Six months ago, when Council Member David Greenfield got the chair of the land use committee, it looked like a bad sign for parking reform in New York City. Can the city eliminate costly parking minimums if the land use committee is led by an elected whose approach to every parking problem seems to be “add more”?
Greenfield’s recent response to parking issues in his district adds more cause for concern: He has joined Brooklyn Community Board 12 in pushing a developer to add as much new parking as possible to a project on Coney Island Avenue in Midwood.
Developer Baruch Singer is proposing a nine-story building containing mostly retail and medical offices at 1504 Coney Island Avenue, by the corner of Avenue L [PDF]. New York’s zoning code mandates 346 parking spaces for the project. Singer is planning to build an automated parking facility to squeeze as many cars as possible into an underground garage [PDF], but that still can’t fit all the required spaces.
Building to the parking mandate would require a deck at least three levels deep, and that’s not going to happen. “It is simply not possible to dig another level,” said Howard Goldman of real estate law firm Goldman Harris, representing Singer at the Board of Standards and Appeals last Tuesday. “The second level is right at the water table, so any further excavation will be into the water.”
So the developer is looking to build 74 fewer parking spaces than required. The developer says 272 spaces would still be more than enough to accommodate the peak-hour demand from the project, which it calculated at 198 spaces.
That’s not enough for Greenfield and CB 12, which see Singer’s project as the solution to parking dysfunction near the popular Pomegranate grocery store across the street. During busy shopping hours, Pomegranate’s 30-space surface lot overflows as shoppers park at on-street meters and delivery drivers double-park along Coney Island Avenue. Greenfield and CB 12 want to maximize the amount of parking at the new development. They don’t seem to be aware that adding more parking will simply induce more traffic and won’t solve the problems they want to address.
The curbside problems will persist as long as curbside parking remains underpriced, so I asked if CB 12 has ever approached DOT about adjusting parking rules. By altering meter rates and delivery hours, curbside spaces could turn over more frequently, double-parking could be reduced, and more loading zones would be freed up. “I’m not aware of any requests made to change the meter regulations,” CB 12 district manager Barry Spitzer said.
What about Greenfield?
“The Councilman has spent a lot of time working with the NYPD, DOT, Pomegranate and neighbors to resolve the parking challenges at that intersection,” Greenfield chief of staff Jane Carey said, without offering specifics. “That is one of the reasons he believes any new development at this intersection must have appropriate parking.”
The evidence that more parking causes more traffic hasn’t swayed CB 12. “Adding parking doesn’t add congestion. Adding businesses adds congestion,” Spitzer said. “I don’t think additional parking will add congestion to the neighborhood, in my opinion.”
While the project highlights how much work remains to educate council members and community boards about how parking works, the number of parking spaces that will be built is not really in doubt. The developer is going to build 272 spaces either way, since it can substitute non-profit offices for medical offices and, thanks to the vagaries of NYC parking requirements, no special permit will be necessary.
In January, CB 12 voted 23-1 to recommend a rejection of Singer’s special permit request to build less parking than required. The developer went before the Board of Standards and Appeals last Tuesday, and a second hearing at the BSA has been scheduled for September 9.
“I don’t know that we properly explained it to them or that they fully understood what was going on, but they opposed it,” Goldman said of CB 12. “We are continuing to try to meet with the council member to explain this further and hopefully change his mind.”