The Seattle City Council will decide on changes to parking rules that would allow more housing to be built without off-street parking, and give tenants the option of not renting a parking space with their apartment.
The Seattle City Council plans to vote Monday on a wide-ranging set of changes that would allow more housing to be built throughout the city without off-street parking and let existing building owners rent their unused parking spots more widely.
The legislation, years in the making, intends to make it cheaper to build housing — by no longer requiring space for parking — while also continuing Seattle’s slow shift away from a car-centric city.
Among the major changes in the 140-page legislation, which would alter more than 60 sections of city law:
• Building owners could rent out excess parking, in both commercial and residential buildings, to people who do not live or work in the building.
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• Apartment buildings with 10 or more units would be required to “unbundle” the costs of renting a parking space from the cost of renting an apartment. Landlords would have to charge separately for the parking space, giving tenants the option to forgo parking and, in theory, pay less for housing.
• More areas of the city would be classified as being near “frequent transit service,” meaning developers can build housing there without providing off-street parking.
The changes would accelerate a long-term trend of building housing without building parking in the city. In 2004, each new apartment came with an average of 1.5 parking spots. Last year, new apartments averaged just 0.6 parking spots.
Supporters hope that by requiring less parking — which costs money to build and maintain — developers can build more and less-expensive housing.
“I really do believe that the current system of planning has resulted in widespread harm — environmental harm, economic harm, increased cost of housing,” said Councilmember Rob Johnson, the proposal’s sponsor. “Existing off-street parking requirements have contributed to additional asphalt and that sort of auto-oriented dominance of the city.”
The proposal aims both to better use the off-street parking that currently lies beneath apartment and office buildings and to build less off-street parking in the future.
But neighborhood groups opposed to the proposal argue that people aren’t ditching their cars nearly as fast as the city believes, and as Seattle grows, off-street parking will still be necessary.
“People are bringing cars and buying cars, they are also taking transit. They are not mutually exclusive,” the group Livable Phinney wrote to its supporters, urging them to attend Monday’s council meeting. “More density means more cars, so store them underground.”
The push for the changes began under former Mayor Ed Murray, and the legislation was introduced last fall by former Mayor Tim Burgess. A spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan said she looks forward to reviewing the final council proposal.
The proposal has broad support on the City Council and is expected to pass.
The city points to a study from King County Metro showing that about one-third of residential off-street parking is unused.
Those empty patches of asphalt and concrete are not cheap. Off-street parking generally costs between $30,000 and $50,000 per stall to build.
Current law does not permit residential landlords to offer unused spaces to anyone who doesn’t live in the building. Under the proposal, building owners could determine their own rules and prices for renting the spaces. The only limit would be no more than 145 spaces per building could be available to the public.
And more spaces could be available to rent out if people who don’t have cars are given the option to rent an apartment but without a parking spot, as the proposal would require.
Current city law allows developers to build housing with no off-street parking if the property is near “frequent transit service.”
The theory: People living near transit are less likely to own cars, and housing in those neighborhoods should adjust to that.
Insisting that construction include parking, neighborhood groups have challenged and stalled new developments around the city by pointing out that buses often do not arrive as frequently as the law requires.
The new proposal would ease the requirement for “frequent transit service” by changing the definition from a bus arriving every 15 minutes through most of the day to every 18 minutes. It also would base the definition on scheduled arrival times, not actual times.
That would give the city more leeway to approve no-parking development: Buses frequently delayed because they’re stuck in traffic could still count as “frequent transit service.”
“Off-street parking is expensive to construct and unnecessary parking can significantly increase the cost of new housing,” Burgess wrote when he submitted the legislation last year. “Creating more flexibility and right-sizing the amount of parking near transit will help reduce both housing and transportation expenses.”