A proposal to eliminate minimum parking requirements for new developments in St. Paul is headed to the City Council after the Planning Commission approved the plan Friday.

The council will consider the issue as cities across the country — including Minneapolis, which voted to get rid of its parking requirements last month — are exploring the zoning change as a way to increase affordable housing supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

City parking minimums require developers to provide a certain number of off-street parking spaces, depending on the size and purpose of the building. Between the 1940s and 1970s, U.S. cities added these regulations to avoid congestion on public streets.

In St. Paul, where city planners say more than a third of land area is primarily devoted to the purpose of moving and storing automobiles, the staff has been studying zoning laws related to parking since 2018. The Planning Commission received 237 comments on its recent parking study, about 70% of which supported the elimination of minimum requirements.

Supporters of the change say St. Paul's current requirements can deter residential and commercial developments by making construction more expensive. Additionally, 31% of St. Paul's carbon emissions come from vehicle travel.

"I think that parking minimums caused immense harm to cities," Planning Commissioner Nate Hood said Friday. "They worsen our car dependence. They hinder infill development. They undermine walkable neighborhoods. They block transit-oriented development. And they make building real estate so much more expensive."

Under the city's proposed rules, developers would still be free to build parking. However, the policy includes "travel demand management" strategies that require or encourage developers to promote alternatives to driving by providing bike parking, subsidized transit passes or other amenities.

Downtown St. Paul has never had parking minimums, and minimum requirements near the Green Line were eliminated about 10 years ago.

Planning commissioners in support of the proposal said Friday that eliminating parking minimums is a step toward a long-term goal of changing St. Paul's car-dependent culture.

"Once there's enough density to support people to not have cars, there will be more ability to advocate for more transit lines and more effective transportation that's not just auto-oriented," Commissioner Jake Reilly said.

However, those who voted against the proposal expressed concerns about the practice of "unbundled parking," which has landlords separate the cost of parking from rents.

City Planner Tony Johnson said this can lower costs for residents who choose not to have cars, but Commission Chairman Luis Rangel Morales said he has not seen data convincing him that would happen. This could lead to an "unfair burden" for low-income families who depend on cars to access jobs and child care, Rangel Morales said.

"I think it's accepted that we need to move away from motor vehicles, but the question is who bears that inconvenience," he said.

The commission voted 14-3 in favor of the change.

Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478