This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.
More walkability means less parkability.
In what has become a trend in large metro areas, the Utah Legislature is preparing a bill that would prevent cities from requiring parking in new housing and commercial buildings near transit stations.
Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, has put in a request to legislative attorneys for a bill called “Local Government Parking Requirements, and he says the intent is threefold. “The idea is to have more walkable communities, more affordable housing and less government regulation.”
Currently, cities often require a minimum number of parking spots for new builds, regardless of where they are located. Along the Wasatch Front, more than 30% of commercial land goes to parking lots; for every car, there are eight parking spaces, according to a report from Cameron Carter, an intern at the nonprofit Bike Utah who has taken up the parking cause.
“Excessive parking isn’t a market failure. Rather, it’s a direct result of government-mandated parking requirements,” Carter’s report states. “Government mandates prevent the free market from efficiently allocating space and resources in high-demand cities. These requirements often override consumer and business preferences in favor of wasteful and car-centric design, especially in locations well-served by public transit.”
The addition of parking also increases building costs, making it harder to address the state’s affordable housing deficit.
Dan Lofgren, co-founder of Cowboy Properties, which has built apartments across the Wasatch Front, acknowledged that “unnecessary parking has significant effect on affordability.”
It’s partly why he understands the motivation behind the proposed legislation. But he’s also sympathetic to local governments trying to manage their own situations.
“The overarching question is who should be making those decisions,” said Lofgren. “I have a tendency to default to the cities, who are closer to the circumstances.”
He noted, however, that not every city has stepped up, and he can see why a state policy is being considered. “Nobody is wrong here.”
Spendlove said the specifics of the new bill haven’t been set, but he’s still hoping to offer it this session.
Cameron Diehl, executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, said the league doesn’t take positions on bills before they’re formally introduced, but he believes this issue was brokered last year when the Legislature passed HB462 (”Utah Housing Affordability Amendments”).
That housing affordability bill requires cities to prepare “station area plans” for each transit station, and those plans must address transportation and parking issues. Diehl pointed to Farmington and Vineyard — each of which has a Frontrunner station — as two cities that are handling that process well.
“The reason the model has worked so far is because there was an acknowledgement last year that all of the transit stations are different,” said Diehl. “There are cities that are planning well around transit, and HB462 is about raising the bar for all cities.”
Vineyard is also relying on another state initiative that allowed the city to create a “Housing, Transit Reinvestment Zone” around its Frontrunner station, which sits in undeveloped land that is expected to have thousands of residents in the coming years.
Salt Lake City last year updated its ordinances to drop parking requirements in the districts around transit stations. The city also has tied parking requirements in other areas to the availability of other transportation options. Areas with more bike trails and bus service are allowed to have fewer parking spaces.
“It makes it more cost-effective to build deeply affordable housing,” said Nick Norris, Salt Lake City planning director. “It also makes it easier for the use of an existing building to change to another use without having to change parking.”
“Under current rules, sometimes zoning requires more parking if the use of the building changes,” Norris continued. “That can make it hard for some businesses located in buildings that would not otherwise meet the parking requirement. This proposal would remove that kind of barrier and may make it easier for a change of use to happen.”
“The downside is that when no parking is provided within a development, it increases demand for on-street parking, and cities have to be prepared to manage that,” he added.
Carter pointed to an apartment project that developer Colmena is planning at 1435 S. State Street in Salt Lake City as an example of what is possible. The 181-unit project includes two and three-bedroom apartments, but it will only include 171 parking places.
Another Salt Lake City project, the Chicago apartments on North Temple, will only have 0.35 parking places for every unit.
The Chicago development, which is expected to be finished by the end of 2024, is a five-minute walk from the Jackson-Euclid TRAX station on North Temple. It will have 137 units, mostly studios, but only 58 parking stalls. It will also have 66 bike parking stalls.
“The city encourages less parking because it’s expensive,” said Warren Crummett, owner and principal of Go West Investments, which is building the Chicago. He said it costs about $50,000 per stall.
Grummett is not sure having no parking requirements will work in all cases. In suburban areas, there’s more need for a car even if you’re living close to a transit station. He also said some lenders may have parking requirements even if the city doesn’t.
Parking reform has become a rallying cry nationally, particularly for city dwellers who want to reclaim open space and increase safety for pedestrians. Studies have shown more than half the area in metropolitan areas is given over to cars, including roads, parking lots and parking garages.
According to the nonprofit Parking Reform Network, there are more than 200 communities that have relaxed parking mandates. There are currently no Utah sites on the group’s list.