A proposal to reduce the amount of parking Minneapolis requires for new housing is drawing spirited debate even before arriving at the City Council.

The measure cleared the city's planning commission on a narrow 4-3 vote this week, presaging what may be the largest test yet of the new council's willingness to challenge long-standing auto-centric policies.

Outside downtown, the city typically requires at least one parking space for each unit of housing. The change, which heads to committee on June 25, would eliminate that requirement or cut it in half for multi-unit housing that's near busy transit lines.

About two dozen members of the public who showed up to testify Monday insisted it would either lower housing costs and support car-free living, or clog neighborhood parking spots and leave families, shoppers and the elderly stranded.

"There's going to be no parking in Uptown," said Ted Bagg, one of several Uptown-area residents who spoke in opposition. "It will impact everyone who lives, everyone who works, everyone who comes to Uptown. You'll have to pay $8 or more to park your car if you're going to spend an evening at a restaurant."

Others noted that developers will still be free to build as much parking as the market demands, but also more affordable housing projects without expensive garages. "Housing affordability is a major issue in the city of Minneapolis," said Kyle Burrows. "I would argue it's a much more significant issue than any perceived parking problem currently in the city."

The author, Council Member Lisa Bender, said the immediate impact may be small, partly because commercial lenders still push developers to build ample parking. But, she added, "over the next several decades as our city grows, this small change today will make a huge change in our housing stock. It will make a huge change in our local affordability."

Parking now plays a large but somewhat hidden role in nearly all new apartment projects. Developers pay up to $25,000 per stall to build underground garages — though some estimates peg it higher — that simultaneously require the accompanying building to have a larger footprint. Bender said the change would allow developers to tailor parking to market demand and pursue more creative building designs.

Several planning commission members warned of the proposal's unintended consequences. Commissioner Alissa Luepke-Pier said her neighbors on the North Side already have fewer alternative transportation choices such as Nice Ride, Car2Go and light rail.

"Do you know what will happen in north if we don't require some parking? We won't get any parking. Great. But we won't get anything in its place, either," said Luepke-Pier, who added she would support a more modest reduction.

Developers now can obtain a 10 percent parking reduction if they are within 300 feet of a transit service with 30-minute midday frequencies. The proposal would eliminate the minimum for developments within 350 feet of transit with 15-minute frequency. It would also nix it for buildings of fewer than 50 units a quarter-mile away from those stops, while halving it for buildings with more than 51 units at the same distance.

That would ditch requirements in higher-density zones along most of the city's main commercial streets, including Hennepin, Franklin, Nicollet, Chicago and Central Avenues — as well as Lake Street. Other such streets include Penn Avenue North, Fremont Avenue North and Hiawatha Avenue. It would not apply to the University area.

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