By Lee Perlman
At the direction of Portland City Council, and response to outcries from many neighborhoods, the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has proposed to impose some on-street parking requirements for large new multi-family developments in situations where there are currently no such requirements.
The proposed amendments would require developers to provide .25 parking spaces for every unit in projects containing 41 or more units in most commercial zones, in RX high density housing zones, or in other zones that are within 500 feet of “frequent transit service”.
(Planners define “frequent” service as having transit service every 15 minutes or less during rush hours. The old standard was 20 minutes)
Another amendment would require developers to provide a loading space for every 40 units; currently such a space is required for every 50 units.
Conversely, another provision would allow developers to subtract two off-street spaces from their required total for every space dedicated to a carshare program such as Zipcar, with a requirement that the owner have a signed contract with such a company.
Yet another provision would allow required off-street parking to be located up to 300 feet away from the site, rather than on-site as now required.
Finally, the proposal contains stricter standard for required bike parking and storage.
The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission has scheduled a hearing on the proposals for the afternoon of March 12 at 1900 SW Fourth Ave.
In the last two years, there have been 20 major projects built, proposed or in some stage of development on the east side that contain no off-street parking for residents. Zoning provisions allowing such development have been on the books for more than a decade; only recently, however, have developers taken advantage of them in significant numbers.
This, experts say, is due largely to historically-low apartment vacancy rates that assure developers of rentals regardless of what amenities they do or do not have.
Proponents of existing code provisions argue such buildings fit city goals of reducing car ownership, allow apartments to be built more cheaply and therefore offered at lower cost, and constitute a better use of land.
Opponents, citing studies that show large majorities of the tenants of such buildings own cars, say such projects lead to parking congestion and attendant loss of livability and property values. Since many such projects have been built in commercial zones, critics say they threaten access to, and viability of, nearby businesses.
Some neighborhood activists have said that they think the proposed changes are inadequate. Tamara DeRidder, chair of a neighborhood task force that examined this issue, calls the proposal a “minimalist” approach.
“It does nothing to address the lack of community involvement in the process, nothing to address the cumulative impact of these developments, nothing to allow assessment of a community’s capacity to absorb these projects,” DeRidder told The Southeast Examiner. She complains that the EXD zone, which allows almost any land use, was not one of the zones affected by the proposals.
Richmond neighborhood activist Allan Field, emphasizing that he speaks for himself alone, says “Personally, I wish they’d added to the formula the cumulative impact of several projects close together”.
He had proposed a formula that would have imposed higher parking ratios, and imposed them on buildings with as few as 20 units, if there were 75 or more multi-family housing units with no off-street parking within a three block radius.
Field challenges an earlier city study’s conclusion that adequate parking is available if it can be found within two blocks. “It is a hardship for disabled or elderly people,” he says.
Finally, he challenges the City’s assumption that cost savings for building without parking are passed on to tenants. He notes that the study showed the two least expensive rental projects studied have off-street parking.
Doug Klotz, spokesperson for the ad hoc Portland Neighborhoods for Sustainable Development, says the group was “generally supportive” of the proposals. They were unhappy about the change in “frequent transit service” standards from 20 minutes to 15, and the “abrupt change” in requirements from buildings having 40 units to those having 41.
He conceded the required parking ration of .25 spaces per unit is “more reasonable than some we’ve seen in the past”. The group called for better “management” of public parking spaces to deal with issues, including the use of permit parking (see below).
Dave Mullens of Creston Homes, creator of several of the projects in question, told The Southeast Examiner, “If that’s what the majority of people in Portland want to do, we’ll abide by that. I’m not sure that’s true; I suspect there’s a vocal minority that is putting pressure on a new City Council.
“There’s a big perceived problem; it will be interesting to see if the problems turn out to be as big as perceived. Regardless, if this is passed, some opportunities won’t exist anymore.”
To those who charge that the market for such apartments is temporary, fueled by historically- low vacancy rates, Mullens says, “It’s true that the market for apartments right now is very good. These are hard times, so people who would normally be living in a house aren’t for financial reasons”. Their tenants include “young people who are not looking to live in an apartment for 10 years; this is a step for them. But if we build good units, there will always be a market for them”.