A city-sponsored proposal would make it easier for building owners in dense areas to rent their excess parking to anyone — ranging from transit riders to drivers looking for a place to keep their car overnight.
Under the legislation, building owners in certain commercial and residential areas could rent their extra parking stalls to anyone, from commuters catching a bus to shoppers seeking short-term parking to people looking for a place to keep their car overnight.
The proposal by the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) outlines a bundle of potential changes to city code.
Current zoning laws do not permit owners of residential parking to offer their stalls to the public and permit only some commercial sites to share lots with housing complexes, if both uses are in the same building.
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“We have recognized the challenge that people have in finding parking as the city grows,” said Kevin Shively, a senior policy adviser to former Mayor Ed Murray, who made recommendations that led to the parking proposal. “We’re looking to remove those barriers in the code today to make it easier for people to access that parking that’s already available.”
With thousands of newcomers flocking here annually, Seattle is adding cars as rapidly as people — driving intense competition for parking throughout the city’s core.
The number of vehicles owned by Seattleites reached 435,000 in 2015, a 12 percent increase from five years earlier, census data show.
For most areas of Central Seattle, including downtown, Capitol Hill and South Lake Union, researchers say just 7 to 30 percent of on-street paid spots are open in midafternoon, the parking proposal says. Available parking often remains tight, too.
Demand for parking will only increase, with the city expecting an additional 70,000 households and 115,000 jobs over the next 18 years.
Other recommendations in the parking plan include slightly expanding the area in which new residential projects near frequent transit service are not required to provide parking.
Those regulations, which date back years, aim to drive down development costs — a key to solving the city’s affordability crisis — and center on the idea that more renters with access to public transit go car-free. The regulations have generated concern among some neighborhood residents who say a lack of on-site parking forces tenants to find spots on the street, adding to congestion.
Anyone can comment on SDCI’s proposal or file a formal appeal through Thursday.
The department will present its final version to the mayor this fall, before sending it to the City Council for a vote. If approved, the changes could take effect as early as next year.
To support the proposal to open private garages to public parking, SDCI used a 2012 night survey by King County of more than 200 residential parking sites across the county, 95 of which were in Seattle.
The study found about one-third of parking spots in Seattle were unused, whether due to developers overestimating demand or tenants choosing cheaper places to park, the department said.
“Even during this overnight period, when everybody should theoretically be at home with their cars parked, about 35 percent of the existing supply of off-street parking out there is not used at all,” Shively said.
Researchers found a total of 567 open spaces at 10 complexes in the Capitol Hill, Ballard and Eastlake neighborhoods alone.
It is unclear how many building owners and developers would open their parking to the public. The property owners would determine rules lot by lot, such as cost per stall, hours of operation and security access.
The proposal does not say how much building owners could charge; market demand would drive prices. No more than 145 spaces per lot or garage could be available to the public.
Cities across the country with “progressive parking standards” like Seattle, SDCI spokesman Bryan Stevens said, allow for similar “shared parking” arrangements, including Santa Monica, California, Portland and Washington, D.C.
Transportation officials here launched a research project to explore the idea in 2014 as part of a federally funded push to find parking at residential buildings for park-and-ride commuters.
By 8 or 9 a.m. any weekday, many of Metro Transit’s 130 park-and-ride lots, totaling more than 25,000 parking spaces, are full.
“We were motivated to find other ways to get park-and-ride people access to their systems — multifamily buildings were sitting around transit spots,” said Dan Bertolet, a former planning consultant for King County Metro Transit and current researcher at the Seattle nonprofit Sightline Institute.
But some land-use codes, such as Seattle’s, make it difficult for commuters to park at those sites.
A 2017 public-private partnership between King County and Diamond Parking, which allows commuters to purchase reserved spaces at select Diamond Parking lots, is the county’s latest example of “shared parking.”
Daniel Rowe, a Metro planner managing the project, said SDCI’s proposal aims to allow park-and-ride users to find spaces at housing complexes without building owners having to go through a permitting hassle.
Other proposed changes include allowing property owners in some areas to make off-street space for up to three car-share vehicles, making bicycle parking requirements consistent across the city, and further reducing parking requirements for income-restricted housing projects, including those for people with disabilities.
The proposal also would require landlords to separate the cost of parking and rent in leasing agreements so tenants can decide whether or not, or to what extent, they pay for parking.
According to a study by INRIX, a Kirkland-based traffic-data and auto-technology company, Seattle drivers spend an average 58 hours each year looking for a parking space, more than triple the time for Americans on average.