Why 36 Car Spots is a Reasonable Number for an Apartment Building by The 606

Rendering of a proposed apartment building at 1750 N Western Avenue. Image: NORR Architects
Rendering of a proposed apartment building at 1750 N Western Avenue. Image: NORR Architects

Last night  in West Town there was a public meeting about a proposed zoning change to construct a building with 124 apartments, 142 bike parking spaces, and 36 car parking spaces next to The 606 elevated trail. The building would have about 8,000 square feet of commercial space (2-4 tenants) and direct, upper-level access to the greenway. The building, at 1750 N. Western Avenue, would also feature the second public restroom facility by The 606 (the first will be in the YMCA at the path’s western terminus.)

The most common complaint from the propertied gentry who typically attend such hearings is “There’s not enough car parking, they’re going to take ‘my’ parking spot.” (Read Block Club Chicago reporter Mina Bloom’s live tweeting of the meeting; this Streetsblog post originally started as a Twitter thread.)

The person sitting next to me at the hearing believed that figuring out how much car parking to provide is a simple math function of one space per apartment. In reality, figuring out the right amount of car storage requires taking into account the building’s location, the unit types, and demographic trends, among other factors.

Here’s why 36 car parking spaces for 124 apartments is an appropriate amount to provide at this location. First, let’s consider the existing car ownership rate of the surrounding area. In this particular Census tract, about three percent of owner-occupied households don’t own a car, and 16 percent of renter-occupied households don’t own a car (each household has one or more residents).

Since this would be a rental building, we can reduce the number of car spaces required for a 1:1 units-to-spots ratio by 16 percent, from 124 to 104. However, we should probably look closer at why this one tract has higher car ownership than areas to the south and northwest. For example, in the next Census tract south, where there are vastly more renter-occupied households than owner-occupied households, the rates of car-free households increase for both renter and owner households.

From looking at satellite footage and just walking around the area, you might notice that there are relatively few apartment buildings (which are conducive to a car-free lifestyle) on the area’s arterial streets, where you’d expect them.

In fact, there are only eight apartment buildings on Western and North Avenues in the proposed building’s Census tract now and there were even fewer in 2013. That means that the proportion of households in this census tract that are single-family homes is much higher than in a typical built-up neighborhood around an ‘L’ station.

Next, let’s look at unit types in the proposed building. Only 26 percent of the units will be 2- or 3-bedroom apartments, in contrast to the current surrounding housing stock, which is heavy on multi-bedroom homes. The new development would be more in line with the unit mix that we see in the neighboring Census tracts that mostly contain apartment buildings.

In those nearby tracts we see car ownership rates ranging from 59-86 percent. So it’s fair to say that car ownership at the proposed building might be more like 64 percent for a similar unit mix. Therefore we can bring its car parking count down by 36 percent, from 124 spaces down to 79 spots.

Next we should adjust the quantity of parking based on the building’s location and the amenities that would be provided. The site is about a block south of a Blue Line station, a 24-hour, ADA accessible facility, which would allow residents to access the region’s largest employment center in under 30 minutes.

Another amenity is a direct connection from the on-site bicycle storage on the second floor to The 606. Its proximity to the building is likely to attract residents who enjoy cycling, so a high-than-average percentage of tenants may be bike commuters. Moreover, the trail connection would be handy for accessing the popular Milwaukee Avenue bike route without having to deal with Western Avenue traffic.

Therefore the proposed building is the definition of an active transportation-oriented development. People will choose to live in this development because they want to live a car-lite or car-free lifestyle. The convenient transit and bike access will cause them to pick this building over one that has one parking spot per unit.

On top of that the landlord plans to charge additional rent for the car parking spaces, so the building is less likely to attract car owners than one where the every unit comes with its own spot. So we can further reduce the number of parking spaces needed to 40, conservatively

In addition, the garage will house car-sharing vehicles, making it even easier to live in the building without owning a private car. Lastly, it’s important to note that 15 percent of the units will be designated as affordable and rented to households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income. Those households own cars at much lower rate than households earning more than that.

Considering that car ownership can cost $12,000 per year, an even greater portion of the renters of the affordable units in the building will shed that cost if they have direct Blue Line and 606 access to jobs, grocery stores (there’s an ALDI store near the trail’s Milwaukee access point), schools, and parks via the Blue Line and The 606.

That probably eliminates the need for the last four parking spaces, and causes 36 spaces to be an entirely reasonable amount of parking for a development with these amenities, in this location, in this city.

  • b_hack

    “Propertied gentry”

    I don’t disagree with what you’re getting at here but you’re undermining your legitimacy with the snarky, self-righteous tone.

  • Jacob Wilson

    I think it’s pretty safe to assume almost all the tenants who can afford to live here will take the blue line downtown for work, use the 606 for leisure/exercise and take uber everywhere else.

    There will be a handful that auto commute to the burbs but thankfully that seems to be a dying trend.

  • JacobEPeters

    When someone complains that their rooftop deck won’t have an unobstructed view of the skyline anymore, then they are the definition of the land holding elite who are only protesting in order to preserve their privilege. “Landed gentry” was the term I used in the twitter thread that spurred this article (twitter is a safe space for self righteous snark) & when Steven asked to write an article based on it I didn’t expect it to make the final cut. The meeting was a case study in entitlement from every angle from almost everyone in attendance.

  • Chicagoan

    I don’t find his tone to be either.

    Write on, Mr. Vance.

  • Chicagoan

    It’s a really cool building and The 606 needs many more public bathrooms, does it have a chance of being built ‘as is’?

  • I changed “landed” to “propertied” because I thought “landed” wouldn’t read well. “The gentry landed in this neighborhood a few years ago” was the sense of the word that I understood when I first read your tweet :)

  • No. The property is zoned M1-2.

    The only thing that can be built as of right here is low-density office, and some light manufacturing/industrial (nothing toxic). And strip malls*.

    *Basically every one of the worst urban land uses is allowed by right everywhere in Chicago, be they strip malls or single-family housing. Except single-family housing isn’t allowed in M districts.

  • Jake wrote the bulk of this on Twitter and I adapted it for Streetsblog.

  • b_hack

    From where I stand, I see SB as leaning more towards journalistic standards even though the word “blog” is literally in the title. I think that’s good, there’s a real gap in the kind of local coverage it offers, especially with DNA gone. That said, there’s clearly an ideology that the writing on the site is adhering to when it comes to local transportation matters – one that I side with the majority of the time – but I still think you’d be better off by not taking swipes at those you disagree with or find obnoxious (even if it was a pretty mild swipe). It just gives them more ammo to say that you’re biased and discount the convincing argument that you offer as to why 1:1 parking ratios would be too high here. Why not let your research and data do the talking?

    Another comment I have on the propertied gentry thing is that there are a lot of property owners along the 606 who are not wealthy and actually worried that their increased property values will raise their taxes so much that they won’t be able to afford their homes anymore and will be forced to move. I’m sure you’re aware of this too. So even though these aren’t the property owners you experienced at this meeting, be careful of conflating property ownership with wealth.

    I’m not trying to be hypercritical or drag on your writing, just offering some reader perspective. Cheers.

  • rohmen

    I’d bet your generally right, especially given that this will be a TOD building, but my office in the loop is made up of the type of renters this project is going for. I think many would be surprised how many people that live in the City still drive even when they live in close-in, transit rich areas. In fact, in my office, the percentage of City residents who drive is much higher than the percentage of suburban residents.

    If you can afford to live in this sort of luxury apartment building, unfortunately you can likely afford a car you barely use, and likely can afford to park in the Loop too, which is of course exactly why sticking to the 36 spots is so important.

  • Chicagoan

    I apologize, I forgot ‘as is’ is a real estate term, I mean…does the development stance a chance of being built in this current form?

    By that, I’m just wondering if there was positive feedback in addition to negative.

  • Chicagoan

    Then write on Jake!

  • Tooscrapps

    A BRT on Ashland or Western would really transform a lot of neighborhoods’ transit potential.

  • Carter O’Brien

    TOD has been around long enough to warrant actual studies supporting the assumptions. Don’t tell me the real estate industry, CTA and CDOT can’t work with an urban planning program like CUPPA to fund and get this done, the thesis writes itself.

  • Cameron Puetz

    I’d be surprised if developers haven’t done studies. There’s money to made in optimizing the mix of space uses in a building.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I think you’d need some property managers on board to really do it right, but I’d imagine you are correct re: market pricing and demand.

    My guess is that there is truth behind the basic TOD premise, but that there are numerous additional variables that come into play. It would behoove everyone involved to be more transparent and scientific about it, as I guarantee you many if not most people think this is just a rationalization to justify zoning bonuses for developers. Plenty of history supports that skepticism.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Is there a way to figure out how many cars are registered to the address(es) of a specific building?

  • JacobEPeters

    Thanks, I try to keep my snarkiness to my twitter persona, but it snuck out in this instance since I have little patience for people who don’t acknowledge their privilege, since I know I have had many privileges in my life so far.

  • JacobEPeters

    My use of the term “landed gentry” was because I had been trying to highlight that my issues were with the complaints that the wealthy property owners had expressed, because they literally disparaged the inclusion of affordable housing during the meeting, not with property owners as a whole.

    Affordable housing in this city has to be about more than just creating affordable rental units. It also has to be about stabilizing neighborhoods so that lower middle class homeowners don’t lose the equity tied up in their homes, making sure that existing homeowners who aren’t wealthy don’t lose their homes due to property tax increases caused by gentrification or overvaluation by the Tax Assessor, and making sure that there is an affordable path to home ownership that is available to residents of all incomes who want to remain living in this city.

    If I hadn’t been working on a deadline all day I probably would have seen the first draft that Steven had done & made that reference less snarky & more descriptive.

    This article was based on a thread that I had thrown together last night after being berated by misinformed, entitled, close minded, anti housing, pro car, meeting attendees, that were displaying the worst tendencies of community groups. The thread was originally just meant as a way for me to get these thoughts out of my head so that I could actually get to sleep & stop reliving a bad experience I had just had in my future wedding venue. Steven purged most of my hyper emotional language, but I should have asked to delay publishing until after by 5:30pm deadline tonight so that I could actually read the final product.

  • Almost every proposal is tweaked before approval. Sometimes the alder will take some feedback from some people about the design (like the balconies, or the direction that something faces) and ask the developer to change that and “come back” to have another meeting.

    Moreno’s sticking points have always been that 100% of the affordable housing requirement is built on-site, which is a known fact before coming to him for approval.

    However, that is unnecessary now that his sticking point is now law, in the “ARO Pilot – Milwaukee Corridor Area”, where 15% of the units must be rented to households meeting the income requirements at a rate that the city sets annually and that all of those are on-site.

  • aly

    This has been studied in Chicago! https://www.cnt.org/publications/stalled-out-how-empty-parking-spaces-diminish-neighborhood-affordability The link offers a brief overview of the findings and a PDF to the full report. I worked on this study, recruiting buildings, property managers and developers to participate. The research found that off-street parking is undertilized and increases housing costs. This study was conducted as the TOD ordinance was just being passed. Other major cities have modeled this research and had similar findings.

  • Carter O’Brien

    That is not a study supporting TOD development assumptions as practiced in Chicago.

    TOD assumption: a development placed strategically by an L stop needs less parking than a 1:1 ratio.

    I think the CNT supports that in theory. But in reality? Prove it.

    Variable complicating that assumption:

    Developers should be given massive zoning bumps in TOD designated areas because we need more people using CTA and more walkable streets.

    So we move from a system presented as right sizing parking requirements within existing zoning to a system that for many communities just seems like the latest snake oil being used to usher in luxury housing in mass, buildings out of scale with their communities, and a fast track to gentrification.

    Issues people see: a Blue Line increasingly bursting at the seams further and further NW. Evictions as property owners cash in and jump on the gravy train. Declining school enrollments as TOD deelopment to date has not been family-friendly.

    It would help if we saw TOD being used as advertised, and incentivizing development in areas of Chicago that actually need it. The Blue Line on the NW Side does not qualify.

    But still, lurking underneath is that central premise, which seems ao easy to prove. Track 12-20 of these new developments or some sample of 1,000 residents living in them over a decade and show what the vehicle ownership is.

    Because what we want to see confirmed is that people don’t just use residential streets as a form of storage while they take the CTA for work. In that case, the problem isn’t simply the rate of car ownership, but the net increase of people and thus vehicles clogging the streets.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Should be – but it will under report due to the nagging problem of people who move to Chicago but keep their cars registered at their parents’ homes in the burbs or out of state. Go to any of the large parking lots near North/Clybourn and just look at the plates and lack of city stickers.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I disagree that single family housing is anti-urban. Without that housing stock we will just see a continuation of the raise-the-family-in-the-burbs dynamic, aka white/middle class flight. Schools suffer, the City suffers.

    Bungalows and worker cottage SFHs on a standard 3,125 sq ft lot, with 2 and 3 flats and then larger buildings on the corners, was and is solid urban fabric for side streets. You get multiple generations, green space for stormwater retention and better air quality, etc.

    McMansions and catering to super narrow demograhics, now that’s a different story.

  • ALovelySummersEve

    Instead of all the excuses in this comment section, maybe you guys should just take out the bit that you now realize is unnecessary and insulting?

  • ALovelySummersEve

    Home ownership and privilege are not the same thing.

  • JacobEPeters

    As I say below, the reason I was describing these meeting attendees as privileged is because they were complaining about the building blocking the views from their rooftop decks among many other very privileged complaints. The ability to own a home is a privilege (since not everyone gets the opportunity) , but not all homeowners are privileged in the myriad of ways these specific meeting attendees were.

  • blipsman

    This doesn’t even mention ride sharing like Lyft/Uber, nor does it look forward to autonomous vehicles becoming commonplace relatively early in this building’s lifespan. Do we build for the needs of the next 2 years, or anticipate the next 50?

  • David Morin

    The TOD thing in my opinion is a farce. A TOD went up down the street from my home. When it became occupied on street parking and traffic increased significantly. Where random cars were parked cars are now parked constantly. Where traffic slowed occasionally traffic now slows often as no improvements were made in traffic control because the traffic shouldn’t have increased too much.
    Another TOD is going up near it. That one is larger! It’s going to be a traffic/parking nightmare when it’s occupied! And now this thing?
    I’m glad I have a two car garage, several bikes, two strong legs and know alternative routes!

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Which existing TOD are you talking about?

  • David Morin

    Armitage and Campbell then the one going up at Armitage and Milwaukee. Throw the one at Western and Milwaukee in there too!
    I have no empirical evidence but I have lived in the area for 15 years. Since two of the TODs have been completed and occupied the traffic and parking in the area have increased significantly.

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • David Morin

    Yes.

  • lindsaybanks

    So it sounds like the streets around you need to be managed – with residential permits (not available to the people in the large development) and/or metered spaces. It’s not a good use of space when “only random cars” are using it. A TOD brings in a lot of tax revenue for the city at little public cost. Usually, tenants don’t have kids but they’re supporting the schools. A lot of people in your neighborhood are probably using street parking because their garage is full of junk. Also not fair to the city at large. It’s a hobby of mine to take photos of open garages full of junk…

  • Frank Kotter

    You are right. Home ownership is privilege but privilege is not necessarily home ownership.

    The points being made are very valid. Don’t know why you are hung up on the issue. You seem very concerned, however.

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