Developer: I’ve Walked Away From Projects Because of Parking Minimums

Parking minimums forced Alan Bell to put a parking lot directly next to the playground in this East New York building. It sits almost completely unused.

Housing is harder to build, more expensive, and often lower-quality as a result of the city’s parking regulations, according to one New York City developer.

Alan Bell was a high-ranking housing official in the Koch administration before co-founding the Hudson Companies in 1986. Since then, Hudson has built 4,250 affordable and market-rate housing units in the New York metro area, along with another 2,000 units under development.

Hudson might have built more housing were it not for parking minimums, however. Bell said in an interview that he’s walked away from a number of projects because he couldn’t make the required parking fit or evade the parking minimums by subdividing the development into small pieces. “One comes to mind on Grand Street in East Williamsburg. You couldn’t get out with the waiver because you’re building too many units.”

Without the ability to claim an exemption from parking minimums, the economics of the development didn’t add up. “If you have a modest size building, it’s really prohibitive,” said Bell. In addition to the direct costs of building structured parking, which Bell said can range from $25,000 to $50,000 per space, making room for the parking can also reduce revenues. “If you’re up against other buildings on both sides, you’re going to have to reduce your perimeter retail frontage because you need an entrance for a garage.”

Other times, said Bell, he’s able to manipulate the structure of the development to ensure that he can avoid parking minimums. In East New York, he divided one project into four different five to six story buildings. “We just played around with the unit mixes so that we could get each of them under the waiver.” Had he not been trying to avoid the parking regulations, said Bell, “theoretically, we could have built more units.” (In practice, a different set of city regulations would have prevented that at this particular site, even without the parking requirements.)

Sometimes there’s no way to avoid the parking minimums. Another East New York project of Bell’s has 179 units, enough that parking would be required even if the building were subdivided into pieces. To comply with the law, Bell built 62 surface parking spaces. “I have five takers,” he said. The rest sit empty. “Now instead of a big green backyard around the play area, I have this macadam. You just say why?”

The developer at The Crest, on ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/02/06/new-york-can-do-better-than-the-new-fourth-avenue/##Brooklyn's Fourth Avenue##, decided it was worth sacrificing ground floor retail to make room for parking.

Bell identified Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue as another design casualty of parking minimums, pointing to buildings like Boymelgreen Developers’ much-maligned Crest and Novo apartment buildings. The large buildings there were required to include parking, but subway lines under the street made putting it underground cost prohibitive. “[Boymelgreen] made the calculation that he’d rather sacrifice having retail on the ground floor in exchange for not putting the parking below ground, it was so expensive,” said Bell. The result is a series of buildings that are utterly indifferent to pedestrian life, presenting blank walls and parking to the sidewalk.

One solution Bell proposed is revising the zoning code so that parking minimums are eliminated in medium- or high-density districts near transit. Said Bell, “Historically, there’s no question, if I’m building near a subway stop, I’m going to attract a lot of people who don’t want a car or need a car. That’s proven in the marketplace.”

Although Hudson is a residential developer, Bell also urged the city to stop forcing so much parking into new retail centers like the East River Plaza, where 1,428 spaces sit empty. “It drives up the costs of the projects,” said Bell. “That comes out somewhere.” He placed the blame for these enormous parking lots directly at the feet of the public sector. “In the early days, it was the retailers asking for it. Now it’s the government.”

  • MR

    Actually, the UWS is one of the more parking-poor areas of the city. Garage prices are spectacularly high.

  • Driver

    “By raising gas prices, you raise the prices of ALL goods and services.”

    During times of rising fuel costs, I have thought to myself that a good way to keep rising oil costs from impacting the price of goods would be to subsidize the price of diesel with a tax on gasoline.

  • Driver

    Yes Carma, but is leaving your home a half hour earlier some mornings worth the $6 saved? The other problem is you have to rely on others to be on time and reliable.

  • Anonymous

    One idea is to do it like taxi medallions– issue parking medallions to everyone who now has a permit– anyone who wants one after that has to buy it from someone else. I’m not a big fan of it but it would sure have the support of the current permitholders.

  • @ carma

    Thanks for the breakdown on gasoline use – I wasn’t aware it broke down way. That’s still approximately 1/4 of petroleum going to private car use. That can be improved, with great benefit. Our agricultural system can be improved. The way we live (most of us in sprawling suburbs) can be improved. However, all of this depends on all of us approaching the situation as the crisis it is.

    I don’t know about the gas tax. I doubt this is going to happen as the ruling elite’s plan appears to be to continue with the status quo as long as possible while they accumulate as much of the wealth as they can (reducing real wages while eliminating programs like social security and medicare for the middle class while they slash taxes for themselves) until what we’re left with is a society that looks like that from pre-cheap oil times – a small, bloated upper class living off the backs of a vast, struggling underclass.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter what they want to do. Again, reality doesn’t care what we or they or anyone else wants. Gas prices are going to rise regardless. And since the people who have their hands on the levers of the media and politics aren’t going to do jack about peak oil, the only thing that appears to change the average person’s behavior is rising gas prices.

    We had record high prices just a few years ago and as soon as prices dropped they were back in their goddam SUV’s. I understand that higher gas prices are going to cause severe pain for most people. People are going to *die* because of rising gas prices means food prices will rise. Unfortunately, the only thing that seems to wake people up is when they have to pay more at the gas pump.

    I wish it didn’t have to be this way, and this is why I think this is one of the most important things to get out there – that oil is running out, that we have no alternative, that we have to learn to live in a different way and we have to do it now. The kind of discussion we’re having here needs to be taking place all over the country and all over the world.

  • carma

    Driver, it depends.. half hour is quite a stretch. ideally carpooling works w/ two ppl in the same household or neighborhood.
    as they say.. your mileage may vary

  • carma

    suzanne, im well aware about peak oil. any finite resource runs out. we as humans have always found ways to invent. i am confident that we wont need to be cut cold turkey. eventually, we will create products out of other things than oil. lubricants can be created using natural oils, etc… cars will be fueled not by crude oil, but by other sources. yes, there will still be some form of car. we will have less automobiles, but there will still be some form.

    yes, too many ppl drive cars that are too big. suv’s are totally not necessary for most. not saying that suv’s dont serve a purpose, but most ppl dont need one. but guess what. its a free country. and if they wanted to. thats their choice. i just hate ppl complaining they bought a hummer and get 11 mpg. thats stupidity.

    higher gas prices will make ppl change their habits one way or another. car companies will adopt. but to institute higher gas taxes for the sake of forcing ppl to not drive is dumb policy and economic disaster. the free market can raise prices w/o govt doing so.

  • I’ve been looking into this whole fuel efficiency thing and have found something of interest – Two words (actually, three words):

    “The Jevons Paradox” That is, when you increase the efficiency of the use of a particular resource, the result is more of the resource being used than ever before.

    The more efficient you make cars, the *more* energy a society will use. Happened after the 70’s when fuel efficiency rose – gas prices came down and as a result people drove more (and got second and third cars). The net result? MORE oil was consumed than was used previously.

    The only thing that’s really going to slow people down is if gas is more expensive. Gas tax seems a good way to do this… or would if the politicians weren’t the whores of the ruling elite. Anyway, it seems clear that increased fuel efficiency isn’t going to do anything by itself, divoriced from some sort of policy that doesn’t send the American people running to their nearest (hybrid!) Hummer dealership.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

  • carma

    you are right. we can go back and forth forever. we believe in some same principles, like oil cant exist forever. our implementation is completly opposite spectrum.
    im not going to argue that the more efficient we make things, the more we use them. it is trrue. but do you ever think the reason, ppl buy cars are not solely b/c of its fuel efficiency, but rather their convenience or for shear pleasure

    regarding the billions of starving. thats their problem. sorry, but its the truth. america has enough problems. did u ever think that they are starving, b/c of civil wars or droughts. NOT OIL

    from your dialogue, you are extremely liberal. thats okay. im an independent democrat. we are all entitled to opinions.

    i also agree that big coorps and govt are the same evil. but gas is on the rise not b/c of either. its b/c of CHINA. it has a hungry appetite for what america has had for the last 75 years. (partly due to america helping china surge)

    for now, im going to give this back and forth a rest. we have good intentions. but different implementations. i need to rest for tomorrows bike ride.

  • Aaaargh! I was going to stop (I too have things I want to do tomorrow) but I can’t let one thing go.

    All those billions of starving people? They’re starving (in part at least) because of you. And me. And all of us – The reason people like us can have the kind of standard of living we have (better than that of kings and emperors of earlier ages) is precisely because these people are exploited so harshly. Our standard of living basically is built on the foundation of wealth created by the cheap labor of the vast majority of the world’s population. That, and cheap energy.

    1 out of every 3 dollars of personal money spent in the entire WORLD is spent by an American. Not by people in the first world. Not by Europeans and North Americans. By *us*. The US’s role in the global economy has evolved into being parasites on the rest of the globe. There’s a reason why so many people despise us.

    We actually have enough resources to meet the needs of every single person on the planet, even with rising oil prices, even with a bloated population. The only reason these people are dying is because of the free market. I don’t think this because I’m a liberal and a softie and all touchy-feely – I think this because I believe this is fact. If you or anyone else can convince me otherwise, I will be happy to change my mind. It’s like my atheism – I’m not an atheist because I’m “mad at god” but because I don’t see the need to believe in something for which there is no evidence, regardless of how many people believe in it. If someone could show me that god actually does exist, I’d want to know that!

    Reality is reality. Unless our understanding of it actually fits with the way reality actually is, we’re going to be in a WORLD of hurt. Which we actually are in already, so obviously something’s gotta change.

    … All right, now I’m going to bed, I SWEAR!

  • Darraghmurphy

    America built some of the best roads in the world in the 1950’s 1960’s. but its time for you lot to move on. I understand the dependence on the automobile and the freedoms it brings  given the huge size of the American continent. but you are light years behind us Europeans & the Asians now in terms of public transport. Why do you not have ultra high speed trains connecting the East and west coasts yet?. You need to do a Chicago to practically every Major city with the exception of maybe San Fran and some parts of old Boston – ie. lift the public realm and urban park spaces up by 1 storey and have your auto traffic parking and servicing UNDER this level

    Irish Architect

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