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St. Louis Zoning Needs Maximum Parking Requirements Instead of Minimums

March 25, 2014 Downtown, Featured, Parking, Politics/Policy 39 Comments

A few months ago a reader sent me an article about a trend toward new residential buildings constructed without parking:

A wave of new residential construction projects in places like Seattle, Boston, and Miami are showing that, yes, modern American cities can build housing without any car parking on site. (Real Estate Trend: Parking-Free Apartment Buildings)

It wasn’t surprising to me to see this in cities that value the pedestrian and support public transit by actually using it. Here only a few of us value pedestrians, use public transit. Bankers wanted condos/apartments to have more than one parking space per unit, requiring a minimum of a 1:1 ratio. For example, a 100-unit project couldn’t have 80-90 spaces, it needed at least 100 to get financing.

In Dcember Boston approved a new project with zero resident parking, raising eyebrows even there:

Recall that in September developer Related Beal asked for the BRA to approve a revised plan for the residential component of Lovejoy Wharf: 175 condos instead of a few hundred apartments; and, please, let us eliminate the 315-space garage. The developers’ logic? There’s so much public transit nearby and the project’s smackdab in one of the nation’s most walkable (and bikable) cities that it’s sheer cloud cuckoo land to follow the Boston regs of at least one parking spot for every two housing units. (No Parking: Boston Green-Lights Car-Less Condo)

One space for every two units? St. Louis doesn’t have any parking requirements downtown, but lenders mandate one space per unit. Outside of downtown at least one space per unit is required. What we need to do in places like downtown, around near light rail stations & bus transfer centers, is have maximum parking requirements, rather than minimums. I’d set the maximum pretty high initially, like 0.8/0.9 spaces per unit.  It could be set to automatically lower over the next 20-25 years, ending up at say one parking space for every two units.

Currently when most people rent an apartment, or buy a condo, they get a parking space included. Of course, parking isn’t free, but the cost isn’t clear to the consumer when it is bundled. Just the act of charging a separate fee will cause the end user to begin to evaluate/question car ownership. Instead of $800/month the apartment might be $750/mo with parking at $50/mo.

A few downtown buildings do this, one just reopened. CityParc is one of six 1950s buildings originally part of the urban renewal project called Plaza Square.

This outdoor space is built on top of a parking garage attached to CityParc, click image for website.
This outdoor space is built on top of a parking garage attached to CityParc, click image for website.

This is the only one of the six with garage parking, but even that isn’t enough for one space per unit. Public policy has an impact on outcomes, require minimum parking you’ll get more than necessary and fewer pedestrians.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "39 comments" on this Article:

  1. Eric4364 says:

    There should be neither minimums nor maximums. Let city residents decide what they want. If they want to pay extra to have parking, let them. If they don’t want to waste tens of thousands on a parking spot they won’t use, give them that option too. The impulse to control people’s behavior is wrong whether it comes from the right or the left.

    • It’s not about controlling behavior, it’s about not letting bankers determine how our city is designed and functions. That is wrong!

      • Eric4364 says:

        Sorry Steve, there is no secret conspiracy by “bankers” to prevent people without cars from preferring cheaper parking-free apartments.

        • You’re right, St. Louis’ bankers don’t collude in a smoke-filled boardroom saying “too many people are living in multi-family housing and using transit with couples sharing one car! We must find a way to end this trend.”
          However, they’re from the 1+ car per adult living in a single-family detached home crowd and fail to grasp that not everyone wanted to drive every where. They tell developers they’d prefer one space per occupant, but settle for one per unit.

          • Eric4364 says:

            And there is also no secret conspiracy to prevent non-“bankers” from investing in parking-free apartments. All it takes is one investor, and if this is such an important need then they’d make tons of money and people would follow them.

  2. Fozzie says:

    People. Like. Their. Cars. No developer will suppress parking to alienate a large group of potential buyers.

    Unlike this blog, market factors actually matter in the real world.

    • It’s developers that tell me they’re forced by zoning or bankers to include more parking than they’d like, making the balance sheet worse because of more parking than necessary.

      • Fozzie says:

        Bankers — who actually deal in money and who are in business to see a return on their investment.

        • If developers had listened to local banks, Union Station would still be vacant — or razed. Bankers don’t always know what’s best for the community.

          • samizdat says:

            As is said about economists (especially the ideologue conservative variety), bankers know the cost of everything, and the value of nothing.

          • Eric4364 says:

            Ah yes? And how did Union Station do after that renovation?

            “Union Station thrived for several years as a novelty, but soon its only regulars were post-office workers grabbing a quick lunch at the food court and tourists charmed by the gusty singing at The Fudgery.”

            Sounds like the developers were right – Union Station doesn’t have economic value. Maybe the government or nonprofits would like to subsidize its existence because of its historic value. Maybe not. But demanding that an individual pay for Union Station out of their pocket is ridiculous. Let’s be glad that Steve does not have any power, because the world has seen enough of well-intentioned dictators imposing their views on other people.

          • A highly short-sided view. The retail was a failure, following the suburban mall formula. However, the hotels have succeeded for the last 29 years. Many have been employed as a result. Had the building remained vacant or been razed that economic activity wouldn’t have happened.

        • Adam says:

          and therefore bankers should make all decisions–even ones they’re not qualified to make.

          • moe says:

            There are a lot of people that think they are experts and in reality, are not. Be it urban planning, ADA compliance, architecture, etc.

          • Adam says:

            True. In this case I would expect that developers have more expertise than bankers. And those who study comparative urban planning probably have more expertise than either.

          • JZ71 says:

            They may have the expertise from book learning, but how much experience do they have from the School of Hard Knocks? Can the academic study of past successes and failures adequately prepare anyone to predict future outcomes with a high degree of accuracy?

          • gmichaud says:

            Well actually yes, study of current and past successes and failures can predict future outcomes with a high degree of accuracy. That’s what city builders have been doing for 1000’s of years.

          • wump says:


  3. Greg says:

    While public transit in St. Louis is an option, it is not a viable one for most people. As someone who does not work full-time and lives in downtown, you’re perspective does not match that of most people. At my previous job, I had the option of a 25 minute drive vs. a 1 hour 40 minute trip via public transit. At my new job, I have the choice of a 15 minute drive vs. 45 minutes via public transit. None of these places are in the boonies… I live on the near south side and my work locations were in Creve Coeur and Clayton.

    It is fine to do away with minimum parking requirements but to set a maximum — at under 1 space per unit– is only going to drive away potential developers and residents.

    • The maximum of less than one space per unit would be in areas where higher density is desired and transit is common, like the city’s central corridor running from downtown to the CWE.

      • JZ71 says:

        There are two parts to the transit equation, origin and destination. Transit outside the city limits is laughable, at best, or no-existent, at worst. Unfortunately, outside the city limits is where the majority of the jobs are in our region. While we have some choice in where we live, most of us hove no choice in where our employers choose to locate nor in who will hire us.

        Your argument on parking ratios actually makes more sense on the commercial side than on the residential side. Individuals can drive to a suburban park-and-ride and take transit to work (instead of the other way around).

        Finally, given the ability to apply for zoning variances, if any requirement creates a “burden”, it can usually be “resolved” / negotiated, and it doesn’t matter if it’s minimums or maximums. The reason we have parking minimums are the external effects – if enough parking is not provided, on site, it occurs off site, impacting other residents and businesses. If you owned a car and couldn’t find a convenient place to park it, you’d have a different perspective.

        • It makes sense for residential, here’s why. Couples living in dense/walkable ares like the central corridor can easily get by with owning just one car if one works nearby.
          The majority of jobs in an aggregate sense are outside the core simply because the core is such a tiny size. The biggest concentration of jobs in the region remains in downtown St. Louis.
          Clayton also has an excellent concentration of jobs and is easily reached via transit from the central corridor.

          • Eric4364 says:

            “Clayton also has an excellent concentration of jobs and is easily reached via transit from the central corridor.”

            But people don’t reach Clayton by transit. Its ridership ranks 24th out of 37 Metrolink stations. Given how dense it is, that’s atrocious.

          • You do realize MetroBus does into Clayton, right? I took the #97 there from downtown because it was easier for me on both ends.

          • Eric4364 says:

            Ah yes, the 97 bus which runs once every half hour in rush hour. Not too many people are taking that either.

          • I ride the 97 frequently, it’s often full. Just because it doesn’t run every 10 minutes doesn’t mean people have other options.

          • JZ71 says:

            The busiest Metrolink station is neither downtown nor in Clayton, it’s the CWE station, in the heart of the medical campus.

            As for the argument that a couple “can easily get by with owning one car” depends on two big “IF’s”, IF the job is nearby and IF you don’t need a car to do your job, as in visiting clients or making meetings offsite.

            You can argue concentration all you want, but you also acknowledge the cores’ tiny sizes. I’ve lived here for a decade, now, and never have been able to use transit to get to any one of the multiple jobs I’ve held. Driving is the best option for accessing most destinations in the area. That may suck, but it’s reality, and as long as it’s a reality, parking lots and structures will remain an unfortunate part of our urban fabric. You gotta fix the transit side of the equation before most people will consider giving up their personal vehicles!

          • Yes, the CWE station is the busiest light t=rail station. Part of the dense central corridor. Dense in terns of both housing and jobs.
            The Grand corridor has the #70 MetroBus route, the busiest bus line in the region, Both have been getting denser in my 23+ years in St. Louis. Both good candidates for an overlay that flips the standard from minimums to maximums.

        • Zoning is a mechanism for communities to codify their desired outcomes, with variances issued to allow for exceptions at times. Our zoning remains the desires from the 1940s (tons of free parking!), as envisioned by a man born in the late 19th century.

      • Greg says:

        But simply because transit is common in an area does not mean that a resident of that area will only travel to those places which transit can take them. I used to work downtown… I’d love to work there again. Unfortunately, not all jobs are located there.

        • If someone decides to live in the central corridor they likely do so because 1) they like the dense/walkable urban life and/or 2) they work nearby.
          They should have the option to NOT pay for parking with their rent/mortgage.

          • JZ71 says:

            They already do “have the option” – there are many, many existing buildings that either do not have parking or charge extra for it. It’s no different than having a pool, a workout room or a doorman – if it’s an amenity a particular building provides that you don’t plan on using, yet you really like the building, you can either negotiate the cost or accept that you’ll be paying for something you’ll never use.

            Zoning isn’t so much about what any individual building provides (or doesn’t provide), it’s about the building (and its uses) and its impacts on its neighbors. Yes, any parking requirement imposes a cost on development, but so do requirements for setbacks, materials, energy efficiency or limitations on uses. No urban building exists in a vacuum, and that’s why we have (and need) zoning. I support parking minimums, tied to intended densities, but let the market decide the maximum provided.

          • You don’t get it, our minimums were set in the 1940s. They’ve altered/exceeded the market demand for years.

          • JZ71 says:

            Read what I said – adjust the minimums to reflect the density that you / we, as a community, want. Yes, there are areas in the city where the minimums may be too high (there may also be areas where the minimums are too low, as well). My objection is trying to change behaviors by implementing maximums (the subject of today’s post). Dense, urban, walkable areas have limited, expensive parking because land is expensive and because frequent transit gives people options, not because some bureaucrat or politician looked in their crystal ball and said X is the right answer! Developers don’t build parking because they love parking, they build parking because they think they can make (more) money, by selling or renting it!

  4. mark says:

    I have no issue with requiring parking or not as long as the city starts charging for street parking and all of the spaces are not continually being taken up be people parking for free. As city density grows and parking becomes more limited, it will likely get more expensive, which in turn will make parking spaces more valuable. Developers know that parking spaces make their properties more valuable and properties without parking are much harder to sell. Currently in St. Louis there is an over abundance of cheap or free parking but as more developments occur even a 1:1 ratio of parking won’t alleviate the need for additional space.

  5. Your last point nails it, Steve. Say, for instance, a 150-unit building has 65 interior parking spaces.

    Separate the rental cost for an apartment from the rental cost of a parking space and let the market take care of itself. Those who just HAVE to have on-site parking will gladly pay a premium — probably more than $100 bucks per month. Some will gladly get a monthly pass for cheaper at a garage down the street and opt to walk a bit to/from. And some will just flat out decide to not have a car and use that $100+ “savings” for other purposes.

    In this way, you’re not overbuilding parking for individual buildings, you’re utilizing existing parking which is largely vacant off-hours, and encouraging everyone to give deeper consideration to how much a car means to them, and forcing them to rationalize a real-cost value for that choice.

    Having a parking space for your car is not an unalienable right. It’s silly for our City to mandate it as such.

    • JZ71 says:

      The mandate is there to protect the neighbors, not to protect the buyers or renters from making poor decisions!

  6. Todd Spangler says:

    I think the reality is that apartments or condos with at least a perceived lack of sufficient parking do not have the same market value as those with an adequate amount, and this tends to be reflected in the rent and/or selling price of the unit. Bankers are only trying to protect their investments, as are developers. The condo unit identical to and underneath mine was just bought at an unbelievably low price last year, and I think part of the reason is that no parking space was included with the unit. At least some portion of the group of people including myself who rarely drive sometimes occasionally find themselves in need of automobile transportation (such as needing to buy or move something heavy or bulky). To me, a dwelling unit not including a reasonably convenient and secure parking spot just doesn’t have any value; although, I have certainly heard the sentiment you express voiced in other areas I’ve lived in or am familiar with, such as the East Side of Milwaukee.

    • A parking spot can easily add $30,000 to the sale price of a downtown condo jn St. Louis. I’m advocating a change so that walking & transit becomes equally important and valued.

      Keeping the status quo will continue the expectation of parking everywhere; keeping land values low, inhibiting more dense development, improved transit, pushing youth to other cities.


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