Monday, July 18, 2011

No-minimum zoning

As I wrote the other day, in New York City outside of Manhattan and Long Island City, every possible zoning district has minimum parking requirements. If you want an area where developers can choose to build without parking, you can't just get that area rezoned. Instead, you have to get it included in a "Subject Area," like Long Island City, which would open you up to the charge that you're "turning the neighborhood into Manhattan." The only other option is to get the City Council to pass a change to the Zoning Resolution. As far as I know, no council member has sponsored any such change, let alone getting it to pass.

The city allows districts to become Low Density Growth Management Areas, which are sort of the evil twin of Subject Areas like Long Island City, but they also contain anti-density provisions. I want this to be neutral with regard to density. There's no area of the city that's too sprawled out to support transit; there are just areas where people drive too much.

I have another proposal. I want the Council to create a set of no-minimum R4N, R5N, R6N, R7N, R8N districts that are identical to the R4B, R5D, R6B, R7X and R8X districts but without minimum parking requirements.

There is a legitimate case to be made that a developer who adds residential capacity has an obligation to provide transportation capacity for those residents. To address that, we could also (or instead) have a series of Transit Contribution districts R4T, R5T, etc., where instead of parking, the builder is required to contribute a certain amount to the MTA Capital Fund, perhaps earmarked for that Community District. Todd Litman estimates the cost of building a parking space in New York City at $20,326 (PDF, page 5.4-2), but that does not take into account the opportunity cost of using that floor space, so we could probably set it higher and it would still be a bargain for developers.

There would be no obligation under the law for these districts ever to be used. They would simply be an option that would be available under the normal rezoning process. It could be initiated by the Department of City Planning or by members of the community, but it would still need to go through the normal review process where the community boards, the borough president, the Planning Commission and the City Council all get to review it.

So what do you think? The first person who can get a zoning text amendment with these districts sponsored in the City Council gets a free Cap'n Transit T-shirt! Get it passed, and I'll give you a tote bag and a free lifetime subscription to this blog.


Alon Levy said...

Off-topic: can you go to my post about Sunnyside Yards redevelopment and tell me whether what I'm saying is completely nuts?

Nathan Landau said...

$20,000 per parking space sounds low in New York City. I wonder if that's a cost net of lost parking. Much parking is built on former parking lots, but if a developer builds a 300 space garage on the former site of an 80 space parking lot, only 220 spaces on net have been added. So the real cost is the project cost divided by 220.

The proposal in this piece is a good way to try to get cities to out their money where their mouth is in terms of transit-oriented development. It's also a market-based proposal, which conservatives are so enamored of, except that they favor the government requiring parking.