By Ryan Packer
Democrats in Olympia are making good on their pledge to remove local regulatory barriers to housing by proposing bills that would require cities and towns to permit diverse types of new housing. Many of these bills are being passed over the objections of local elected officials, who are wary of changes in state law that take away their authority to maintain status-quo land use policies.
But while lawmakers seem willing to go against the recommendations of some cities when it comes to density limits, they seem more hesitant about getting rid of local parking requirements. Parking requirements add costs to new housing—garages aren’t cheap to build—and are often unnecessary as cities become denser and easier to navigate without a car. Cities across Washington currently require a certain number of parking spaces for each new housing unit they permit, though Seattle has removed that requirement for buildings close to transit lines.
Many of the bills proposed this session remove or reduce minimum parking requirements in order to reduce construction costs. But those provisions are now proving to be a sticking point for both parties.
Rep. Julia Reed (D-36, Seattle) is leading the charge to eliminate parking minimums, particularly in areas that are close to transit. “A lot of these parking minimum laws that are in place from cities and counties, they were created a while ago and they’re not really revisited that often,” Reed said. “It’s not tied to how people really move around that neighborhood, it’s tied to an assumption that parking is needed.” Reed cited the high cost of parking spaces in new buildings: $50,000 or more per spot.
Reed’s House Bill 1351 would prohibit cities from requiring parking in new buildings within a half-mile of frequent transit lines, and within a quarter-mile of half-hourly bus service. But by the time that bill passed the house local government committee this week, the restriction only applied to areas within a quarter-mile of any level of transit service. And even that major change wasn’t enough to get any Republicans in the committee to vote for it, in a year when Democrats are counting on some Republican votes to get their housing votes across the finish line.
The state senate is where that support might matter the most. When the bill’s senate counterpart received a hearing earlier this month, it was a Democrat, Sen Claudia Kauffman (D-47, Kent), who expressed concerns with how this would impact downtown Kent, where street parking is generally free. “If you start reducing [required parking] because of the transit center, it’s going to reduce people’s ability to have their car. … For me, this doesn’t work within the transit system that we have,” Kauffman said. “In my area this just wouldn’t work.”
Many of this year’s senate housing bills would also reduce or remove parking minimums. Senator Marko Liias’ (D-21, Edmonds) Senate Bill 5466 would require cities to allow substantially denser developments around transit stations, and would ban parking minimums within three-quarters of a mile of any major transit stop.
“It doesn’t make sense, when we’re saying [that] in a transit zone, the way we want people to move is by transit, to also require and guarantee that you can get to those destinations by car,” Liias said at the bill’s first public hearing. “Overlaying the two creates really incompatible and inefficient land uses. … When we require parking minimums, that’s when we get empty parking lots right next to light rail stations.”
Under the new version of the bills allowing more apartments near transit, a potential fourplex just outside a transit corridor would have to include four parking spaces, which might push a homeowner or developer to consider a different type of building altogether—like a single-family home.
Housing advocates are in broad agreement that it’s essential to eliminate parking minimums as part of this year’s housing bills. “If the bill doesn’t do that, local parking mandates will force developers to build more parking than communities need, and that excess parking will undermine the state’s goals to create transit-oriented communities that give residents good alternatives to cars,” Dan Bertolet of the Sightline Institute, the Seattle-based think tank, testified at a committee hearing on SB 5466 this week. A 2021 paper by a researcher at Santa Clara University showed that when Seattle reduced required parking near transit in 2012, developers built 40 percent fewer parking spaces, translating to around 18,000 fewer stalls and over half a billion dollars in reduced housing costs.
Though it’s still early, efforts to weaken parking restrictions are already becoming a trend. This week, the house and senate housing committees approved both House Bill 1110 and its counterpart Senate Bill 5190, which require cities inside the Seattle and Spokane metro areas to allow fourplexes on all residential lots, and sixplexes close to transit. But both chambers did so only after approving a new version that allows cities to require at least one parking spot for each housing unit for areas away from transit, when the previous version only allowed them to require one spot per lot. That means a potential fourplex just outside a transit corridor would have to include four parking spaces, which might push a homeowner or developer to consider a different type of building altogether—like a single-family home.
Even as that bill passed its senate committee with his vote, one of its Republican sponsors, Sen. John Braun (R-20, Centralia), said he isn’t ready to vote “yes” when it gets to the Senate floor, suggesting there’s more bartering ahead on the Senate. A majority of Republicans in both chambers oppose the bills in the name of maintaining local control—as opposed to supporting them based on developers’ private property rights, a traditional conservative position.
With the proposals to eliminate parking minimums getting the most vocal pushback from local leaders, and many lawmakers apparently listening to those concerns, these urbanist provisions might be the first casualties as deadlines approach and leaders in both chambers look to create compromises to reach a deal.
12 thoughts on “Seeking Compromise, Lawmakers May Preserve Local Parking Mandates in This Year’s Pro-Housing Bills”
Cement parking structures are excellent temporary housing opportunities. Individual spaces are already marked. Service vehicles including fire, police and ambulance can drive into and out quickly. They are fire proof. It’s possible to clean a floor with hoses and water. It’s possible to segregate housing from parking with fencing. Payment to building owners, even a few dollars a night per tenant adds up quickly to a reasonable sum. The homeless can be provided new tents for not much cost. The garages while not heated are protected from rain. And they already exist.
“…in a year when Democrats are counting on some Republican votes to get their housing votes across the finish line.”
For fucks sake, Democrats have their largest majorities in the Legislature in ages, and they still insist on compromising against themselves to get Republican votes they don’t need???
I have never seen any proof that the millions in supposed savings from not building parking is passed along to renters and buyers. Where did the “half billion” in savings go?
Creating housing buildings without parking isn’t working well in Seattle now, even when those new buildings are across the street from Link Light Rail. Even in buildings affordable to people at 50% AMI, a great many people who rent there have cars they need to get to jobs that are not near a transit center, such as a Boeing factory. Where are they parking? Illegally at Safeway and church parking lots.
Safeway and the churches ought to rent them spaces.
Churches are nonprofit organizations. Making revenue by renting parking spaces would require changes to both local and federal law. The City of Seattle charges tax on parking rentals. RE Safeway, have you ever been to the Othello Safeway, which is across the street from the Othello Link light rail station? This place doesn’t have adequate parking now. At the Rainier Beach Safeway, two rows of parking at the east end of the lot are routinely filled with cars from residents of Lake Washington Apartments (an old development that allows one parking space per apartment) and the big new Polaris apartment building, with no parking.
“Churches are nonprofit organizations. Making revenue by renting parking spaces would require changes to both local and federal law. ”
LOL then churches should simply let them use spaces for free!
Liability issues. People want stuff for free, especially people who don’t own much. Churches have to maintain those parking lots. Parking on someone’s property is not free, which is a huge part of the issue. Street parking is a limited commodity, and is controlled by meters and permits and time limits.
Bidens economy is pushing for green energy which means electric cars. Even people who live near transit own and use their cars. You can’t shop for a family or do a Costco run on transit. It’s tough to go skiing using transit or hiking or camping and do many other places. Multi family housing dwellers have cars – let’s build garages with charging stations so their car can be electric!
I don’t blame the Rs. Bigger cities make bluer states, so building cities up more efficiently pushes Rs further out of power. I can see why they wouldn’t want to bolster Biden’s economy by allowing more homebuilding and more movement to job-rich areas, either. It would be a shame to build more homes near transit if you want oil export revenues to be able to finance the Russian military, too. As a Democrat, tho, I expect my party to favor these measures