Parking and Baltimore’s New Zoning Code

Here at CPHA, we’ve written a lot of about parking. In particular we’ve focused on how too much parking can be damaging to our urban environment and how free or underpriced parking can lead to a scarcity of parking spaces.  Ever since the publication of Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking in 2005, policymakers all over the country have been rethinking their policies towards parking, especially when it comes to minimum parking requirements.  Many of Shoup’s ideas are seen in our new planning code.  However, there remains a lot of work to be done when it comes to educating policymakers and the public about how parking affects our quality of life.

Parking was the topic discussed at this worksession. For those interested, video of this lively session of the Council Land Use and Transportation Committee can be found below:

The first topic for discussion dealt with a provision of the new code that allows for off-site parking. Members of the Council expressed concern that allowing for off-site parking could result in drivers choosing to park on neighborhood streets.  However, no amendments were submitted that would remove this from the code.

There was then a discussion on curb cuts. The main concern here was on clarity and how the curb cut regulations in the zoning code relate to those already in place.

Councilman Jim Kraft had some questions about parking pads. In particular he was concerned about the environmental impact of using concrete as a parking surface.

Next up was an amendment from Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke on land banks.  Under the new code, up to 25% of the land that would otherwise be used to meet parking requirements can be preserved as open space through the site plan review process. The area must be suitable to be used as parking at a future time. Councilwoman Clarke submitted amendments that would make land banking a conditional use subject to approval from the Zoning Board. Councilwoman Clarke said she wanted to make sure the public had was aware of and had a chance to comment on this issue.

Councilwoman Clarke then submitted an amendment that would delete a section referred to as “fee-in-lieu of parking reduction.”  This is discussed by Shoup in his book.  What fee-in-lieu of parking does is allow for a reduction in the number of required parking spaces, provided that money is deposited into a fund that is used for funding alternative means of transportation.  The idea is to reduce demand for parking instead of increasing supply.  The Planning Department agreed with Clarke that this section of the code should be deleted.  They said that, in their discussions with various city agencies, it was concluded that Baltimore was not ready for this yet.

There was then a discussion about a provision of the code that allows for new on-street parking spaces to be counted towards parking requirements in the C-2 and Industrial Mixed Use Districts.  Mary Pat Clarke submitted two amendments.  One amendment would remove Industrial Mixed Use from this category while another would delete the on-street parking provision from the code altogether.  Councilwoman Clarke was vehemently against this provision and referred to it as “nuts.” Representatives from the Planning Department and Parking Authority responded that this part of the code would encourage developers to reduce curb cuts and loading docks, and as a result, encourage the preservation of on-street parking spaces.  They also mentioned this provision protects against there being too much parking.

Councilman Jim Kraft also spoke about this issue. He said that his district has the most parking problems in the city but that, “You can’t keep building a city for cars, you have to build a city for people.”  These words should be very familiar to longtime readers of our website.  He also went on to complain about constituents who live in places like Fells Point and insist on having three cars or large trucks despite living in a narrow rowhouse.

Under the proposed code, properties zoned C-1, C-1-E, and C-5 are exempt from off-street parking requirements.  The first 2,500 square feet of gross commercial floor area for properties zoned C-2 are also exempt.  Councilwoman Clarke submitted amendments that would delete both C-1 and C-2 from this category.

The Planning Department responded that this part of the code helps to keep these neighborhood commercial districts occupied, since there may not be enough space to meet parking requirements. Planning also mentioned that the parking requirement exemptions are supported by all of Baltimore City’s Main Street Associations.  It was also mentioned that the Waverly Main Street is in Councilwoman Clarke’s district. Councilman Kraft mentioned the Highlandtown neighborhood as a community that would benefit from this provision.

Another amendment submitted by Mary Pat Clarke dealt with a section that allows for rowhouses that are built in a row of already existing rowhouses to be exempt from parking requirements.  Her amendment would delete it.  The Planning Department representative said that this portion of the code was mainly to allow for the rebuilding of rowhouses.  Mary Pat Clarke said she was aware of this.  She then responded to Kraft’s earlier comments.  Clarke said she understood Kraft’s concerns and referred to his district as being “overbuilt.” Clarke said she was trying to avoid this kind of situation in her district. The Councilwoman said that while she loved visiting places like Canton, she wouldn’t want to live in a place with that much density. She said that perhaps the solution lies “somewhere between Kraft and Clarke.”

The worksession finished off with amendments from Mary Pat Clarke that would require Zoning Board approval for a reduction in the number of required bicycle parking spaces and would delete fee-in-lieu of short-term bicycle parking from the code.

Parking requirements form an important part of Donald Shoup’s arguments about parking.  His introductory chapter about them is titled “A Great Planning Disaster.” Throughout his book Shoup provides ample evidence that parking requirements are cause for a number of ills that include subsidized car ownership, decreased affordable housing, and a hostile built urban environment.  According to Shoup, everyone pays for free parking but the motorist.

The relaxing of parking requirements are an essential part of the new code.  It is our hope that the Council will pass them.  Doing so will help make Baltimore a more livable city for everyone.

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Gregory Friedman

Gregory Friedman

This article was written by Gregory Friedman. Click here to meet our writing team.
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