Weisbrod and Kimball Tie Their Own Hands on Parking Reform

Reducing the amount of parking in new development promises to make housing more affordable and curb traffic congestion, but it hasn’t gained much traction in Bill de Blasio’s first months at City Hall, despite the mayor’s ambitious promises to ease the housing crunch. Today, two top city officials explained why, unlike their counterparts in more car-dependent cities, New York’s leaders are suggesting only the meekest changes to off-street parking policy.

City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod and EDC President Kyle Kimball. Photos: DCP and EDC
City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod and EDC President Kyle Kimball. Photos: DCP and EDC

The mayor’s housing plan recommends lower parking requirements for affordable housing near transit, senior housing, and commercial development that also includes residential units. At a Municipal Art Society forum this morning, Planning Director Carl Weisbrod highlighted these reforms as one of the ways the mayor’s housing plan aims to reduce the cost of construction — but only in places where car ownership is very low.

“Other areas have to be examined more carefully,” Weisbrod said after the event. “What we’re looking at is how we can appropriately reduce the cost of construction while not having a significant — or any — impact on the quality of life in neighborhoods.”

This outlook matches the philosophy of DCP’s nascent parking plan for “inner ring” neighborhoods, which lists “maintaining an adequate supply of residential parking for people who choose to own a vehicle” among its “quality of life” goals. The result: DCP tries to tailor the city’s parking regulations to local car ownership rates, rather than using parking policy as a tool to make housing more affordable and reduce traffic.

DCP isn’t the only place where the tail wags the parking policy dog. If anything, things are worse at the Economic Development Corporation.

EDC President Kyle Kimball said he follows Streetsblog and that while he supports our policy angle, he takes issue with how we’ve reported about EDC projects. “[EDC] never had a policy of incentivizing parking as an economic development strategy,” he said. “Actually, at the end of the day it ends up costing the city. Developers don’t want to build parking, either.”

Yet EDC’s projects often include massive amounts of parking. At Yankee Stadium, EDC arranged public financing for 9,000 mostly-empty parking spaces whose operator defaulted on tax-exempt bonds. “The Bronx parking situation was one where they put in the right amount of parking at the time, given what they thought and what the Yankees were willing to pay for,” Kimball said of the subsidized project.

To hear Kimball tell it, the parking was done in by an over-performing train station. “There has turned out to be more commuting from that Metro-North station than the EIS anticipated,” he said. “So do I think it was a mistake to build the parking? No. Do I think the EIS could have been done differently? Yes.”

Kimball said the city’s economic development arm must also bend to local interests crying out for cheap, plentiful parking.

At Flushing Commons, a city-owned parking lot near the subway, LIRR, and a bus hub, EDC required the developer to replace all the parking on site and build a total 1,600 spaces, more than double what was required by zoning.

Kimball laid the blame for the Flushing Commons project on local elected officials and the community board, which demanded the extra spaces. John Liu, a City Council member at the time, lobbied hard for more parking at subsidized rates. “We were asked by the community to replace the parking, so we did,” Kimball said. “That was a requirement of getting it through ULURP.

“You have to, at the end of the day, balance public policy with getting a project done,” Kimball said.

  • Seaport resident

    I question the management and staff at NYCEDC. Something really sketchy going on when it comes to them destroying the Seaport. They could careless of keeping any historical beauty to the area.

  • scastro87

    Hence why I said (not expecting you to read all my comments) that there should be more flexibility. I don’t think it makes sense to lump the two together as this post does.

  • scastro87

    Haha, ok, because Sandy (not even a Hurricane when it hit the area) was the first tropical storm to ever hit the NY metro area. And we’re talking about potential sea level rise, not storms anyway, with the assumption that there would be absolutely no mitigation efforts, something which is highly unlikely.

  • JamesR

    You don’t understand how planning works. Planners do not lobby for anything – they’re technocrats with an advisory role who devise policy recommendations within a given framework. They don’t get to decide what that framework is. Those who decide to ‘lobby’ for things get shown the door. Lobbying is the role of the public.

    Peak Oil has been talked to death by Kunstler et al, and there is no evidence that it is actually happening or will happen in the foreseeable future. Peak Oil has turned into the Y2K crisis of the early 21st century.

  • JamesR

    The community means those who show up to meetings. As a CB member myself, I can tell you that car owners (who are very often also homeowners) show up to the endless and tedious night meetings and provide input, often very loudly. Carfree folks, whether it be because they’re younger and disinterested, or poorer, or overworked, or whatever other litany of reasons, don’t show up nearly as much.

  • Alex

    I don’t get your point, most cities with “affordable housing” tend to have more parking spaces. Parking spaces are not the cause of lack of “Affordable housing”. Go back 20 years ago and housing was much more affordable in new york city.

    I do agree that sometimes parking lost are underused and too expensive in an attempt to recoup lost revenue. Also flushing is very congested so I don’t blame demand for parking spaces, the outer boroughs are different from downtown, and are you going to fetch tools and appliances in the rain or bad weather?

  • Alex

    I’m not taking Bob Frederich’s side, but he has criticized groups like transportation alternatives by suggesting that they aren’t facing reality by suggesting that “who’s going bike with their tools in the winter” especially in the outer boroughs.

    Flushing’s has a large influx of people from all around the world, it was not built to handle so many people, illegal apartments are also common in many place although that’s another topic.

  • Alex

    Cobble Hill is well served by mass transit, so your analogy isn’t on the mark, rather its the outer boroughs further away that are the problem, Recall the conversation about tolls on the east river bridges.

  • lop

    The point is parking lots are expensive, and drive up the cost of housing. The effect is more pronounced in NYC because land prices are elevated. Not everyone is ready to live without a car, but some people are. So building an apartment building with fewer parking spaces per residential unit, or even no spaces, could allow for cheaper homes. The parking reform being pushed is to reduce or eliminate the minimum number of off street parking spots that zoning requires. It wouldn’t require new developments to be built without parking, or limit the number of spots they can build in the outer boroughs.

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