In our first post of this three-post series on parking (available here) we discussed Richard Florida’s informative, but not surprising, article which states “American cities devote far too much space and far too many resources to parking.”  Location, ownership and management of existing parking spaces are significant issues impacting parking in communities, and our first post focused on their impacts based on the current approach to parking regulations taken by most communities.  The current approach is unsustainable, as it contributes to sprawl and increases costs.  In this post, we will explore some of the factors causing and impacting the current general approach to parking regulations – specifically with respect to urban reuse and mixed-use projects.

More often than not, communities’ parking requirements, located in zoning ordinances, are onerous enough to derail desirable urban reuse and mixed-use projects.  Most communities’ requirements generally reflect a more suburban approach to parking that is reflective of planning and development trends of the 1950s and 1960s (i.e., separation of uses with an emphasis on accommodating automobiles).

In reviewing several Pennsylvania “urban” municipal zoning ordinances, a few common parking concepts and provisions become evident.  First, right or wrong, communities tend to “borrow from their neighbors” and base their zoning standards, including parking requirements, on provisions from a neighboring community.    In an effort to thoroughly regulate a use, some municipalities even “one up” their neighbors by requiring more parking without any evidence of a need for it.  Second, it is common that all required parking spaces for a use must be located outside of the public right-of-way and on the same lot as the principal use.  Third, in general, each newly developed, enlarged or changed use must provide for itself all of its required number of parking spaces.  Fourth, where more than one use is located on one lot, each use separately must provide all of its required number of parking spaces, individually.  Finally, for parking calculations resulting in fractions, such fractions are rounded up to the next whole number.

When establishing existing parking concepts and standards years ago, prior municipal leaders and engineers did not (and could not have) contemplate or anticipate recent development trends such as: (i) rehabilitating and re-purposing an existing single-family residential building to add market rate apartment units in a medium-high density area; (ii) mixed-use developments on vacant land or redevelopment utilizing mixed-use strategies in a developed area; or (iii) changing economies and the need, at times, to reclaim unused parking spaces to construct a new restaurant pad site in a struggling shopping center, among others.  Further older parking concepts and standards did not contemplate or anticipate the Internet, telecommuting, e-mail, e-commerce or ride sharing.

Fortunately, communities are beginning to reanalyze their parking issues and needs.  Some communities are beginning to re-imagine their community vision and are crafting more modern strategies to “right-size” parking.  They are balancing the need to preserve or enhance the community character with current and emerging market realities.  This is especially true of urban communities seeking to encourage and support mixed-use reuse, infill and redevelopment projects.  However, modifying minimum parking requirements for individual uses or types of uses is not the only answer.  As will be discussed in our third and final post in this series, there are other parking solutions now employed by communities through their zoning ordinances that encourage, support and accommodate mixed-use reuse, infill and redevelopment.