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City angles for parking's 'sweet spot'


Division Street projects point to effective changes in onsite parking requirements

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Southeast 50th and Division, which now hosts a popular burrito stand, will be redeveloped into a new apartment building. Unlike many other new apartment projects on Division, this one will include tenant parking.  When developer Aaron Jones started building the 74-unit Division Street Lofts on Southeast Division Street and 48th Avenue months ago, it was yet another multi-family project on Division with no attached tenant parking.

Jones figured he was doing the right thing; he wanted to keep rents below $1,100 to $1,200, and couldn’t do that if he had to include tenant parking.

But many residents and merchants are angry about the spate of apartments built without parking 10 to 15 blocks to the west, making it harder for residents and customers to park. And some neighbors complained to Jones that he would cause the same problem up the street, in what he calls “Upper Division.”

So when Jones acquired a transmission shop a block away, he decided to stripe 28 parking spaces inside the building and offer them to his new tenants. Nearly a month ago, he sent them notices they could land one of the indoor spots for $85 a month. But he was surprised by the response. Only one tenant was interested.

Other tenants told him there was ample free parking still in Upper Division, so why should they pay him to park?

“The reality is we can’t force people to pay for it,” Jones says.

His experience, and the dilemma he faces for his next project on Division, offer a valuable case study on how the city’s new parking requirements for apartments are working — or not working.

In response to a backlash from residents on Division and other main streets where Portland has been allowing apartments without any tenant parking, the City Council stepped in last year and ordered a temporary fix. In a compromise that City Commissioner Nick Fish says he helped craft, proposed multifamily projects with more than 30 units on streets served by transit must have at least one parking space for each three to five units.

That’s still below the old requirement of one parking space per unit, but it helped ease criticism from neighbors who complain they have to walk far to their homes carrying grocery bags, among other inconveniences, which they blame on new renters in their neighborhoods who own cars but have no dedicated parking stalls.

After the City Council ordered a stopgap change in its parking policies, Jones managed to acquire property near Division Street Lofts, which includes the transmission business and the popular Taqueria Los Gorditos food stand on Division and 50th.

So now Jones is looking at building another 100 to 110 more units, but this time he says he must include 35 to 40 parking stalls.

“There doesn’t seem to be any demand for those,” Jones says.

He recognizes the situation may be different in five years, as Upper Division continues to redevelop. By then, he figures, there may be more demand for the paid parking.

But Jones’ conclusion is a sobering one for city officials and planners wrestling with parking requirements. You can’t solve it with zoning regulations, he says.

Ben Schonberger, an affordable housing advocate for the Portland nonprofit Housing Land Advocates, says the lesson of Jones’ experience is to let the market determine parking needs, not government rules.

“Right now, the market price (in Upper Division) is zero, or close to zero,” Schonberger figures. Requiring parking adds to the price of rental housing, he says, so he likes the city policy that still requires no parking for projects with less than 30 units. He’d just as soon let developers, and the market, make such calls on all apartments.

Fish says when he put forth the compromise policy last year requiring some parking at larger apartment projects, the City Council heard from some neighbors that they they didn’t go far enough, and from developers that said they went too far. “We concluded that we had hit the ‘sweet spot,’ at least for now,” Fish says.

The new city policy was designed as an interim rule, he stresses, until city planners can thoroughly evaluate parking mandates as they redo the city’s comprehensive land use plan. That process has begun, and is slated to wind up next year.

The quandary faced by Jones at his new project is “precisely the debate we want to have when we’re doing the comp plan,” Fish says.

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