On Wednesday, the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee passed parking reform legislation for Seattle. The legislation would making significant changes to parking policy in the city ranging from increasing bicycle parking requirements and unbundling vehicle parking from leases to modifying the definition of “frequent transit service” and allowing more shared parking.

The bulk of the legislation retains the spirit of the recommended bill transmitted by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections last year. The PLUZ Committee, however, did adopt more than a dozen amendments, many of which were discussed earlier this month. The changes to the legislation include the following which were adopted:

  • Amendment A (Unbundling Parking) was proposed by Councilmember Rob Johnson in order to expand a proposed provision to require unbundling of parking from leases. This change 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. It would also lower the threshold for unbundled parking from commercial spaces leased or rented to 4,000 square feet or greater. The original version of the legislation would have set the threshold at 10,000 square feet or greater.

  • Amendment B (Carshare Location Exemption) was also proposed by Councilmember Johnson in order to remove an exemption for carsharing parking spaces. Under the original legislation, up to three carsharing spaces would have been allowed in surface areas between a building and street in certain commercial and multifamily zones. Councilmember Johnson proposed the amendment in order to maintain a more attractive pedestrian environment and promote better urban design.
  • Amendment C (Distance to Off-Street Parking) was proposed by Councilmember Lisa Herbold in order to maintain the existing 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 original legislation would have increased that to a quarter-mile (1,320 feet).
  • Amendment D (Frequent Transit Service Definition) was proposed by Councilmember Johnson to provide 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). The adopted amendment is fairly similar to a version proposed earlier this month, but with some changes. Councilmember Johnson’s amendment is a significant departure from the avenue that SDCI had considered. His definition would make “frequent transit service” to mean a scheduled service serving a stop or station by a route 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 scheduled trips per direction on weekdays between the hours of 6am and 7pm, which equates to 52 trips over the period; 2) average headways of every 30 minutes in each direction with no hour having less than one scheduled trip per direction on weekdays between the hours of 7pm and 12am, which equates to 10 trips over the period; and 3) average headways of every 30 minutes in each direction with no hour having less than one scheduled trip per direction on weekends between the hours of 6am and 12am, which equates to 36 trips over the period. 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 where the parking reductions would be allowed up to a half-mile away. SDCI would be required to adopt a map, by rule, identifying areas that qualify for parking reductions under the frequent transit service definitions. Additionally, a definition of “frequent transit route” would also be added, which allows for the overlapping of routes that are co-scheduled on a common corridor to be considered in the calculation of frequent transit.
  • Amendment E1 (Parking Requirements for Affordable Housing) was proposed by Councilmember Johnson to fully exempt affordable housing units (i.e., rent- and income-restricted units for households at or below 80 percent of the area median income) from parking requirements. The existing Land Use Code specifies different amounts depending on income circumstances and the original legislation would have changed the numbers and thresholds, but did not include universal exemption.
  • Amendment E2 (University District Parking Regulations) was proposed by Councilmember Johnson in order to provide the most amount of parking flexibility in certain areas of the University District. Existing regulations apply differently to the neighborhood based upon geographical designation. In certain areas, properties have two designations and in the original legislation SDCI would have applied 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 (Parking Requirements in Fauntleroy) was proposed by Councilmember Herbold to address parking issues near the Fauntleroy ferry dock. Properties zoned commercial or multifamily within a quarter-mile of the Fauntleroy ferry dock would not be eligible for reductions in off-street parking requirements even if they are in a frequent transit service area.
  • Amendment G (Long-Term Bicycle Parking Design) was proposed by Councilmembers Johnson and Mike O’Brien in order to 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 (Bicycle Parking Requirements at Light Rail Stations) was also proposed by Councilmembers Johnson and O’Brien to 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 (Shower Facility FAR Exemption) was proposed by Councilmembers Johnson and O’Brien to exempt required bike commuter shower facilities in office developments in commercial and industrial zones from floor area ratio calculations.
  • Amendment J2 (Distance to Off-Site Bicycle Parking for Non-Residential Uses) was proposed by Councilmembers Johnson and O’Brien to limit off-site bicycle parking associated with non-residential development, except when allowed by SDOT as part of a campus development. The amendment would allow SDOT to permit off-site bicycle parking up to 600 feet from the site of the non-residential use requiring bicycle parking. Existing law requires bicycle parking to be located on-site or within 100 feet of the site of a non-residential use in a shared bike facility. The original legislation had proposed increasing this up to 600 feet off-site.
  • Amendment K1 (Reduced Bicycle Parking Ratio for Residential Development) was proposed by Councilmember Johnson to 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 three quarters the ratio. So for instance, if a residential development would ordinarily need to provide 58 spaces, it would actually be eligible for a reduction to 56 spaces. Overall, the bicycle requirements would increase for congregate and multifamily residential development despite the reduction.
  • Amendment K2 (Reduced Short-term Bicycle Parking for Residential Uses) was proposed by Councilmembers Johnson and O’Brien to provide a reduction in short-term bicycle parking ratios for multifamily developments generally. The reduction would apply universally to multifamily development with one short-term bicycle space per 20 dwelling units, similar to congregate residences. Original legislation would have set the ratio at one short-term bicycle space per five dwelling units. Existing law does not require any short-term bicycle spaces.
  • Amendment K3 (Short-Term Bicycle Parking for Theaters and Spectator Sports Facilities) was also proposed by Councilmembers Johnson and O’Brien to further increase short-term bicycle parking requirements for theaters and spectator sports facilities. The increase would require short-term bicycle parking to provide enough spaces equal to 8% of the maximum building capacity for the uses unless an operator provides bicycle valet services approved through a Transportation Management Program. In such cases, the bicycle valet service must provide temporary secured storage. Long-term bicycle parking would need to be provided at one space per 10,000 square feet of theater or spectator sports facility use, similar to what is proposed for other entertainment uses.

During the deliberations, Councilmember Herbold proposed an alternative version–slightly different from one a few weeks ago–of an amendment related to parking mitigation for projects subject to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Under existing law, parking mitigation cannot be made a condition of approval for developments within an urban village and in a frequent transit service area when subject to SEPA. Councilmember Herbold’s amendment would have changed 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.

The amendment also would have added a new parking mitigation option and expanded another in 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 have allowed SDCI to deny occupants of a new development access to Restricted Parking Zone permits. Separately, the existing option to increase parking ratios would have been modified to allow for imposition of parking requirements, if otherwise exempt, in addition to increasing parking ratios.

The amendment, however, failed but could return at full council in another form. The full council will likely take up the legislation for final votes on April 2nd.

City Council Gets First Look at Draft Amendments to Parking Reform Legislation

12 COMMENTS

    • You aren’t forced to pay for parking if you don’t want parking, instead you can just pay the lease.

      • Am very curious, when a landlord “unbundles,” how often does lease rent actually decrease? I suspect most landlords simply add a monthly fee for parking, yielding a nice increase in monthly income.

        • Every time I’ve looked for an apartment, comparable apartments without parking were about 100-200 cheaper than those with parking. And once again, it’s not about what individual landlords do, its about where the price equilibrium stabilizes.

          • The new law should make it easier for tenants in the building without parking to lease parking from a different landlord nearby, which is great going forward as it allows new buildings to be built more easily without parking.

            However, if the difference is only $100-200 per month, that’s well below the economic cost of parking. Tenants without cars are still providing an economic subsidy to tenants with cars, even when they choose a building that offers no parking.

            I think this is a case where the developer rather than the tenant captures most of the benefit of the new law, at least in the short run. We can argue that in the long run, this law encourages developers to invest in buildings without parking, perhaps choosing to build many SEDU units over a few townhouses. And that’s what we really need … more housing

        • Herbold asked for data on that from SDOT.

          The write-up here gets it wrong on unbundling. It’s not for new buildings but all new leases (where parking isn’t integral to the unit). The amendment even removed the 10 unit threshold and made it apply to all buildings.

        • Landlords always want more money, rather than less, if they can get it. If they could, most of them would double the rent tomorrow.

          However, they’ll only be able to get away with it if housing is scarce enough that tenants have little choice but to go along. This is why it’s so important to take steps to make it easier to increase housing supply, like reforming exclusionary snob zoning in the vast majority of the parts of the city where housing is allowed.

          • Ah yes, the magic zoning solution to the housing crisis. Just upzone those snobbish single-family neighborhoods and housing will become abundant and affordable. Developers will stop with the high-profit high-end stuff and start building for the middle class. In Your Dreams.

          • Your conviction that developers can charge whatever they like without any concern for market conditions is very strange, and has no basis in empirical reality.

            I recently toured some “luxury” townhomes in downtown Dayton, Ohio. Basically, all the same high-end finishes that make Seattle housing designated “luxury”. They sold for around 275K. I guess we’re just lucky here that our developers are greedy than they are in Seattle, eh?

      • This new law is great for urbanism in that it promotes the secondary market for leased parking. On smaller parcels that have been occupied by single family homes, it is not technically feasible to create many parking spaces. One reason is simply that much available space is needed for entrance and egress, but there are also economies of scale in construction. Thus, the new law should decrease the need for new construction to provide parking in areas where parking is already congested.

        While the new law unbundles parking from rent for occupancy, it doesn’t necessarily protect tenants without cars from being forced to subsidize tenants with cars. There will be several competing forces at play.

        One possibility is that parking will be a premium add-on to housing, much the way checked baggage has become a premium add-on for airline tickets, sold for greater than cost. This would definitely benefit consumers without cars, and would be likelier in areas with parking congestion.

        However I think the likelier outcome for most renters is that there will still be some cross subsidization of renters with cars, that rents for parking spaces will be well below the economic costs of providing parking. The main problem is that parking is still available for free in many neighborhoods (perhaps with implicit search costs and inconvenience).

        The economic cost of providing parking, according to a recent (2018) report to the Seattle City Council is about $30k capital cost per space and $300 per month in operating costs, which depending on one’s assumptions about interest rates pencils out to a price of around $20-25 per day for parking. At that rate, many renters with cars are still going to be searching for free parking.

        So what will happen in most cases is that landlords will still regard the capital costs of parking as a sunk cost or cost of doing business that is thus shared by all tenants, and will only seek to recover operating costs.

  1. in the name of affordable housing, parking will now charged separately? Looks like a profit grab by developers.

    • No, what it means is that the cost of providing parking, whether that means buying extra land or building structured parking, has to be accounted for separately from the construction of the housing and then the parking offered as an additional-cost amenity for those who want it. This can lower the monthly rent of a housing unit several hundred dollars in some markets and can make the difference between a project being affordable in its own right and requiring subsidies to be so. Additionally, it does incidentally allow for a better profit margin for developers sometimes as it allows them to more accurately price the parking based on demand, which means that if demand in the area is low they can lower the price of parking and if it is high, they can raise it. There’s even the option to operate the parking as a public amenity, offering contract or hourly parking to neighborhood residents and visitors.

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