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City of Yes Yes Yes! Adams Calls for Elimination of Parking Mandates on ALL New Housing

Mayor Adams today announced the historic end to one of the city’s most antiquated — and despised — zoning laws requiring the construction of parking with every new development.

11:48 AM EDT on September 21, 2023

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman|

Yes he said yes he will yes … to no more mandatory parking.

He said yes!

Mayor Adams today proposed the historic end to one of the city’s most antiquated — and despised — zoning laws requiring the construction of parking with every new development, a mandate that advocates (and developers) have long been seeking to do away with.

“We’re going to create housing for New Yorkers, not cars,” Hizzoner declared during a major speech on housing in Manhattan on Thursday.

As part of the Adams administration's “City of Yes” zoning proposal, developers will no longer be required to include parking spaces in new buildings — a 1950s requirement that experts say only leads to more congestion, more pollution, fewer affordable units and higher construction costs that are then passed along to all tenants, even those who do not own cars. 

The groundbreaking change to allow for the creation of homes for people rather than spaces for cars comes amid a worsening housing crisis that city leaders are urgently trying to address. Each parking space adds roughly $67,500 in construction costs, according to city estimates, and also takes away one of the most valuable commodities in this city — space — from those who need it most.

"As unbelievable as it may seem, New York City's zoning rules mandate off-street parking spots as a part of new housing, and parking in buildings, where it is offered, is usually too expensive and out of reach for most of the residents living there," the mayor said on Thursday.

"This makes no sense in a city where the majority of residents do not own a car, especially at a time when we are looking to reduce emissions and support the nation's largest public transit system."

The proposed measures — which the Adams administration is touting as the most “significant pro-housing reform” ever made to the zoning code — will help facilitate the construction of 100,000 new homes over 15 years, City Hall announced on Thursday, with the tagline, “a little more housing in every neighborhood.”

Much of the city’s current regulations date back to the 1950s, when parking minimums for residential buildings were written into the city’s zoning code; in 1961, the rules were amended to include commercial and mixed-use buildings. The exact number of off-street parking spaces mandated for new developments is currently determined based on the use of the building, and the zoning district in which it sits.

In the decades since, the requirements have been relaxed; in 1982, all parking minimums were eliminated in Manhattan below 96th Street on the East Side and below 110th Street on the West Side (in response to the 1970 Clean Air Act); they were later reduced in transit-rich Downtown Brooklyn and parts of Long Island City; and in 2016, the city's Zoning for Quality and Affordability plan eliminated parking minimums for fully affordable housing 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.

But for large swaths of the city, the mandates remain, creating a “vicious cycle” of encouraging car ownership and disincentivizing public transportation, advocates say.

“This is what meeting the moment looks like. Ending mandatory parking mandates works for the entire city by knocking out an obsolete, antiquated barrier to housing affordability, home ownership, efficient mass transit, and economic development,” said Sara Lind, the co-executive director of Open Plans, a sister organization of Streetsblog, which engaged the Adams administration on the topic since the outset, including publishing a detailed white paper [PDF].

Lind called the announcement "nothing short of a historic step."

"For decades, New York City has legally required a practice that hampers affordable housing, makes neighborhoods less vibrant, pollutes our air, and clogs our streets with noisy, dangerous cars," she added. "The administration gets that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to amend that by changing our obsolete, regressive zoning code. The boldest, simplest solution — lifting parking mandates, citywide — is also the one that will best set New York City up for success."

The change will not forbid parking from new developments, it will simply no longer require it. Many developers have said they don't want to build as much parking as they are required, but the mandate has forced them to jump through hoops to do away with it. Lind focused on the flexibility.

"The key here is 'options,'" she said. "Lifting parking mandates will restore the option to build less parking when it's not needed or wanted. ... By lifting parking mandates citywide, we give every neighborhood the opportunity to build what’s needed, wanted, and good for the whole community. Cars don’t make New York great, New Yorkers do."

In Downtown Brooklyn, for example, 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 — near where nearly a 11 subway lines pass. 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 onerous process, Alloy CEO Jared Della Valle previously told Streetsblog.

In that vein, a group of Brooklyn politicians took matters into their own hands by warning developers last March that they must apply for the special permit to do away with the mandatory parking requirement if they wanted approval from the local elected officials, including Borough President Antonio Reynoso.

And state lawmakers have also been taking up the issue.

And it's not as if Mayor Adams came up with the idea on his own. Other cities have already eliminated parking minimums across the board. For example, Buffalo did it in 2017, San Francisco in 2018, Minneapolis in 2021, and most recently, Boston did it in 2022 for affordable housing developments as well as neighboring Cambridge, which removed parking requirements for all new buildings, not just those containing residential or affordable housing.

In addition to doing away with parking minimums, the Adams administration will also encourage transit-oriented development — a policy that an overwhelming 83 percent of voters said they support, according to a survey conducted back in March by Open New York and Regional Plan Association's New York Neighbors Coalition.

That proposal would allow developers to erect three-to-five story apartment buildings on “large lots near transit stops” in places where they have become increasingly banned. 

“Connecting new housing to accessible public transportation can ease congestion, cut harmful carbon emissions, and reduce car ownership — fostering a safer, cleaner, and more prosperous city,” the administration said. 

Before this latest “City of Yes” zoning change can take effect, however, it must go through the lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, slated to begin this coming spring. The process allows all 59 community boards, the City Planning Commission, all five borough presidents and the City Council to declare Adams's proposal a City of Yes a City of No. A final vote would come next fall.

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