Why Would a Developer Choose to Include Fewer Parking Spots?

A northwest view of the proposed development.

For years Chicago’s zoning ordinance, which requires large amount of off-street car parking as part of most new residential buildings, has prevented developers from taking full advantage of transit-friendly locations. However, a transit-oriented development ordinance that passed last year lowers the required number of parking spaces for buildings near transit stations. As Steven Vance reported, Centrum Partners is proposing to build a five-to-seven-story rental building next to the Brown Line’s Paulina stop at 3400 N Lincoln Ave, which would be the first known development to take advantage of the parking minimum reduction.

The building would feature 31 to 48 apartments and 6,000 square feet of first-floor retail, but only nine parking spaces. Under the old rules, one spot would have been required per unit at this location. The TOD ordinance permits including only half as many spaces at buildings within 600 feet of a transit station. To get down to only nine spaces, Centrum has requested a zoning variance from 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar, and Pawar has expressed willingness to do so.

The fly in the ointment is that, much like what happened with the Children’s Memorial Hospital redevelopment, neighbors are pressuring the developer to add more parking to the plan because they are convinced that more housing means more cars, no matter what. It’s important for neighborhood residents who want to see city-friendly, walkable development, not more traffic, to let Pawar know they’re against adding parking to the design. If you live in the ward, contact the alderman at info[at]ward47.org to let your voice be heard and request updates on the project.

Yesterday I caught up with Graham Palmer, one of the principals of Centrum, to hear more about the company’s decision to include only a minimum of parking.

The view from the southwest.

John Greenfield: Why did you guys decide to take advantage of the TOD ordinance?

Graham Palmer: The purpose of the ordinance was to spur economic development around transit facilities. Not everybody has a car, and a lot of people want to live near transit. In Chicago, what better place to live than within close proximity of the ‘L’?

JG: Some might argue, “Sure, some people want to live close to the train, but they’re going to need to park their cars as well.” What’s your response?

GP: Statistics show that when you build an apartment near transit, there might be parking spaces, but they’re generally underutilized. Even for buildings far from transit, the one-to-one parking requirements might not really be necessary.

Many people who live close to a train are doing so because they don’t have a car. If you look at listings, housing near transit is more expensive, but people can afford to pay for it because they don’t have the expenses that come from financing a car, gas, maintenance, you name it.

JG: How did you settle on nine spaces?

GP: That’s what the site could accommodate and still work from an economic basis. It was a combination of our beliefs and the constraints of the site itself. We believe this building would have been a success with no car parking.

JG: What’s the status of the project?

GP: The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and Alderman Scott Waguespack [of the 32nd Ward, which contained the site under the old ward boundaries] have chimed in and they’re very excited about it. Alderman Pawar is awaiting feedback on the project from the West Lakeview Neighbors and the Roscoe Neighbors.

It’s my belief that the opposition is small but vocal. Whether you think including 20 to 25 percent of the usual parking for a project is going to be a problem depends on your point of view. It’s the philosophy that if you live near transit you’re not going to need a car, versus the philosophy that if you’re going to have an apartment, you’re going to have a car, and if you don’t have a parking space you’ll park on the street. As the developer, we’re the ones who are willing to invest a lot of money into this space that doesn’t have parking, and if we can’t lease it, that’s our problem.

  • Dave

    “…which would be the first known development to take advantage of the parking minimum reduction.”

    What about 1611 West Division?

  • Kyle Smith

    1611 came through before the ordinance passed last year.

  • Charles II

    “As the developer, we’re the ones who are willing to invest a lot of money into this space that doesn’t have parking, and if we can’t lease it, that’s our problem.”

    Well said. All these neighborhood groups should stay out of private development.

  • Kyle Smith is correct. The ordinance that allowed for 1611 W Division’s zero residential parking spaces was introduced by Alderman Moreno and was strictly written to apply to few situations, but included that tower’s situation (it applies only to RM6, RM6.5 districts).

    The TOD ordinance was introduced by Mayor Emanuel and the zoning department and applies much more liberally across zoning districts around the city and has fewer restrictions.

    For the zoning code geeks, 17-10-0102-B (1) (2) (3) apply to Centrum’s development, while 17-10-0102-B (5) applies to the 1611 W Division development.

  • Dave

    Thanks for clearing that up for me! Just curious – to answer that question, which resources did you pull from, or did you just know that stuff off the top of your head? Do you use this site for zoning info: http://www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Illinois/chicagozoning/chicagozoningordinanceandlanduseordinanc?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:chicagozoning_il ??

  • cjlane

    Yep. When they want to build up to the limit, or include *extra* parking, or *extra* height, or put their driveways right next to the intersection, the neighborhood groups should stay out of it, too. [/sarcasm]

    Seriously, I can’t believe 5 people *here* reflexively up-voted that.

  • Mishellie

    I don’t know that they should stay out ENTIRELY but making these petty little demands based on no evidence whatsoever and having them stick should be curbed somehow.

  • Melissa

    If only Chicagoans cared about more important things than their own parking. I was in a meeting where a local business was being proposed and people actually opposed it because people might come to our neighborhood and need to park. At least they were being totally transparent about being anti-business. These are the same people usually who oppose transportation alternatives, which is hilarious because without them, people like me would need cars and threaten their precious parking spots.

    We really need these developments with less or no parking (and residents moving to them should commit to not having personal vehicles) because neighborhoods are going to benefit politically from having fewer residents whose main political concern is their own parking.

  • david vartanoff

    Hooray for less space wasted storing cars! What should come with the car free lease is a CTA monthly pass and a bike locker.

  • Christine Price

    I don’t know much about the development, it would be great if it had a roll-in bicycle parking room for bike storage (at my building you have to go through two door which love to close quickly, and down a flight of stairs, to get to the official “bicycle room.” WHICH HAS NO RACKS. Just too-thick-for-my-u-lock pipes). Anything that makes biking slightly more convenient = awesome.

  • Mishellie

    I honestly wish there were rental bike locker companies dotted around. I would pay per day or buy a pass for a bike locker near where I work. Instead I end up running outside to check on my bike every once in a while because I worry about it and am not allowed to bring it in and store it in my cubicle… because my “tires are dirty” — like my feet aren’t?

  • skyrefuge

    That service already exists, and in addition to lockers dotted all over, they even give you a bike to ride from locker to locker along with the price of your pass! Ok, I know there are reasons to ride your own bike rather than Divvy, but I would guess that the introduction of Divvy greatly decreased the demand for such a locker service.

    But yeah, I definitely agree with the importance of easily-accessible bike storage in an apartment building; the fact that I’ll Divvy sometimes rather than digging out my bike indicates how easily crappy bike storage affects behavior.

  • oooBooo

    Sometimes people say things that sound rational to mask their real reasons. Sounds like they don’t want outsiders around.

  • Mishellie

    Yeah. I live in a building where I store my bike up a flight of stairs in my living room. But I don’t have a divvy pass because I’m flat broke and that’s a lot of money for me to pay all at once (I wish there was a netflix-style plan – $10 a month or something. I know it would be more over the course of a year, but when i have $180 left every two weeks after rent/loans… it woudl be easier than the one lump sum concept.)

  • Will

    Developers should build less parking spaces in residencial complexes, it opens up a market for personal jet packs as a mean of transportation. :)

  • tab

    Great idea. Add in a divvy membership, or car share yearly membership … all great perks that cost much, much less than adding a parking spot.


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