Next Monday's City Council meeting - at 7 pm on the 21st, in the Council chambers on the 2nd floor of City Hall - will decide the outcome of the Peninsula Transit Study's proposed "Fee In Lieu of Parking" concept.
Generally speaking, this ordinance would give developers of new buildings on the Portland peninsula an alternative to opt out of the city's parking requirements by paying into a new "Sustainable Transportation Fund" instead. This fee would be $10,000 per space. So, for instance, a new office building that would otherwise require 20 off-street parking spaces could instead pay $200,000 into the Sustainable Transportation Fund; or, alternatively, build only 10 parking spaces and pay $100,000 into the Fund. The incentive to do so comes from the fact that $10,000 per space is substantially less than the amount of money it would take to build a parking garage, and in many cases, it will also be more valuable for a developer to use their real estate for purposes other than parking.
The net result of this should be that Portland will reduce the costs of development while also diverting private developers' investments away from car parking, and towards sustainable transportation. Or, even more simply: fewer parking lots, and more buildings, better transit, and safer streets. These funds could be used for sidewalks, transit facilities, trails - all the good stuff we want more of. The ordinance currently states that the funds could also be used for shared parking garages, and that's something we might want to press the Council to amend. But it's not a dealbreaker - the use of the Fund will be determined annually in public hearings, and as long as we continue to hold elected officials accountable, we can make sure that the money is spent wisely on sustainable transportation.
To give you a rough idea of how powerful this might be: the City has proposed a new 400-car garage for the empty lots along Somerset Street in Bayside, which could cost well over $8 million. But suppose a developer comes along who wants to build on the empty lots down there without paying that much for parking, and having most employees come in on on the new trail or by transit instead.
Instead of giving over an entire city block to a huge garage, they might choose to build a much smaller 100-car garage on a smaller footprint for about $2 million, build more office space where the parking would have gone, and then pay $3 million (that's 300 times $10,000) into the Sustainable Transportation Fund in lieu of parking.
$3 million is a lot of money. It would be enough to buy 4 new buses for METRO and potentially establish a new bus route to deliver employees into Bayside, for instance. Or to build (with matching funds from the state and federal governments) a substantial part of the new Franklin Street. Or pay for a year's worth of commuter rail services between Portland, Brunswick, and Biddeford. It's serious money for the kinds of projects we'd like to see happen here.
So, at the end of the day, this hypothetical Bayside situation would yield:
- more land in Bayside dedicated to functional living and workspace, instead of parking;
- 300 fewer cars coming into the peninsula every day;
- $3 million for safer streets and/or new transit infrastructure;
- 300 more transit riders/walkers/cyclists;
- the developer saves $3 million by building a smaller garage and has more space to rent out as well;
- lower rents for the developer's tenants - i.e., Portland businesses and households.
Please comment below if you think you can be there, so I can have a rough idea of turnout. If you can't be there, please consider writing to our Councilors to let them know you support the idea. Here's their contact information.
You can read the Council's evening agenda and its associated backup material here. The proposed Fee in Lieu ordinance packet begins on page 70 of that PDF.