Friday, May 31, 2013

MoCo's new parking regs are looser, but still not enough

Hiding Out
Should we require more space for cars, or allow more space for people?
Montgomery County's new zoning code will allow less parking in new developments in order to use land more efficiently and encourage alternatives to driving. However, the regulations still require parking in ways that will hinder the walkable urban places the county wants to build.

For 4 years, the Planning Department has been revising its complicated, unwieldy code, which sets rules for how buildings and neighborhoods are laid out. First written in 1928, the code hasn't been updated since 1977, when the county was still mostly suburban. The new code will go before the County Council in a public hearing June 11.

Under the current code, buildings must have lots of parking, even near transit or in areas where most people don't drive. The new parking regulations are simpler and allow developers to build fewer parking spaces, though they do require other amenities, like bike racks, changing facilities and spaces for car sharing or carpools.

New rules require less parking, more amenities

The new code reduces parking requirements throughout the county, especially in its parking benefit districts where public parking is available, like Silver Spring, Bethesda, Wheaton, Montgomery Hills and eventually White Flint. Restaurants currently must have 25 parking spaces per 1000 square feet, a little smaller than a Chipotle. Under the new rules, a restaurant would only need between 4 and 10 spaces, depending on whether it was in a parking district.

Meanwhile, office buildings outside a parking district will only need 2.25 spaces per 1000 square feet, compared to 3 today. Some rules have been simplified. The current law requires different amounts of parking for different kinds of stores; for instance, a "country market" must provide 5 parking spaces for each 1000 square feet, while a furniture store needs only 2. Under the new code, all stores would be required to have 3.5 spaces per 1000 square feet in parking districts, and 5 spaces elsewhere.

New buildings would also have to accommodate alternate modes of transportation by providing bike parking. Larger buildings will have to include space for car sharing, while developers would be able to swap out car parking spaces for carpool spaces, bikeshare stations or changing facilities.

However, the parking requirements for housing won't change much. Single-family homes and townhomes would still need 2 off-street parking spaces or 1 if they're in a parking district, same as before, while new apartments would need at least 1 parking space, regardless of where they are. However, apartment developers could build less parking if they "unbundle" them, meaning that residents could buy or rent a space separately from their unit.

Do we still need parking requirements?

14th Floor Gallery Looking West on Rockville Pike
Parking requirements don't always create great places, like this shopping center on Rockville Pike.
While the new requirements are an improvement, some local groups argue that there shouldn't be parking requirements at all. The Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Montgomery County Sierra Club, and the Action Committee for Transit, where I sit on the board, have all come out against parking minimums.

Why? For starters, parking is expensive to build and rarely pays for itself. Construction costs for a space in a parking lot are about $3,500, compared to $30,000 for one in a garage and $100,000 for one underground, not counting the cost of land. Parking fees rarely cover these expenses alone, so the costs get passed on to the public in other ways, like higher prices at a restaurant that's charged higher rents by its landlord.

Meanwhile, our communities pay for a glut of parking. Surface parking lots that are only full on Black Friday take up valuable space that could be used for buildings or parks instead. And even attractively designed parking garages like this one in Rockville still create a dead space, hurting street life. On top of that, parking lots produce a lot of stormwater runoff, polluting waterways.

This isn't to say that we shouldn't have any parking, but the costs of excess parking outweigh the benefits. As Matt Yglesias writes in Slate, people will continue to want parking, and any developer who wants to stay in business will satisfy them without being told to:
Almost 100 percent of Washington-area residents like to sleep on a soft comforable surface at night. But there's no regulatory requirement that residential buildings contain mattresses. The lack of mattress mandates doesn't mean people are forced to sleep on the floor. It means that if people want to sleep on a mattress—and they generally do—they need to go buy one.
Once you take away the Agricultural Reserve, residential neighborhoods, and other uses, you're left with about 4% of Montgomery County that's available for development. That land is valuable, and we need to use it well. Covering it with big parking lots isn't the right solution, but that's what our current zoning code requires.

While the new law's a step in the right direction, it may not go far enough to create the kind of places we want.

The County Council will hold a public hearing on the Zoning Rewrite on Tuesday, June 11 at 7:30pm. To sign up to testify or submit written comments, visit their website.


Anonymous said...

What would far better encourage more Metro use is if the Red Line worked reliably and on time!! On weekdays the parking garages at Glenmont station(even with the new parking garage) get full already. I don't want this place like Georgetown or NYC with double parking everywhere or a place I can't park my care in front of my house. These planners probably aren't living in this area and just looking at their own kickbacks. Build parking spaces like before.

Anonymous said...

This article shows a quiet Toy R US parking lot as if it's representational of Rt. 355, when most of Rockville Pike it's hard to find parking. And it doesn't mention it's already being proposed to be revamped
I think the new stores and condos should still have to have adequate parking. People will still be mostly driving there, be realistic.

Dan Reed said...

The proposal is to require less parking, not build none at all. I'm not sure how that means that county planners are corrupt, but folks have more active imaginations than I do.

Anonymous said...

Further down 355 there's a similar design of condos and stores together by the REI store. The parking is tight enough there sometimes, and yet you think there should be less required? I can't account other than corruption for the Silver Spring Transit Center, the Olney Library's similar woes, for the proposal to close more libraries that work just fine (like the Wheaton one) to replace for millions with very little justification.
The Wheaton Library isn't cute enough for someone's taste, and the Rec center's basketball court in the current Recreation building is 4' too short for certain competitions - so better destroy both the Library and Recreation centers, combine the two and make another Olney-Library style expensive mess for years to come costing millions of dollars.. ? ) If you aren't responsible for that kind of decision, I apologize for my rancor.
(I do think the Rec center could be replaced, but there is no good reason to destroy the Library.)
For most of us, the county's planning board decisions have been boggling. if it's not corruption, what is it?

Dan Reed said...

If you don't agree with the Planning Board's decisions, that might actually just mean you don't agree with them. It doesn't mean they're corrupt. It means they see things differently than you. That's very different than the Silver Spring Transit Center, where just about everyone agrees that there were construction issues.

Anonymous said...

That's possible, you're right about that. It's possible the problem isn't corruption. However the Silver Spring Transit situation isn't isolated. he Olney Library has had similar construction issues, and there's still not any good reason to put other residents through the worry of the same happening to their Libraries. If it's not broken, then especially during a recession don't tear it down and rebuild another one for millions of dollars in its place that's really not really planned for the better. What's obvious for most people is that placing the gym in the library is absurd. Its as if someone is hoping to be "edgy".
And for any projects, it's irresponsible to rehire/pay construction companies who have a history of not using enough portland and other good cement in their concrete. Even a basic homeowner knows it's a lot more work and money to fix a concrete problem than to prevent one by doing it right. If you mix concrete, you have to adjust percentages of like portland cement to weather, and not all bags and makers are the same, a lot don't make theirs quality to save themselves money. (If you do home construction projects, you use sakrete. It's a dollar more a bag, but won't crumble.)
I realize I'm rather passionate about it, but some my friends in Olney are limited in their travel, and they've now been without a library for years.

Robert said...

The goal for parking space requirements to be provide enough parking to meet peak demand. Parking space restrictions should not be used as a way to force people to take transit to shopping malls, grocery stores, etc. Ever try to carry 10 bags of groceries or any large single item purchase home on a bus?

Dan Reed said...


That means we should provide enough parking spaces so everybody on Black Friday can find a place to park, because that's "peak demand." In fact, that's what most shopping centers already do. But the other 364 days of the year, most of those spaces are empty. How is that a good use of land or money?

The current requirements don't ban parking, but they do allow less to be built because most of it goes unused. You might call that "forcing people to take transit," but in reality, it's about creating more opportunities for people to not drive, so they can make that choice where it's currently not available - and so those who don't drive, whether by choice or default, can have an easier time doing so.