Council Members Use Downtown Brooklyn Parking Reform as Bargaining Chip

Parking reform for Downtown Brooklyn — which would take the mild but worthwhile step of cutting the district’s mandatory parking minimums in half — went before a City Council subcommittee on Monday. The fate of the proposal now comes down to council members Tish James and Steve Levin, who represent the area. The two representatives are talking tough and trying to get DCP to do more — but what they want has little to do with parking policy.

Tish James and Steve Levin want to use parking reform to address unrelated aspects of Downtown Brooklyn's 2004 rezoning. Photos: City Council

James and Levin want guarantees that repurposed parking garages or future development will include more income-restricted units, a new elementary school, or other community facilities that they say are lacking since more families moved to the neighborhood following a 2004 rezoning. The council members are basically using parking reform as leverage to extract unrelated amenities from the city.

“Council Member James and I would like to see these issues addressed sooner rather than later,” Levin said at Monday’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises hearing, “and see this as a particular opportunity to have that conversation.”

On the affordable housing front, one step that would also make an impact would be to eliminate parking mandates entirely. But neither James nor Levin are asking for the elimination of parking minimums. This despite the fact that James herself acknowledges that parking mandates increase the cost of housing.

The Navy Green development, in her district, received a waiver from the city’s existing parking rules, allowing it to keep costs down for tenants and increase the number of affordable units. DCP wants to eliminate all parking requirements for income-restricted developments like Navy Green, a proposal James supports.

At the same time, James is skeptical that market-rate housing consumers would benefit from the same type of reform. “I’m not naïve enough to think that savings will be passed along to buyers or renters,” she told Streetsblog. “Most developers are not in the business of benevolence.”

But the evidence does not suggest that developers will just pocket the savings from not having to build parking, said Simon McDonnell, a research affiliate at New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. “If the market is operating, a reduction in developers’ input costs clearly gives them more leeway to offer lower prices,” he said, which could put market-rate units within the range of people who can’t afford luxury housing but don’t qualify for income restricted housing.

Although parking reform is not a panacea, evidence suggests that off-street parking does inflate market-rate housing prices. In San Francisco and downtown Los Angeles, housing with off-street parking is up to 10 percent more expensive than comparable units without parking.

“There’s no reason, other than the fact that we’ve done it for a long time, to make housing developers build parking,” said Professor Michael K. Manville of Cornell University, who authored the Los Angeles study. “You’re moving a cost of driving into the housing market… It’s not a good idea.”

When they aren’t seeking waivers to the city’s parking mandate, most NYC residential developers are building just enough parking to satisfy city requirements and passing the costs on to tenants, according to research from the Furman Center.

For parking reform to have a significant impact on housing prices, Manville said, it will need to cover a sizable section of the city, and not just comprise small measures in targeted areas.

James is open to this argument. “Perhaps if it’s done across the city, maybe that would have an impact on the market,” she said, adding that DCP has yet to propose such a wide-ranging reform.

A citywide proposal would also face substantial political hurdles, however, while the current proposal could be enacted now and set a precedent for future reforms. “These things often move in small steps,” Manville said.

Despite the issues brought up by the council members, DCP’s modest parking reform proposal is likely to pass the Council in some form. “I have some concerns,” James said. “I’m not opposed.”


Coalition Calls for Comprehensive Transpo Plan for Northwest Brooklyn

Choked by traffic, Downtown Brooklyn and its surrounding neighborhoods need a comprehensive agenda for transportation — and the current ad hoc approach from the city and state isn’t cutting it in the fast-growing area, says a coalition of community groups, elected officials, and advocates. Last week the coalition unveiled the “BK Gateway Transportation Vision” [PDF], covering a […]

If DCP Won’t Scrap Downtown BK Minimums, Is Broader Parking Reform Dead?

The proposed reduction of parking minimums in Downtown Brooklyn, though seriously insufficient, is good news for housing affordability and environmental sustainability in New York City. But it’s terrible news for those hoping to see broader reforms of New York City’s parking requirements. If the Department of City Planning felt so politically constrained that it could […]

City Council’s Zeal for Affordable Housing Crumbles If It Means Less Parking

On Tuesday, members of the City Council hammered the de Blasio administration for not guaranteeing enough housing units for low-income New Yorkers in new construction. But yesterday, when the topic turned to building more affordable housing by reducing parking requirements, several Council members lost their zeal for housing and worried more about car storage. The hearing yesterday […]

DCP Proposal Will Cut Downtown Brooklyn Parking Minimums in Half

Downtown Brooklyn’s mandatory parking minimums would be cut in half for new development and eliminated outright for affordable housing under a plan from the Department of City Planning. The change is significant — the first rollback of the costly and car-ownership inducing requirements under the Bloomberg administration — but doesn’t go far enough. Even by DCP’s own […]

A Handful of Car Spaces, or a 27-Dock Citi Bike Station?

Because a construction site is blocking the sidewalk on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, a Citi Bike station was taken off the sidewalk in mid-April and re-installed along the protected bike lane on the other side of South 11th Street a couple of weeks ago, replacing a handful of parking spaces. The new site was the only […]

DCP Bringing Parking Reform to Downtown Brooklyn

Downtown Brooklyn could finally get a reprieve from the onerous and outdated parking requirements that have forced developers to build costly, anti-urban garages which sit unused. A new DCP proposal filed earlier this week is described online as a “text amendment to modify the off-street parking regulations of the special Downtown Brooklyn district.” There’s not […]