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.

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