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Council to consider apartments without parking

Controversial policies to be discussed Thursday afternoon


This week the City Council will take up the contentious issue of allowing new apartment buildings to be built without parking for the residents.

Several apartments buildings have been built without parking in recent years and more are planned. Some neighbors near them have complained to City Hall that many if not most of the new residents actually have cars that are taking up on-street parking spaces.

A recent study commissioned by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability concludes such concerns are largely unfounded. In a Dec. 13, 2012, memo to the council, Chief Planner Joe Zender wrote, “The survey of on-street parking use found that there is adequate on-street parking within a two-block walking distance of each building studied. Most of the vehicle owners can find on-street parking in less than a two-minute walk from their apartment.”

However, Zender’s memo also notes that the council might want to study the issue further. The memo says that more apartments without parking have been built or planned in recent years than the council may have expected when it adopted new policies eliminating minimum parking requirements in the 1980s.

City policies now allow apartments to built without parking if they are located “less than 500 feet from a transit street with 20-minute peak hour service." According to the memo, this change was made to encourage Portlanders to reduce their driving and increase their reliance on mass transit.

The council is scheduled to take up the matter at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 10.

The council did not actually expect very many apartments to be built without parking when the new policy was adopted, the memo says. In the past, banks and other lending institutions required minimal levels of parking at the projects they financed. But according to the memo, the lenders have backed off this requirement in recent years as the demand for new apartments has increased.

“In the last several years, there has been a shift in the market and the attitude of lenders toward apartment buildings without parking. Also, the rental vacancy rate in Portland has been one of the lowest in the country, sparking an increase in development of multifamily buildings with and without parking. This change has raised questions about whether the experience and assumptions of the past regarding market demand for parking are no longer reliable,” the memo says.

The memo notes that other concerns have been growing over the largest apartments being built along transit lines, including opposition to their size and incompatibility with existing neighborhood designs.

“The public concern about apartments goes beyond parking and includes concerns regarding height, size, density, design compatibility and lack of ground floor retail uses of many of these new buildings,” the memo says.

Such apartments emerged as an issue during the 2012 council elections. New Mayor Charlie Hales, new Commissioner Steve Novick and retiring Commissioner Amanda Fritz all said issue should be addressed during campaign appearances. None of them proposed specific policy changes, however, and the memo does not offer any, either.