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Analysis: Everyone Agrees — Less Parking Means More Housing

Let's take a second-day look at Mayor Adams's "City of Yes" zoning proposal to do away with mandatory parking in new developments.

Photo: Brecht Bug|

This is not the best use of urban land.

Demand, meet supply. 

Developers and housing advocates are applauding Mayor Adams’s groundbreaking proposal to do away with mandatory parking at new buildings citywide — a zoning requirement that they say adds unnecessary cost to construction, slows down the timeline of completion, and increases rents in a city starved for middle-income housing. 

The price of an apartment in the five boroughs is determined largely by demand, but also by the cost to build it. And so eliminating the requirement will help reduce that burden by removing the extra cost so that housing for people — rather than cars — can be built, experts say.

“If you can alleviate pressure on the demand side by building more housing, and, on the cost side, if you can reduce the number of mandates put on a unit, that can be passed onto the consumer,” said Tucker Reed, the former president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, who now heads the Brooklyn-based real estate development firm Totem. “If you can deviate those resources to housing for people instead of for a car, it’s better for everyone."

The historic change to the city’s zoning code, which dates back to the 1950s, is part of the Adams administration's “City of Yes” zoning proposal, pitched to help a worsening housing crisis. Adams said that each parking space adds about $67,500 in construction costs.

"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 last Thursday.

In transit-rich Downtown Brooklyn, for example, the real-estate firm Alloy Development had to secure a special permit to not include the required 200 parking spots for its project, Alloy Block, which is within walking distance to more than a dozen subway and bus lines. 

In that case, Alloy got permission, but company Vice President David McCarty said that if the cost to build an apartment complex becomes too onerous due to arbitrary parking requirements, the outcome isn’t as favorable. 

“There’s plenty of projects where the rents don't justify the construction costs, including the very expensive parking requirements, so they just don’t get built. More projects become financeable and more units get built. The only way to address affordability is adding a lot more supply into the market,” McCarty told Streetsblog on Friday.

Parking is so expensive, he added, because of the cost of excavation to build underground, and the additional time it takes to construct. McCarty admitted that eliminating a parking mandate alone isn’t going to solve the housing crisis, but that it’s a “super ambitious” plan to help get more desperately needed housing into the dwindling supply. 

And Bruce Teitelbaum, the real-estate bigwig behind the controversial (but now-stalled) Harlem development One45, agreed. At one of his other sites in Queens, the requirement for parking is even pricier as it sits on the waterfront, tacking on additional fees for more complicated engineering. 

“You have to spend a lot of money on engineering and design issues near the water. It’s very expensive to build parking, if you’re required to do it,” said Teitelbaum.

Obviously, each neighborhood’s needs are different and its construction must reflect that —parking would not be banned under the mayor's proposal, but merely no longer required.

The City Planning Department is going to have to work very closely with local communities," said Carlo Scissura, the president and CEO of the New York Building Congress, who also cheered the announcement. "Parking requirements in Downtown Brooklyn may look very different than the south shore of Staten Island. I think it's a long time coming.”

And before the zoning change can take effect, it must go through the lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, slated to begin this spring. The process allows all 59 community boards, the City Planning Commission, all five borough presidents and the City Council to weigh in. A final vote would come next fall.

Once that is done, however, most residential buildings that are proposed as-of-right would not require any further input from the local community in order to do away with parking, even in neighborhoods where owning a car is the way of life— a major win for developers, who often lament the exorbitant cost to include it, according to Valerie Campbell, a partner in the land-use division at the firm Kramer Levin.

“If a project is subject to a land-use review because it’s asking for a rezoning or special permit, it could be an issue in some neighborhoods ... some communities are very opposed to parking because they think it increases traffic. Others are more pro-parking because they’re afraid of the new residents coming in and taking either scarce garage space in the neighborhood or street spaces," said Campbell. "But the vast majority of projects don’t go through public review. That’s going to mean a lot of new residential developments will not include, or will include less, parking."

Even then, the recommendation of a community board is purely advisory, Campbell reminded.   

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