A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Portland's arcane parking requirements will tax City Hall $1.2 million AND deny housing for 6

An recent article in the Forecaster outlines plans from Avesta Housing, a non-profit affordable housing development and management company based in Portland, to build 37 new efficiency apartments in downtown Portland, aimed at housing young, middle-class artists and other downtown workers.

The site, at 72 Oak Street, is a five-minute walk from thousands of downtown jobs and retail services, including literally hundreds of small businesses that have popped up along Congress Street's creative economy district. It is also right around the corner from Congress Street, the most transit-served street in Maine, with buses going by every five minutes, on average, sixteen hours a day.

It's a great place to build housing for young, single workers who don't own cars. Avesta intends to build it with $380,000 in City of Portland funds, plus $3.7 million from a statewide affordable housing bond. The rest of the project's $5.9 million price tag would be covered, over time, by rents - between $500 and $750 a month - low enough to be within reach for someone who's working a couple of restaurant jobs at once.

There's only one hitch: Portland's arcane parking requirements, which technically require one parking space for every new apartment built.

Each one of these proposed studio apartments would only be 420 square feet, which isn't much larger than the average parking space. So the city's zoning laws basically say that every resident will be required to make room for a thousand-pound, truck-sized roommate, AND pay extra rent for all the space it takes up - regardless of whether or not the residents actually own or need an automobile.

If the City's planning board actually chooses to enforce the requirement here (they're allowed to make exceptions, mercifully), the project won't happen.

Avesta has proposed a compromise in which they build only 8 parking spaces on the ground level. But even that is too much. Building parking here would wallop the city with a triple tax:
  1. A $1.1 million tax on affordable housing: Eight parking spaces would occupy roughly 15% of the proposed building's area, and because structured parking is so expensive, it could eat up as much as 20% of the construction budget. So City Hall is effectively putting a 20% tax on affordable housing. We don't even tax cigarettes that much. Remember, this is a publicly-funded project, so the City's basically taxing itself - or, more accurately, it's taxing our affordable housing fund.

    Beyond that, the space that eight parking spaces occupies could be used instead for six more studio apartments instead. So, the city and state are spending 15-20% of their "affordable housing" subsidy for parking instead - that's $600,000-$800,000 - PLUS they're preventing themselves from providing six more affordable apartments, which will cost them about half a million to build elsewhere in a similar project elsewhere. All told, that's about $1.1 million lost for Portland's affordable housing efforts.

  2. A $9,600 annual tax on public parking garages: if you owned a shopping center that already had a shoe store in it, it would be awfully bad business for you to force the grocery store and florist to sell shoes as well. But that's effectively what City Hall is doing here, by simultaneously operating public garages within two blocks of the site, and simultaneously requiring the developer to build more parking. A block west from the proposed project, the City runs the Gateway Garage, one of the more under-utilized garages in the city, and a block south is the city-owned Free Street garage. Even if a tenant here did need a car to commute during the days, they could easily find room for it during nights and weekends in public garages.

    Instead, the city is using public money to undermine its own parking business. That is stupid.

    It costs $100 a month [note how this is about 1/5th as much as it costs to rent a similarly-sized efficiency apartment - a clear indication that the City is subsidizing car storage far more than it's subsidizing rents for living people], or $1200 a year, to park in a public garage. But if Avesta builds 8 new parking spaces on Oak Street, then the City's garages will lose the opportunity to collect rent from 8 automobiles. That's $9600 a year in lost revenue. Taxpayers will have to make up the difference.

  3. A $6,700 annual tax on METRO: similarly, by requiring car storage on-site, City Hall is also undermining its publicly-subsidized transit operation. METRO buses go past this site every 5 minutes, 16 hours a day, which means that most of this building's tenants will likely be regular transit riders. But if the City requires 8 parking spaces there, then it's mandating 14 fewer transit customers - eight drivers, plus six fewer residents who can't live there because the space that could have been their apartments will be given to automobiles instead. A METRO pass is $40 a month, or $480 a year. That means the 8 parking spaces will cost METRO about $6700 in lost revenue - and again, you and I will take up the slack.
The ten-year net present value of this lost parking and bus fare revenue adds up to over $100,000, which brings the grand total to $1.2 million in wasted or lost public funds.

It goes without saying that eight more parking spaces next to Congress Street will also put eight more cars on downtown's congested streets, and generate eight more cars' worth of air pollution, and give us eight more opportunities to get into accidents.

This is just one small example of how burdensome and wasteful the city's parking requirements can be. Keep in mind that we're just talking about 8 parking spots - just imagine the money we're losing from larger developments.

Ideally, the City should get out of the expensive and pointless business of parking regulation altogether - just the same as the state got out of the business of regulating power plants, or how the federal government got out of the business of regulating airline routes. But if that can't be managed quickly (and it probably can't be), then this particular project deserves a pass.

Build housing, not parking.


my architect said...

not sure if I understand your numbers, I totally agree with your stance on the insane parking requirements of Portland, so I'm not looking for a fight just honest questions...

roughly estimating here:
420 * 37 = 15,540 building area
15,540 * 15% = 2,331
2,331 / 8 = 291 / parking spot

(of course 6*420=2520/8=315)

300 sq feet is a 15'x20' spot. These are garage sized spaces?
I'd be interested to see what the space requirements are for the City of Portland parking spots?

Most spots are around 9x18.

9x18 = 160
160x8 = 1280
1280/15540 = 8% roughly half of your numbers

Of course I haven't included accessibility to and from said parking spot but equally I haven't included accessibility to and from said habitable units either. All said and done the accessibility requirements for 37 habitable units will eclipse the requirements of 8 parking spaces so I would venture, with the information you have provided here that the number is more likely half again or 4% the total building area?

Of course I haven't studied this or have seen the plans as you have so I could be totally off base.

C Neal said...

Good question! If you divide the square footage of a typical parking garage by the number of spaces inside, you'll generally get 300 square feet per space.

That seems like a lot, and it is. Even though the spaces themselves are 9 feet wide by 18 feet long, there are all the driving aisles, the turnarounds, the ticket booths, etc. A parking aisle is a lot wider than an apartment building hallway.

Plus, a garage also requires all the spaces for pedestrian access (stairways, elevators, etc.) that you'd have in a regular building for people.

my architect said...

Cheers then!

Thanks for helping us keep tabs on the bureaucracy.