Once upon a time, a new apartment or condominium came with one or even two parking spaces, often free, a reflection of America’s love for and dependence on automobiles.
But now, parking in urbanized areas is scarce and expensive, and walkable is in. Bike lanes have gobbled up on-street parking spaces. Short-term car-sharing services such as Zipcar and Car2Go, and paid ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, have sprouted in city and suburb alike.
And municipalities across the country are allowing developers to build apartments, condos and townhouses with far less parking, eager to cut the cost of housing and convinced that fewer spaces are needed.
Arlington County is the latest local government to take action. On Nov. 18, the County Board voted to allow developers of some new projects along the Ballston-Rosslyn and U.S. 1 corridors to cut the parking they provide by as much as 50 percent, so long as they offer bicycle parking, on-site car sharing and unlimited Metrorail or Metrobus passes for residents.
“Keeping excess parking . . . has really high costs for the county,” said Katie Cristol (D), the board’s vice chair, who described the change as “not a cudgel, but a series of carrots. We’re not trying to badger anybody into a lifestyle that doesn’t match their needs.”
The same thing is happening across the Potomac and in other nearby jurisdictions. The District last year rezoned minimum parking requirements for multifamily residences in many areas and reduced parking minimums close to Metro or bus routes in other parts of the city to less than one space for every five units. Fairfax County limited the maximum number of parking spots at buildings within a quarter-mile of Metro stations in Tysons Corner seven years ago, and is considering lowering the minimum parking requirements near other transit stations.
In Montgomery County, multifamily buildings must provide one parking space per bedroom, but less parking is required for affordable units and age-restricted buildings. Prince George’s County is working on a proposal to remove all minimum parking requirements for buildings near certain regional transit zones.
In Buffalo, minimum parking requirements were eliminated with a zoning ordinance 11 months ago. About one-third of apartments built recently near Seattle’s downtown had no parking, under a decade-old policy to reduce traffic and developers’ costs so they could build more affordable residences.
In Arlington, where the median housing value is $651,400, according to the online real estate company Zillow, and where the cost of entry-level condos has zoomed out of reach of many young professionals, one underground parking spot costs between $30,000 and $60,000 to build, a county report estimated. The board’s new guidelines will allow the county to grant approval to developers of multifamily-housing in the two Metro corridors to build between 0.2 and 0.6 spaces per unit, down from between 0.8 and 1.25 spaces per unit.
Arlington residents pride themselves on living a walkable lifestyle, taking transit whenever possible and bicycling for personal transportation and recreation. But some who testified before the board said the loss of parking spaces would be difficult, especially for those who are less mobile.
“Please do not discourage young families and parents with kids from living in this area by encouraging a ‘car-free diet’ to an extreme,” said Puja Valiyil, 35, a mother of four.
Elfreda Baptist, a resident of Arlington’s Court House neighborhood, said the proposal overlooks the needs of dual-income couples who work outside areas reachable by Metro, as well as the elderly and people with disabilities.
“This will have the biggest impact on the seniors who cannot ride a bike, who need to carry heavy groceries, who feel unsafe to take Metro at night, who have to visit doctors or family or friends outside the Metro area,” she said. “This envisions a Metro corridor filled with young, active, healthy people.”
Others noted that even residents without cars sometimes need parking spaces, to accommodate contractors, caregivers and guests.
Board chair Jay Fisette (D) said the changes will be “incremental and prudent,” and reminded concerned residents that guidelines will not affect existing residential parking. “I think a lot of angst and excitement about this is overblown,” he said.
A years-long county study showed that Arlington households within easy walking distance of Metro had fewer vehicles and didn’t use them as much as households farther away from the rail lines.
Many senior citizens and people who live in affordable housing don’t own cars, the report said, and many multifamily residential complexes are near underused commercial parking garages.
Since summer, Arlington has had street-legal electric golf carts that ferry people free of charge along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.
Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said that reducing the number of required parking places will give developers and residents “better choices.”
“So people who choose not to have a car don’t end up paying for a lot of unused parking, and we can have some buildings oriented to car owners and drivers,” Cort said.