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Antonio Reynoso

Brooklyn Pols Tell Developers to Eliminate Parking or Else

Council Member Lincoln Restler, joined by Council Member Alexa Avilés and Borough President Antonio Reynoso, as well as advocates, to call on developers to eliminate parking requirements. Photo: Council Member Lincoln Restler’s office

A group of Brooklyn politicians who collectively represent 1.4 million people is telling would-be developers to apply for a special permit to nix the city's mandatory parking requirement in order to win approval from the elected officials, the group announced on Monday at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

Because it will be too onerous to change the city's mandatory parking minimums in the short term, the group of politicians — led by Borough President Antonio Reynoso and Council Member Lincoln Restler — is trying an end-around: demanding that developers who want a zoning change on any given site first apply for an exemption from the parking minimum.

“Developers need our consent and approval, and we are telling them, plainly, that they have to file for a special permit to end parking requirements,” said Restler, who represents the transit-rich areas of Downtown and North Brooklyn. "The future of our city depends on it."

Currently, outside of some specially zoned neighborhoods, like Manhattan's central business district or at fully affordable housing developments in transit-rich areas, developers of most new residential buildings are required by zoning law to provide off-street parking spaces — the exact number depends on the use of the building and its zoning. If a developer wants to opt out of mandatory parking, he or she must apply for a special waiver from the Department of City Planning.

Many advocates hope to eliminate mandatory parking minimums, as Buffalo, San Francisco, and Minneapolis have done, but doing so across the board would require a full-scale Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the lengthy process that involves all 59 community boards and the five borough presidents, then a vote from the City Council; and an extensive environmental review of the effects of such a change.

In addition to Restler and Reynoso, the other pols demanding that developers seek a parking waiver include Democratic Council Members Jennifer Gutierrez (Williamsburg-Bushwick), Crystal Hudson (Downtown Brooklyn-Fort Greene), Chi Osse (Bedford-Stuyvesant), Sandy Nurse (Ocean Hill-Brownsville), Alexa Avilés (Red Hook-Sunset Park), Shahana Hanif (Park Slope-Kensington), Rita Joseph (Flatbush-Midwood), and Farah Louis (Flatbush-Marine Park) — who together represent roughly half the population of Brooklyn.

In the end, the pols are doing developers a favor, since the parking requirement often leads to higher construction costs — costs that get passed onto the residents in the form of higher housing costs, even to the more than half who don’t own a car. Rather than building parking, developers could use that money for much better purposes.

“So many times, developers come to us and say, ‘It is fiscally impossible for us to give people affordable housing because we have to drill two-to-three stories below ground to build parking,’” said Reynoso. “We’re saying, ‘You don’t need to do that anymore.’”

In addition to creating affordable housing, ending parking minimums will lead to more green space and clean air because residents are less likely to buy a car if they don't have a guaranteed spot.

“Our city needs to get real about affordable housing and climate change,” said Avilés. “We know New Yorkers spend an unacceptably high percentage of their income on housing, yet we continue to drive up the scarcity of land by incentivizing car ownership through parking requirements.”

Currently, there are no parking minimums in Manhattan below E. 96th Street and W. 110th Street (in response to the 1970 Clean Air Act); they’ve been reduced in Downtown Brooklyn and parts of Long Island City; in 2016, then-Mayor de Blasio's housing plan eliminated parking minimums for fully affordable developments in transit-rich areas; and as part of neighborhood-wide rezoning plans such Inwood, the city also lowered or eliminated parking minimums for all new developments.

Yet, Restler said, at 840 Lorimer St. in Williamsburg, which is one block from the G train, developers are required to build two dozen parking spots in the development. At another proposed project at North Seventh Street and Bedford Avenue, just feet from the L train, the 28-unit building includes 14 parking spots.

But some developers are fighting back. In Downtown Brooklyn, through which nearly a 11 subway lines pass, the real-estate firm Alloy Development fought to get permission to nix the parking requirements for its planned mega-project at the junction of Flatbush Avenue, Schermerhorn Street, Third Avenue and State Street. Under existing zoning laws, Alloy would have been required to include 200 parking spaces. The developers eventually won the right to include no parking, but it was a long, expensive, and difficult process, according to Alloy CEO Jared Della Valle.

But most developers just comply with the zoning laws as they are currently written to avoid having to jump through hoops — and the result is the construction of more parking spots that pols are powerless to stop.

Restler didn’t go so far as to say he’d vote down every project that comes across this desk without a parking waiver, but promised to make it much more difficult for those buildings to move forward.

“I’m far more likely to vote no,” he said.

Advocates say this call to action must just be the beginning.

"Parking minimums incentivize people to own and drive cars,” said Sara Lind, Director of Policy at Open Plans, a sister company of Streetsblog. “In the face of a climate crisis, an epidemic of traffic violence causing death and carnage on our streets, and a crippling lack of affordable housing, parking minimums are the exact wrong policy. New York City should be doing everything we can to encourage people to use sustainable modes of transportation and to lower housing costs. Eliminating parking minimums is a critical step towards those goals."

Meanwhile, the state legislature may eliminate mandatory parking minimums on its own. A proposed legislation by state Sen. Brad Holyman (D-Manhattan) would “prohibit cities…from requiring construction of off-street parking” in an attempt to encourage public transit and reduce car ownership. It's awaiting a hearing.

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