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My empty parking spot has a price

Photo by John Edwards
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My apartment comes with a parking spot. I don’t use it, but I pay for it. My apartment, my parking spot–it’s a package deal. It sits empty through spring, summer, and fall. Sometimes a parking scofflaw appropriates my spot as their own (this happens rarely). But I don’t care, because I don’t need it. In the winter my parking spot fills with snow, and management posts a sign that says move your car, we’re plowing the parking lot. Lucky me, I never worry about having my car towed, because I don’t own one. Still, I pay my share for the plowing.

Aside from the ample parking, my building is pretty no-frills. It doesn’t provide every unit with a bicycle or a bus pass. Those are the kinds of amenities that might entice me to choose living in a building that offered them. Even though I support the idea of a 1:1 bike to bedroom ratio, it’s probably a bad idea for Minneapolis to mandate bicycle minimums for new development. The same goes for parking.

This isn’t to say that I expect everyone in my building, or my neighborhood, to go car-free. Allow me to modify a metaphor previously made famous by Nick Magrino: If Minneapolis abolished a hypothetical law mandating a Keurig minimum, I wouldn’t interpret that as anti-Keurig, but rather giving people the freedom to choose whether they want to own a Keurig (and relieving them of the obligation to buy those expensive K-cups). You could still choose to own one. But my neighbors–one of whom drinks coffee by the potful and another who doesn’t drink coffee at all–wouldn’t be required to subsidize the bulk purchase of 40 Keurigs for the entire building.

Strict parking minimums make the assumption that everyone is living the same car-dependent lifestyle, thereby spreading the cost of car ownership to people who don’t own cars. This should trouble anyone who cares about housing affordability. Fortunately,Council Member Lisa Bender has a plan to ease parking minimums, and the costs that go with them (hint: it’s far more than the price of a Keurig):

Underground parking costs up to $25,000 per stall to build, [Developer Ross Fefercorn] said, and requires the accompanying development to have a larger footprint. It also raises taxes, maintenance and insurance costs.

“If you can build a building without underground parking and you have residents who will live in it, your cost of building the project is greatly reduced,” Fefercorn said. “You pass on the savings to your tenants.”

Based on some of the reaction in certain local comment sections, you’d think this was a proposal to prohibit car ownership. It’s not. Neither is this a proposal to prohibit the construction of more parking (though I once listened in admiration as Council Member Lisa Goodman sang the virtues of a parking maximum on Channel 79). This proposal is only about easing the parking minimum in transit-friendly areas of Minneapolis.

No matter what happens with this proposal, developers will continue to include lots of parking in many of their new projects. Just like they’ll continue to offer gyms and dog parks; these are amenities that certain people want, and somehow it is provided to them without regulating dog park minimums. Car storage is likewise an amenity that a lot of people will continue to expect, meaning there’s unlikely to be a parking shortage anytime soon.

Parking has a cost, just like a gym or a dog park. While shopping for housing it would be nice to have the freedom to choose how much parking you need and, more importantly, how much parking you can afford.

This post was written by John Edwards and originally published on Follow on Twitter: @streetsmn.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 02/04/2015 - 06:24 pm.

    Value of parking

    I wonder if there is anything in your lease about subletting your parking space. It seems that there would be high value, especially in the winter and especially in high density areas. Check it out and capture the value. You could even join together and create a network of parking spaces linked by an app! A kind of VRBO for city car parkers.

    • Submitted by Mary Gustafson on 02/05/2015 - 12:15 pm.

      There may be people in your building that would like to “lease” your parking space. My daughter lives in California in an apartment that provides one parking space per bedroom. She and her roommate both have cars. There’s no transit anywhere near her (a common problem for SOME areas of blue-collar Orange County). She mostly rides her bike to work but needs her car for late night shifts as she lives in a high-crime area. She would love to lease a space from someone who didn’t need one.

  2. Submitted by Kate Brown on 02/05/2015 - 09:14 am.

    But you chose a building with parking . . .

    . . . there are plenty that don’t have any parking. It seems to me that’s an amenity like any other, whether we’re talking parking or cable or laundry. You said: “While shopping for housing it would be nice to have the freedom to choose how much parking you need and, more importantly, how much parking you can afford.” Isn’t that exactly what you did when you selected the building where you live? I assume you had that freedom to choose & that you weren’t forced to live in that particular building.

    Transit friendly areas are population dense areas. Reduce requirements to provide minimum parking availability for multi-unit housing and not only is the building less competitive, seems to me that it vastly increases the need for on-street parking which (in my experience) leads to increased congestion as residents frantically circle areas searching for the elusive parking spot.

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