On Wednesday, the Seattle City Council met to discuss possible amendments to proposed parking reform legislation. Councilmembers and City staff walked through an extensive list of draft amendments and how they might work if adopted. The discussion builds upon three previous meetings on the topic of changing the city’s parking regulations.

Kicking off the meeting, Councilmember Rob Johnson expressed excitement and moral purpose for the topic. “For me, an important value statement for us is recognizing the irony about how much of the city has very expensive house and very free parking,” he said. “And I think for us it’s important to recognize that parking is an important part of affordability, and we should be working hard to try to reverse those trends, making parking more expensive and making housing less expensive.” Councilmember Johnson went on to note that parking requirements can directly affect the costs of goods and housing while incentivizing driving and pollution.

Summary of Proposed Amendments

Councilmembers on the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee have already developed a variety of possible amendments to the base legislation. The drafted versions could change prior to the next meeting where votes on amendments will take place. But the draft amendments as presented at the meeting would do the following:

  • Amendment A: Councilmember Johnson is sponsoring an amendment that would expand a proposed provision to require unbundling of parking from leases. His amendment would require all new multifamily developments with rented or leased units to unbundle the cost of off-street parking from a rented or leased unit. His amendment would also lower the threshold for unbundled parking from commercial spaces leased or rented to 4,000 square feet or greater. The proposed legislation would set the threshold at 10,000 square feet or greater.

  • Amendment B: Councilmember Johnson is also sponsoring an amendment that would remove an exemption for carsharing parking spaces. Under the proposed legislation, up to three carsharing spaces would be allowed in surface areas between a building and street in certain commercial and multifamily zones. Councilmember Johnson has proposed the amendment in order to maintain a more attractive pedestrian environment and promote better urban design.
  • Amendment C: Councilmember Lisa Herbold is sponsoring an amendment that would maintain the proximity that off-street parking associated with a use must be located. Current law requires off-street parking to be within 800 feet of the site upon which the associated use is located. The proposed parking reform legislation would increase that to a quarter-mile (1,320 feet).
  • Amendment D: Councilmember Johnson is sponsoring a more specific definition of “frequent transit service” instead of relying primarily upon a Director’s Rule from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI). Several options have been put on the table for changing the approach to defining frequent transit service since the existing practice has arguably created deep uncertainty for development proposals. His amendment would be a departure from the avenue that SDCI has considered and would make several changes to realize this objective. His definition would make “frequent transit service” to mean a scheduled service that has headways at least meeting the following: 1) average headways of every 15 minutes in each direction with no hour having less than three trips per direction on weekdays between the hours of 6am and 7pm; 2) average headways of every 30 minutes in each direction with no hour having less than one trip per direction on weekdays between the hours of 7pm and 12am; 3) average headways of every 30 minutes in each direction with no hour having less than one trip per direction on weekends between the hours of 6am and 12am; and 4) allow overlapping routes to be considered in the calculation of frequent transit. This recognizes that people may be fine with lower frequencies during midday weekdays and weekends while living car-free or car-light lifestyles. Councilmember Johnson’s amendment would further define “frequent transit service area” as “an area within 1,320 feet walking distance of a bus stop served by a route with frequent transit service or an area within 2,640 feet walking distance of a rail transit station as shown on a map adopted by a Director’s rule.” The effect could increase the extent of frequent transit service areas, particularly around light rail and commuter rail stations. SDCI would be required to adopt a map, by rule, identifying areas that qualify for parking reductions under the frequent transit service definitions.
  • Amendment E1: Councilmember Johnson is also proposing an amendment that would fully exempt affordable housing units (i.e., rent- and income-restricted units for households at or below 80% of the area median income) from parking requirements. The existing Land Use Code specifies different amounts depending on income circumstances and the proposed parking reform legislation would change the numbers and thresholds.
  • Amendment E2: Councilmember Johnson is proposing an amendment specific to the University District. Existing regulations apply differently to the neighborhood based upon geographical designation. In certain areas, properties have two designations and in the proposed parking reform legislation SDCI would apply the higher parking requirement standard between the two designations. Councilmember Johnson’s amendment would maintain the current practice which could mean lower parking requirements where the overlap of designations occurs.
  • Amendment E3: Councilmember Herbold is proposing an amendment that would impact properties zoned commercial and multifamily within a quarter-mile of the Fauntleroy ferry dock. Properties within a quarter-mile would not be eligible for reductions in off-street parking requirement even if they are in a frequent transit service area.
  • Amendment F: Councilmember Herbold is also proposing an amendment that would modify conditioning authority under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to allow parking mitigation in certain instances. Under existing law, where projects are subject to SEPA, parking mitigation cannot be made a condition of approval for developments within an urban village and in a frequent transit service area. Councilmember Herbold’s amendment would change this to allow for parking mitigation to be a condition of approval in those areas if 85% or more of on-street parking is being used or would be used by approval of the development, as determined by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). Her amendment would also add a new parking mitigation option to the list of choices available to SDCI, which includes options like increased parking ratios, incentive programs to reduce single occupancy vehicles, and parking management plans. The new option would allow SDCI to deny occupants of a new development access to Restricted Parking Zone permits.
  • Amendment G: Councilmembers Johnson and Mike O’Brien are sponsoring an amendment that would provide more direction on the design of long-term bicycle parking. The amendment would allow SDOT to develop, by rule, guidance on providing a “variety of rack types to accommodate different types of bicycles.”
  • Amendment H: Councilmembers Johnson and O’Brien are also sponsoring an amendment that would direct SDCI to develop a discretionary process to allow modifications to bicycle parking requirements for light rail facilities. Future code amendments would follow from the effort. Under the proposed parking reform legislation, new light rail stations would need to provide a long-term and short-term bike parking spaces at certain percentages equal to peak morning ridership. Recognizing that not all stations are created equal, the discretionary process might adjust that number from station to station to better match demand.
  • Amendment I: Councilmember Johnson is sponsoring an amendment that would provide a reduction in bicycle parking ratios in multifamily developments when the number of parking spaces exceeds 50. For bicycle parking required above 50 spaces, a developer would only need to provide half the ratio. So for instance, if a residential development would ordinarily need to provide 100 spaces, it would actually be eligible for a reduction to 75 spaces.
  • Amendment J: Councilmembers Johnson and O’Brien are sponsoring an amendment that would exempt required bike commuter shower facilities in office developments in commercial and industrial zones from floor area ratio calculations.
  • Amendment K: Councilmember Herbold is sponsoring an amendment that would allow off-site bicycle parking up to be located further away from the site of a new development. Existing regulations only allow off-site bicycle parking to be located 100 feet from a site with a nonresidential uses. The proposed parking reform legislation would increase this to 600 feet. Councilmember Herbold’s amendment would go further by allowing such bicycle parking spaces to be located up to1,320 feet off-site, including for residential uses.

The next PLUZ meeting is scheduled for March 21st where councilmembers will consider adoption of amendments and passage of legislation out of committee.

Right-Sizing Parking: City Council Weighs Reform

28 COMMENTS

  1. “making parking more expensive”???? Rob Johnson is actually on record saying this? He is working to make Seattle more expensive for it’s residents? This will make housing less affordable. He has a twisted sense of priorities.

    • You’ve forgotten the second part of that sentence 😉

      The point is that if you don’t have a car, you shouldn’t have parking bundled into your rent, making your rent more expensive for an amenity you don’t use (and which nobody else can use either).

      These proposals should actually free up parking for neighborhoods, as it would allow someone in a nearby house or building to rent excess underground parking in apartment buildings, as well as allowing apartment buildings in central locations to rent out their excess spaces for nearby businesses or just as on-demand hourly spots.

      • That’s why if you don’t have a car you should choose to live in a building that doesn’t have any parking. (the problem is those buildings have super expensive rents so it may actually be cheaper for you to live in a building that bundles parking with rent).

    • It’s literally in the second half of the sentence: For me, an important value statement for us is recognizing the irony
      about how much of the city has very expensive house and very free
      parking,” he said. “And I think for us it’s important to recognize that
      parking is an important part of affordability, and we should be working
      hard to try to reverse those trends, making parking more expensive and
      making housing less expensive.” Councilmember Johnson went on to note
      that parking requirements can directly affect the costs of goods and
      housing while incentivizing driving and pollution.

  2. Amdmt F: “add restrictions on RPZ permits as a potential mitigation measure”

    It sounded like SDCI has no ability to limit RPZ number and this could allow some RPZ limits tied to a particular project.

    Build a 40 unit, no parking microhousing development in the middle of capitol hill’s RPZ, fine, but if the SEPA parking study suggests there’s little parking around they could actually restrict that building to only being eligible for, say, 10 RPZ permits.

    At 2h:18m in the committee meeting discussing this O’Brien said there are some areas where RPZs are so oversubscribed that they’re meaningless. Somehow, you need to come up with a reasonable way to limit and apportion RPZs based on how much parking is in the area and it sounds like this is a conversation O’Brien knows is overdue.

    • O’Brien seemed very open to talking about RPZ oversubscription. What he didn’t want is the “homeowners get a shared city resource; renters do not” mentality that Herbold was pushing.

    • I got context from Erica at C is for Crank… The RPZ limitation is essentially an attempt to punish new development for building without parking. SEPA is typically used for environmental impacts – not preserving street parking in front of homeowners’ homes.

      Re: RPZ oversubscription, I could support higher prices for RPZ subscription if they were coupled with income-based subsidy for lower-income people in the neighborhood. Paid parking pricing in the city is used to ensure there are street spaces available, so I see no reason why RPZs couldn’t be managed in a similar way.

      • But the goal is to reduce the number of cars and cater to the tenants who don’t need parking by building units with no parking. All the players are suggesting these projects don’t need as many RPZs (it’s not NO RPZs, it’s giving SDCI the ability to impart restrictions at those addresses that could be anywhere between n and 0). In the video, O’Brien was giddy at hearing about Cap and First Hill no-car households. Those folks would probably be fine with fewer RPZs in their buildings and it would make neighbors happier with the projects being built with little-to-no parking.

        https://www.reddit.com/r/SeattleWA/comments/831tbc/herbold_proposes_giving_sdci_option_for_rpz/

        The city seeks to reduce its climate change profile. The folks who take advantage of lower rents by living in places that don’t build parking are also less likely to own cars, exactly what the city wants. Why would someone without a car need access to an RPZ anyway?

      • It’s not punishing a new development without parking – it’s ensuring that the building actually is not adding cars to the neighborhood. After all, the developer agreed to this when he decided to build a building without any garage.

      • Actually – not requiring buildings to put in parking is a punishment to all the people in the neighborhood where the building is built!!!

  3. In Seattle the residents have a high demand for parking, yet the City is working hard to eliminate, restrict, or constrain parking throughout the city. What gives?

    • If the world has a high demand for coal, should we ramp up coal mining to meet it or should we look at renewables? Policies need to take externalities into account.

      • Agreed – parking in buildings is an eternally renewable resource that can serve tenants over many many years and contribute to the livability of our neighborhoods and the viability of small businesses in the long term!

        • I’m not saying parking is solar power. I’m saying just because there is demand for something doesn’t mean the government should implement policies that increase that thing. Policies should only subsidize things that have more positive externalities than negative externalities.

          Mandatory parking requirements subsidize car ownership. Increased car ownership has the positive externality of easier SOV mobility and negative externalities of more traffic, more pollution, and decreased fitness.

          Making people pay the real cost of parking has positive externalities of increased public transit use, increased bike use, less pollution, and increased fitness and a negative externality of making street parking more difficult.

          One of those has way more positive externalities than the other.

          • Everybody agrees that cars cause pollution but not requiring parking doesn’t discourage car ownership. So there is a problem with that reasoning.

            I’ve owned rentals for 20 years now. My rentals have offstreet parking and all spots have always been used for the entire 20 years. I’ve never had one renter that didn’t own a car.

          • Not requiring parking doesn’t discourage car ownership until the street parking fills up, yes. But it also doesn’t actively encourage car ownership like parking minimums do. And once those on-street spots fill up, it definitely does discourage car ownership. Ask anyone that had to hunt for on-street parking by their residence in Capitol Hill if it makes them reconsider having a car.

            Also your anecdote just says that when you force people to pay for parking even if they don’t intend to use it, they tend to use it. If the city required every apartment building to have a pool and I had to pay for that pool no matter what, I’d probably swim more than I do now. That doesn’t mean I think it’s required for me to live somewhere.

          • I can’t speak for the city, but I don’t really care if the street parking is empty, full, or anywhere in between. I want a city that has enough housing for everyone that wants to live here.

            Mandatory parking requirements make that much more difficult.

          • If you want to mitigate the pollution you could require at least one parking stall per each 3 units have a charging station or something like that. Or you could put in parking for reach now cars.

          • Why require it at all? If the tenants can’t live with the situation, they won’t be able to find renters. If they consistently can’t find renters, they won’t construct buildings with no parking. Saying requiring 1 spot per 3 units is good for pollution is like saying eating 1 hot dog is healthier than eating 3: they’re both not ideal.

          • Well, if my building didn’t have parking and renters couldn’t find buildings where they could park their cars, they would move farther away to find a place with a garage. This could result in them commuting longer distances. Let them pay the true cost of parking by renting a garage that still allows them a shorter commute – win for the environment and win for renter convenience.

          • And nothing in this legislation is stopping developers from providing parking. If it’s true that everyone needs parking, then developers will include it.

    • The city is changing policies to encourage the development of more (and more affordable) housing. Building parking is expensive, and many parts of the city don’t need it. In particular, dense multifamily buildings tend to attract a demographic that uses more public transit and owns fewer cars. These policies are aimed at making Seattle a more affordable place to live. Folks can still park on their own property, pay into a Residential Parking Zone, or rent parking spaces all over the city.

    • The city is working to eliminate government mandates to build parking.

      If the residents do indeed have a high demand for parking, those mandates are unnecessary, as the market will happily meet that demand witht them.

  4. The only problem with Rob Johnson’s reasoning is the street parking in Seattle IS NOT free. Our taxes are used to maintain and build street and sidewalk improvements. We paid to repave alot of streets in the last few summers. So now our taxes are going to be used by all the developers to update THEIR sidewalks and street around their developments. They are not paying a dime towards this but current residents and small businesses that rely on street traffic, will have to live with the reduced livability brought by the increased numbers of cars parking on the street and driving on our streets everyday. Requiring parking could go a long way towards alleviating this making it more livable for all. Let apartment owners work with their renters to see if agreements can be made to use their parking during the day. Realize that agreements like this will add cost to the Rental property because a parking attendant may be required and towing services and etc. may be required. We deserve to be able to park near our home as do apartment and multifamily building dwellers. Parking must be required and considered in the design of buildings.

    Also, if an owner doesn’t want to rent out the parking during the day and the renters want it available to them at any time, let the building have the flexibility to decide this for themselves. Off street parking contributes to the neighborhoods livability and even if it’s only used for the 30% of time when residents are home or sleeping it is providing a good value.

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