Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Manhattan - and Long Island City - parking maxima

Today I tweeted about a plot of land for sale in Long Island City, right on top of the ditch for the Long Island Railroad East Side Access project. It's around the corner from the Queens Plaza subway station (E, M and R trains) and a couple blocks from the Queensboro Plaza el station (N, Q and 7 trains). It wraps around "Clock Tower Plaza," the very nice 1927 Art Deco Bank of Manhattan building; you can see in this Forgotten NY page that there used to be a very forgettable modern three-story building at that location. And if you made the April 1st bid deadline, that land can be yours for only $9,500,000!

What got Stephen Smith interested (I'm assuming it was him tweeting @MarketUrbanism) was when I mentioned that there is no parking required for this land. Stephen didn't know that most of Long Island City has no parking minimum, and asked about other parking minima and maxima in the area. If Stephen doesn't know about it, a lot of other people probably don't. You can look it up in the Zoning Resolution (PDF), but a lot of people get intimidated by zoning documents, so I figure I'll read it for you and put it all down here for handy reference.

First of all, there is an area (is it the only area in the United States?) where there are no parking minima (except for public housing projects). This includes Manhattan Community Districts 1 through 8, meaning everything south of 110th Street on the West Side and 96th Street on the East Side (except Roosevelt Island, which is its own beast). It also includes the "Long Island City Subject Area," in the core of LIC, essentially everything in Queens west of 29th Street and south of 41st Avenue.

As Stephen asked, there are in fact parking maxima for these areas. In Manhattan south of 60th Street it's one space for 20% of the new dwellings. North of 60th Street it's one space for 35% of new dwellings. In the part of LIC northwest of the Sunnyside Yards it's one per 50%, and in the rest of LIC it's one per dwelling unit.

In practice, in Long Island City the developers always seem to want to build more apartments than they're allowed as of right, so they keep going to the community board for variances, and the community board demands lots of parking. I'm pretty sure that's how all the parking along Fifth Street got built. And of course there was the recent freak-out over the size of parking to be built at the new building on the south side of the plaza.

All things considered, though, I think this zoning has been very good for LIC. I'm surprised we haven't seen similar districts in other high-density, transit-rich areas outside Manhattan, like Downtown Brooklyn, Jamaica or the Bronx Hub, or north of 96th Street like 181st Street in Washington Heights.


City Native said...

This should bode well for LIC to become a high density area. Lots of offices and other jobs there would draw off large numbers of subway riders in Queens in the morning before they gets to Manhattan. Morning counter peak direction also looks good.

Stephen Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Smith said...

Wonderful, thank you! Personally I feel dread and laziness more than intimidation with the NYC code...although the first time I grappled with that hand-drawn map, I will admit I was a bit intimidated ;-)

As I suspected, there are no areas where there are both no minimums and no maximums, which is weird from a logical point of view, but I guess what do you expect from a profession that has "planning" in its title...

As for places with no minimums, there are definitely a few places throughout the US, but they are very few, and for the most part they're totally built up. The core of San Francisco doesn't, and some amount of Portland and Seattle also doesn't. I've heard that Jersey City doesn't have any minimums, although I investigated one parcel once and found that it did (in addition to having a maximum!), but it's possible that other places don't have minimums. Also, I'm about 40% sure that some parcels on Market Street in Philly don't have minimums, but definitely don't quote me on that – I know that Old City definitely has them, which makes me want to cry. Boston I believe also has some areas without them, but I think Boston in general is very built up and the zoning code, not parking, is probably the bigger problem.

DC is proposing (and the people I've talked to seem surprisingly sure that it'll actually happen) to totally eliminate parking minimums within some distance of rail and high-frequency bus lines (!), which is obviously a huge deal. While it probably wouldn't affect as many people as the parts of Manhattan that doesn't have minimums, for the DC metro region's size, it's quite a big move, and I believe will be the most dramatic parking liberalization in the post-war era. They're adding some maximums, but I'm not sure they're very stringent – I seem to remember it being more a maximum lot size, maybe 500 spaces? Northern Virginia also must have reduced minimums – if not totally eliminated them – for all the buildings on the Orange Line corridor and likely for future development in Tysons Corner, but I'm not sure about maximums (my gut tells me yes?).

Maybe I'll get around to researching it a bit more throughly and doing a post about it, but until then, that's all I got. (And yes, ever since the tweet avalanche started a few weeks ago, it's been mostly me from @marketurbanism.)

PS, I wish I could leave a comment just with my name and URL and not have this stupid Google name. :-(

Stephen Smith said...

BTW – that bit at the end about community boards asking for parking when you apply for a variance and the overall death of as-of-right development in big cities is worrying, and something I've been meaning to write about. There's like half a neighborhood worth of property near me in DC ("the Florida Market") zoned industrial (currently a wholesale food market) that everybody knows should be condos or office buildings, and yet they keep it zoned that way so they can make deals and extract money from the developer for a variance. Meanwhile the financial crisis happened and all their political horsetrading (by the politicians and of course the "community activists") delayed the project to the point where it never got built. I literally walk a block out of my way every time I go to the Metro to avoid it because it's so ugly and it's set back from the street so cars end up zooming by it like they're on a freeway.

George K said...

I've been wondering: Why is there a parking minimum for housing projects in Manhattan? Those people are most likely going to be working at low-paying jobs that should be reasonably accessable by transit. I might be able to understand some sort of parking minimum for projects in, say the northern Bronx (such as Edenwald), and in Staten Island, but not for ones in Manhattan.
There are people who have a problem with putting housing projects on land that is so valuable because of its proximity to Manhattan, and there is logic behind that. I'm sure there are people who will have even more of a problem with it when they realize that there are parking minimums in the low-income buildings, but non in the market-rate buildings across the street.

Charlie Gardner said...

"In practice, in Long Island City the developers always seem to want to build more apartments than they're allowed as of right, so they keep going to the community board for variances, and the community board demands lots of parking."

If true, that's unfortunate, since the parking garages are a visual blight on the neighborhood and surely aren't an asset to the community. 5th Street in LIC has become little more than the rear alley for the waterfront towers. And if the purpose is to lessen congestion, more likely it will have the opposite effect by decreasing the cost of parking spaces and encouraging more people to bring cars into the neighborhood than otherwise would have.