Above: A rendering of a 157-unit apartment building under construction at 3118 West Lake Street, along with a schematic of its 187-space underground parking garage.

Buildings with few or no parking spaces can now be built outside downtown Minneapolis as part of a proposal that passed the City Council Friday.

The measure tackles the city's typical one-spot per-unit parking requirement for new developments by allowing significant reductions near high-frequency transit. The final version was scaled back to allow only a 50 percent reduction for larger buildings, rather than freeing them from the requirement altogether.

But the final language allows buildings with 50 or fewer units to be built without parking outside of downtown -- where there are already no parking minimums -- if they are a quarter-mile away from transit with 15-minute frequencies.

Supporters of the measure expect it will help reduce the cost of housing by eliminating the need for developers to build expensive underground parking garages. Most developers will likely continue building them, however, as banks still require ample parking before financing a project.

The ordinance sponsor, Council Member Lisa Bender, said it will accommodate more small-scale, non-luxury development, since large parking garages can dictate both the footprint and rents in new apartment buildings.

“This change will allow developers to stop designing their projects around parking. Too often we see a whole building designed around a concrete structure to store cars, instead of the people who are living in the building, or walking buy it, or living nearby," Bender said. "It will allow more flexibility in design and I think people will be a lot more excited about the projects they see coming into their neighborhoods.”

The final measure was a compromise with Council President Barb Johnson, who had worried about poor quality projects rising in north Minneapolis. To address that possibility, Bender announced her intent to tighten design guidelines in the city's zoning code.

"Our staff work tirelessly with developers to improve their projects, to improve the building materials, to ensure there are balconies that are big enough for a chair and a person, not just a chair or a person," Bender said, alluding to likely components of the as-yet-defined standards.

Another component of the compromise, introduced by Council Member Lisa Goodman, would limit the allowed size of surface parking lots. That proposed measure anticipates developers -- free from higher parking requirements -- might ditch an underground garage for a surface lot.

Council Member Eliabeth Glidden said the parking change is already have an impact on her ward, where developers have proposed a part-affordable housing project on 36th and Nicollet that would not have been possible without the relaxed requirements.