The city of St. Paul may abolish its requirement that developers include parking when they build new apartments or offices, and the idea already is generating strong reactions.
One resident calls it necessary in the fight against climate change. Another calls it an insane idea for a city still dependent on cars.
The St. Paul Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Friday at 8:30 a.m. to gather more opinions about the proposal, part of a larger goal among city planners to get people out of their cars in favor of transit and other transportation modes.
The two options to be proposed to the City Council are to reduce or to eliminate minimum parking requirements.
Planning staff hopes both proposals would encourage developers to build more housing, businesses and amenities.
The city now requires one parking space per 1-2 room unit in new multifamily dwellings. It varies for other types of development.
Those requirements make housing more expensive, limit business flexibility and economic development and contribute to climate change, according to the Planning Commission.
City Planner Tony Johnson and Principal Planner Menaka Mohan noted that other communities across the country, including Buffalo, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., have removed parking requirements to be more climate forward and meet affordable housing goals.
The Minneapolis 2040 plan calls for reductions of parking minimums, and a Minneapolis committee will consider similar changes on May 4.
"At the affordable, deeply affordable levels, a lot of people don't have cars. The way our code is set up right now we don't take into account income levels when considering parking ratios," Johnson said.
Mohan said that minimums can make it especially difficult for small business owners who often have to ask for a zoning variance, a time-consuming process for individuals and the city.
St. Paul's Climate Action & Resilience Plan, which calls for carbon neutrality by 2050, and the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which calls for reducing parking overall, both guided this work, said Johnson. Right now, 31% of the city's carbon emissions come from vehicle travel.
Downtown St. Paul has never had parking minimums, and minimum requirements near the Green Line were eliminated about 10 years ago.
Green Line area developers have continued to include parking with new projects in recent years, but at levels about 30% less than what would have been the requirement, said Johnson.
"We're hoping by either eliminating or reducing minimums, we can help build more affordable housing and get our parking ratios right and at a level that people actually need. That way, we'll then be using our scarce housing resources to build housing instead of parking that's going to sit there," Johnson said.
With both plans, developers are still free to build parking.
Both versions of the plan would ask developers to use transportation demand strategies, such as subsidized ride share or protected bike parking, that aim to get people out of single-occupancy vehicles, Mohan said.
"These strategies have all been researched as actually reducing vehicle miles and getting people into alternative modes of transportation," Mohan said.
Initial public comments revealed strong feelings on all sides.
Resident Alexandra Cunliffe wrote in support of full elimination and said she believes there is already ample parking in the city.
"My family chooses to live in St. Paul because of the walkability and multiple transit options apart from driving," Cunliffe said.
Leah Johnston wrote against both options, adding that any form of elimination was "an insane idea."
"I am an apartment dweller and I need to have street parking in front of my building for safety reasons. If I am arriving home after dark I do not want to be forced to park several blocks away from my home because you have eliminated parking for my building," Johnston said. "Please do not implement this plan."
Ashton Horsley, who supported some parking minimum reductions, must drive for work and said minimums should only be lowered for those who have to drive.
"The environmental and housing access advantages that will come from reducing the current parking minimum which often requires more physical space than buildings themselves will be enormous," Horsley said.
Public comment will be accepted online until May 2.
Zoë Jackson covers young and new voters at the Star Tribune through the Report For America program, supported by the Minneapolis Foundation.
612-673-7112 • @zoemjack