Developers, CB 2: Let’s Repurpose Downtown Brooklyn’s Empty Parking

Parking reform in Downtown Brooklyn doesn’t go far enough, said developers at a public hearing last night, and the land use committee of Brooklyn Community Board 2 agreed. They want reduced parking requirements to apply not only to new buildings, as proposed by the Department of City Planning, but also to existing buildings and developments under construction. This would allow developers to convert empty floors of parking into retail, housing, or office space.

Construction is currently underway on 29 Flatbush Avenue, which was required to include multiple floors of parking that the developer did not want to build.

The DCP proposal is a step forward for Downtown Brooklyn but could go much farther: It would cut the current parking minimums in half, and eliminate them for affordable housing. Though parking politics in New York City is often hotly contested, not a single member of the public appeared at last night’s hearing to testify against the changes or to push for the continued oversupply of parking spaces.

Instead, representatives of Brooklyn’s real estate industry came to describe how the requirements, which currently mandate the construction of four parking spaces for every 10 market-rate residences, are raising rents for everyone in the area. “We have parking in the basement, the ground level, the second floor and the third floor, at great expense,” said Drew Spitler, whose company is building a 327-unit apartment building at 29 Flatbush Avenue. “We went to great pain to build the parking, because of the current requirements.”

Rather than request the outright elimination of parking mandates, the developers asked to make the reduction in Downtown Brooklyn parking requirements retroactive, allowing them to repurpose existing parking. “You could use the third or fourth level of parking for new industries that are coming into Downtown Brooklyn, retail, housing, you name it,” said Tom Conoscenti, the executive director of planning and administration for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “Activate these spaces.”

Indirectly, making parking reform retroactive could also allow future developments to be built without parking, despite the continued existence of parking minimums. Existing buildings could rent out no-longer-required spaces to satisfy the parking requirements for new projects going up nearby, confirmed Purnima Kapur, director of DCP’s Brooklyn office.

The call for retroactively reducing parking requirements was echoed by representatives from Two Trees Management Company, Forest City Ratner, 388 Bridge and The Hub. Between all of their Downtown Brooklyn projects, hundreds of parking spaces could be repurposed.

Members of the CB 2 land use committee embraced the idea of freeing up unused parking spaces for other purposes. Sophie Truslow compared it to her own efforts to convert a small garage in her own building to an extra bedroom. “As an extra bedroom you can make more money,” she said. “I’m pleased to say our culture still thinks human bodies are worth more than cars.”

If Downtown Brooklyn parking reform were made retroactive, hundreds of parking spaces in the garages marked in red could be repurposed as new commercial or residential space. Image: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/dwn_bk_ped_park/presentation.shtml##DCP##

Board Chair John Dew wondered whether the freed-up parking space could then be used to park placarded city agency cars, which currently clog Downtown Brooklyn streets.

Developers also noted, indirectly, that even the 20 percent parking requirement would be too high for some projects. A spokesperson for The Hub, a new development at Schermerhorn and Flatbush, said that while 20 percent car ownership sounded right for Downtown Brooklyn overall, his project will have a lower rate. “We will have young renters who are transient people,” he said. “That number will skew even lower.”

Not every board member supported the idea of reducing parking minimums. One board member from Clinton Hill suggested a smaller reduction, to 30 percent, might be more appropriate. “I’m just going off of my neighborhood and how difficult it is for me to find a spot on the street because there aren’t enough garages off the street,” she said.

And the proposal couldn’t pass the committee without an additional measure to incentivize the creation of affordable housing. DCP’s proposal eliminates parking requirements for affordable housing entirely, which should reduce the cost of building such projects and allow more units to be created. But the committee wanted to use parking reform as a lever to go further, by allowing developers to build less parking for their market-rate projects only if they included a certain amount of affordable housing in the project as well.

A motion to approve DCP’s proposal and recommend that it be made retroactive failed in a 4-9 vote. Amended to apply only to projects with an affordable component, the same motion carried by a vote of 9-2.

Either the City Planning Commission or City Council can formally amend DCP’s proposal to make the parking reform retroactive.

  • AC

    who collects the rent on the retail? the building HOA or the developer? not that i like driving through the area and only do it once every few months but it sounds like the developers just want more money in their pocket

  • JK

    Of course the developers want more money, and it’s great that it’s in their interest to reduce the parking supply.

  • Jkl

    Another architecturally out of place building! Fill up all teh empty spaces with porrly designed buildings. Miami anyone?

  • Jolias

    AC, What on earth wrong with the developers putting money in their pockets?  Their investments put money in the pockets of other New Yorkers and the city government.  Let’s get rid of pointless and counterproductive regulations that are preventing developers from investing in our neighborhoods (and increasing the supply of housing in the city).  

  • Ben Kintisch

    These reforms are long overdue, and will help to make Downtown Brooklyn a much nicer place for everyone to live. Once this area gets it right (with the support of the all-powerful real estate lobby, no less!) perhaps other areas of the city can also re-examine parking minimums. That’s really the only way to continue steadily reduce driving rates in the city, making it a cleaner, healthier place for all citizens.

  • AC

    parking minimums are probably the best way to reduce driving. a lot of people have cars and want them at for the weekend. its crazy but every weekend there is traffic heading out to long island on the LIE/grand central. people go out there to shop, pay the higher sales tax and do whatever

     if you have a place to park it during the week you can take the train. if there is no place to park then a lot of people will drive. if there are meters and street cleaning rules then you have to drive to work.i’ve known some hard core drivers who drive everywhere and no matter what, but they are in the minority. one of my past cars had barely 10,000 miles on it in 5 years of use. i had a cheap garage space i paid for and used the car on weekends. some times i went 2-3 weeks without driving.if i didn’t have the garage space i would probably have to drive to work and play the hourly feed the meter game. same now, some days i have to drive my kid to/from day care that’s less than a mile away. simply because NYC put parking meters in what are essentially residential zones. i would rather take the train but i don’t have a choice if the car is on the meter. i know someone who used to drive to work every day simply because he lived too far from the train and the idiotic meter/cleaning rules. after he moved he takes the train every day because he has a safe place to park the car where it won’t get ticketed.

  • kevd

    Well AC – while your logic makes sense – the logic about garages being a useful way to reduce daily or several times a week driving, that is.
    The numbers show that not enough people are behaving that way to require the number of spaces that are currently required.  Requiring spots for 20 or 40 percent of all new unit when fewer than that are being rented is silly.

    Of course, if we had market rate on-street parking – and street parkers that have to deal with alternate side, etc had to pay the cost of what they now get for free – then I’m sure many more people would pay the added cost of a garage.

    Right now the choice is money and convenience versus no money and inconvenience.
    With market rate street parking – and some parking repurposed for CitiBike docks, truck loading zones, bike racks and street furniture – thereby re-ballancing the second half of that equation to “some money and inconvenience” then I’m sure more would choose garages, possibly filling up the 20 percent requirement.

  • AC

    if you could park on the street, pay the meter for 8-10 hours at a time a lot of people would not drive as well. but as it is now the meter times are 1-2 hours of parking even in neighborhoods where you have apartment buildings and a strip of commercial on a main thoroughfare. 

    look at long island. lots of people pay the $350 and up a month to take the LIRR in because they have a place to leave the car during the day without being ticketed. 

  • AC

    if NYC makes it hard to leave your car you might as well drive in and pay the parking at work. the federal government will even let you pay for parking pre-tax up to $250 or $300 some dollars. forgot the exact figure. which makes it pretty cheap compared to even taking the subway

  • Jolias

    AC,

    What you’re saying would only apply in areas with paid on street parking (and only if there was free parking at their destinations).  In general designated parking promotes driving: http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/10/15/study-city-residential-parking-requirements-lead-to-more-driving/

  • AC

    i’ll believe this to be true only if there is a study looking at every neighborhood and their driving rates and accounting for people’s jobs. i know someone who drives into manhattan mondays for work to buy supplies for his business. and a lot of companies still have fully subsidized free parking as a benefit.

    i know i personally used to drive once every few months just to remind myself why driving during rush hour in NYC is the worst form of self punishment.

  • Danny G

    @7a0635eff4484b63e7a0c682b733fdf4:disqus Alternatively, you can sell the car, set aside half the money you’d have spent on gas/insurance/maintenance towards a “taxi, deliveries, and car rental” fund. Then spend the other half on caviar, imported cheeses, and fine liquors.

  • AC

    even if my wife didn’t need to drive for work zip car is too expensive to use more than an hour or so a month and there is no way i’m going to spend 2 hours on a train with small kids

  • Danny G

    @7a0635eff4484b63e7a0c682b733fdf4:disqus That’s what the fine liquors are for 🙂

  • Bronxite

    The parking minimums are silly. Downtown Brooklyn is well served by mass transit, not to mention traffic prone. Parking minimums should not exist within walking distance of any subway station in NYC (1 mile?). Imagine the potential housing or retail units lost. Not only a monetary loss, but vibrancy as well.

    Also AC, no spot normally means no car for most. If you have no place to park it, why buy it? Worth the hassle? Much more effective then designated residential parking, which encourages driving.

  • Anonymous

    @7a0635eff4484b63e7a0c682b733fdf4:disqus For the money it costs to own and operate a car in the city, you could probably use a Zipcar one hour a day every day and still save money. Remember to consider the savings in terms of insurance, taxes, gas, parking, maintenance, and depreciation (or lease payments), and possibly interest payments if don’t own the car outright.

  • by-stander

    Here you go:  http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/02/28/nyc-parking-requirements-mean-more-driving-new-research-confirms/ 
    the study that looks at every neighborhood.  Now you can believe that parking encourages both car ownership and driving.

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