Parking in abundance Spaces in multi-family residential units exceed demand, study suggests

Why is the car always the first concern when new residential development is considered?

Traffic and parking are the bane of developers. Developers are always reluctant to reduce the number of parking stalls they plan for a new housing development for fear of missing the mark when it comes to meeting the expectation of buyers or renters. On the other hand, they also know that a parking stall can cost anywhere between $20,000 and $45,000 to provide - a cost that is added to the price of the home in a market where price is everything. Providing less parking could mean being more competitive.

The very first topic that developers and the governments that regulate them are typically con-fronted with at public meetings when new development is being considered by neighbours is the fear that the development will cause local streets to be clogged with parked cars and increased traffic will endanger and inconvenience everyone.

The reality is that the demand for parking in multi-family residential projects is much less than what most municipalities require that developers sup-ply, especially in apartment buildings. That fact is revealed in a recent Apartment Parking Study conducted by Metro Vancouver.

The study focused on apartments, both condominiums and rental apartments, since apartments today represent more than half of the housing starts in Metro Vancouver. It's the first time a study of this depth has been conducted in the region. In fact, Metro Vancouver believes that this study may be the most comprehensive examination of apartment parking supply and demand ever conducted for a metropolitan area. Data was collected from direct observations of residential parking demand in 80 select apartment parkades across the region with a broad-based representation of sites with various conditions. A household survey was also con-ducted with 1,557 households across the region responding.

The study revealed that there is simply too much parking being supplied in apartment projects. Strata apartments across the region are consistently "over-parked", with 18 to 35 per cent more parking provided than is being used. Demand for parking by apartment renters is much lower than for owners, with the oversupply of parking for purpose-built rental projects ranging between 14 and 71 per cent.

Not surprisingly, people who live in apartments near Trans-Link's Frequent Transit Net-work, which includes those areas with bus service at least every 15 minutes throughout the day and evening all week, require less parking. The ratio of parking stalls used per dwelling unit in apartments close to transit is between 0.89 and 1.06, whereas it is 1.10 to 1.25 per unit in apartments further away from frequent transit service.

Many municipalities are still requiring developers to build 1.5 stalls per dwelling unit for residents, plus another 0.2 for visitors for apartments and they don't distinguish geo-graphically between areas close to or more distant from frequent transit service. They also fail to recognize that parking demand near bus stops that are frequently served is no different than parking demand in apartments near SkyTrain and SeaBus stations.

Let me put the cost of this oversupply in perspective. Let's take a 50-unit condominium apartment building close to frequent transit served by a bus only. The study indicated that the actual demand was 1.25 per two bedroom apartment. Let's say that the municipality's requirement is 1.5 per apartment, plus 0.2 for visitors. The difference amounts to 22.5 parking stalls overall. At an average cost of $32,500 per stall, the excess cost of supplying those extra stall is $731,250 or $14,625 per condo unit.

More than half of apartment dwellers indicated in the house-hold survey that proximity to transit was one of the top three factors that influenced their choice of their current home.

The study also revealed that visitors to apartment buildings also aren't taking up as much parking as is required. The study's observations showed that visitor parking demand rates were below 0.1 stall per apartment unit, compared to the typical municipal requirement that is double that at 0.2 visitor stall per unit.

So what do these findings point to? They really justify the need for a rethink of the way we plan and build parking, especially for multi-family buildings. Metro Vancouver has developed new parking guidelines that they are hoping their member municipalities and developers will begin following.

The first guideline calls for a rethink of municipal parking requirements to set them at realistic levels based on actual demand and not on some predicted fears. The place to start with this recalibration is new parking minimums and maxi-mums. Today, only the City of Vancouver and the UBC Point Grey Campus stipulate the maximum number of parking stalls that can be built. Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Portland and Bellevue, Wash. all have parking maximums.

Metro's guidelines suggest maximums of no more than 1.25 parking stalls per condo apartments with one bedrooms and no more than 1.5 parking stalls per condo apartments with two bedrooms when those strata-owned apartments are near TransLink's Frequent Transit Network. Minimums recommended are 0.5 for both one and two bedroom apartments. For rental apartments in the same area, they are recommending maximum parking requirements of one stall per unit, whether with one or two bedrooms.

Based on the evidence obtained in the study, the guideline for visitor parking is recommending a minimum of 0.1 stall per apartment unit. The guidelines also recommend allowing consumers to opt out of buying or renting a parking stall to provide more housing affordability options, especially for households with no vehicles. This can be facilitated by allowing developers to amend their plans for parking after they have completed their pre-sales with condo developments.

These changes are needed to reflect reality. People are changing their habits as our neighbourhoods begin to trans-form and higher-density development becomes the norm. However, the fear will still be there. Cars still play a big role in our society. Many haven't yet changed their habits, nor do they perceive their new neighbours might have. Achieving these changes won't be easy.

Bob Ransford is a public affairs consultant with Counterpoint Communications Inc. He is a former real estate developer who specializes in urban land-use issues.



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