Markowitz: Loosen Downtown BK Parking Regs for Older Buildings Too

Borough President Marty Markowitz wants to reduce parking minimums in Downtown Brooklyn, and he thinks developers should be able to convert existing parking spots to other uses.

Downtown Brooklyn Map
The area of downtown Brooklyn rezoned in 2004 will be affected by DCP's proposed parking rule changes.

This spring the Department of City Planning unveiled a plan to cut Downtown Brooklyn’s onerous parking requirements in half, and Markowitz’s recommendations [PDF] are the latest step on the way to enacting some type of reform. In some respects, his preferred parking reforms go farther than DCP’s original proposal and a resolution passed by Community Board 2 this summer. The borough president wants to retroactively apply the reduced parking minimums to downtown Brooklyn properties developed since 2001, condition the relaxed parking requirements for new development on the inclusion of affordable housing units, and increase the requirements for bicycle parking.

While this bodes well for Downtown Brooklyn parking reform, it also indicates that DCP didn’t aim very high with its original proposal. With local Council Member Steve Levin being an early proponent of reform, perhaps the complete elimination of Downtown Brooklyn parking requirements would have stood a chance.

Markowitz’s bike parking recommendation is attracting the most attention this week, but his most significant request may be to retroactively apply the new parking rules to any development built since 2001, which would allow parking spaces that currently sit empty to be converted to more productive uses. Markowitz’s position goes farther than Community Board 2, whose land use committee voted 9-2 in June to support retroactive application only for projects that included an affordable housing component, after a vote to apply the rules to all existing development failed.

Markowitz does not go so far as to support removing parking minimums entirely. “We should not make future plans based on initial trends of the past decade,” he states in the letter. Arguing that the area may attract residents in the future who “will view access to automobiles in a different light,” Markowitz says that one of the country’s most transit-rich neighborhoods needs parking mandates in cases when “public transportation is inadequate for the intended journey.”

And in fact he’d like to attach some conditions to relaxed parking minimums in new development. Echoing CB 2, Markowitz wants the zoning code to create further incentive for developers to utilize the inclusionary housing program, by triggering the reduced parking requirements for market-rate units only if at least 20 percent of a project’s units are affordable. It should be noted that lowering parking minimums is, on its own merits, a way to reduce the cost of housing.

The most headline-grabbing of Markowitz’s recommendations was his call for DCP to increase its existing bicycle parking requirements in downtown Brooklyn by 50 percent, to accommodate the higher rate of bicycle travel in the area. Referring to not-so-subtly to his opposition to the Prospect Park West bike lane, Markowitz’s press release claims that this refutes “erroneous claims from critics that my office doesn’t advocate enough for the bicycle community.”

Other recommendations include extending a provision of the zoning code that enables shared parking between different developments to all commercially zoned areas in downtown Brooklyn, except along Atlantic Avenue. Shared parking eliminates the assumption that every destination should have its own parking supply, and parking reform experts view it as an important advance in how cities manage the parking supply.

There’s one way in which Markowitz wants to make it easier to build parking in Downtown Brooklyn. Citing concern that daytime parking availability will decrease as public surface parking is replaced by development, he recommends that the zoning code lower the approval barriers for construction of above grade parking by requiring City Planning Commission Chair certification in lieu of the more complex special permit process.

Now that Markowitz has held a public hearing and offered his complete recommendations, the proposal now goes before the City Planning Commission, which can accept, reject or modify DCP’s zoning change. From there, the proposal goes to the City Council.

  • Joe R.

    I think it speaks volumes of how the legitimacy of cycling has grown when a person like Marty Markowitz actually feels the need to do something substantive like increase bicycle parking requirements to refute the notion that he is anti-bike.

    Who knows, maybe one day we can even get Marty to cycle to work?

  • J

    Great news for Downtown Brooklyn! I still haven’t seen even a hint of opposition to this, so hopefully more is in the works.
     
    As for Mr. Markowitz, I’m glad we can agree on parking reform. However, his “pro-bike” claim is laughable. He is expending almost zero political capital to advocate for more bike parking in currently vacant space. He expended a TON of political capital arguing against the PPW bike lane and hasn’t relented. Sorry Marty, you’re still an anti-bike schmuck in my book.

  • Brooklynite

    Giving me a safe place to store my bike is not the same as giving me a safe place to ride my bike.  

    Marty has a very long way to go before I’d describe him as “pro-bike,” especially if you remember his very recent appearance on Fox 5 with Greg Kelly.

  • Anonymous

    Use the parking for rental cars.  That will bring down the rate for non-car owners.

    I’ll be renting a car more soon for that reason.  And you know what?  Rental cars are cheaper in Manhattan than in Brooklyn, for the same person (with the same driving record) renting from the same company, the same car on the same day.

    The rental companies once blamed “vicarious liability” for high rental costs.  A Sheldon Silver special, this allowed people to sue the rental companies for anything the renters did, such as use the car for a getaway from a violent robbery.  More violent felons in Brooklyn, and thus higher rental car costs.

    Then the crime rate fell and vicarious liability was repealed.  Still, Brooklyn is more expensive.  It isn’t because the real estate is more costly than Manhattan, so what is it?

  • Danny G

    I don’t mind adding off-street parking so long as it’s paired with converting on-street parking to loading zones, sidewalks, trees, and bike lanes. The most ridiculous thing is when you see cheap or free on-street parking in front of a parking lot that knows they can charge higher. When the city doesn’t think like a capitalist, they run the risk of the free market evangelists crying about inefficient government, or possibly even running for office.

  • Andrew

    Markowitz does not go so far as to support removing parking minimums entirely. “We should not make future plans based on initial trends of the past decade,” he states in the letter. Arguing that the area may attract residents in the future who “will view access to automobiles in a different light,” Markowitz says that one of the country’s most transit-rich neighborhoods needs parking mandates in cases when “public transportation is inadequate for the intended journey.”

    This is absurd. Somebody who wants a car should take parking into account and should make sure to live somewhere that parking is available. On the flip side, somebody who doesn’t want a car shouldn’t have to pay for an unnecessary parking space.

    Does Markowitz also think that every apartment should be required to include a dishwasher, whether or not the current occupant wants one, because in the future maybe more people will want dishwashers?

    The analogy isn’t perfect – externalities for car use are much greater than externalities for dishwasher use. There is no conceivable justification for promoting car use at the societal level.

  • Anonymous

    The problem is that we are trying to guess the right amount of parking by putting it into the zoning codes. These codes are slow to be set and even slower to change, and they are set according to an opaque political process.

    One might think, naively, that allowing developers to include however much parking space they want would lead to a more efficient way of allocating space between parking and other uses. This would be true, if it weren’t for the entitlement of free street parking. Setting minimum parking requirements for new developments serves only one purpose – to reduce demand for street parking. The market for parking is robust, and without parking minimums we can expect that it would find an equilibrium fairly quickly.

    However, we can also expect that such an equilibrium would be one in which demand for street parking increases. This would represent a cost increase for those who currently make frequent use of street parking.

    If street parking were not free, but rather priced at a market rate, we could easily calculate the value of this entitlement. Then, if we still believed that it was worth preserving, we could give tax credits or some other kind of transfer payment to people to compensate them for the cost of on-street parking.

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