New city rule could slash Downtown parking

June 6, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Zach Campbell
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Downtown Brooklyn might soon see a change the zoning code that would decrease the amount of residential off-street parking by more than half.

Current zoning for Downtown requires that developers build four parking spots for every ten market-rate residential units, and a little more than half that for affordable units. The zoning regulation has been described by some local developers as expensive, archaic and unrepresentative of car ownership in Brooklyn, pointing to underutilized downtown garages on Myrtle and Flatbush avenues as examples.

The amendment, proposed by the Department of City Planning, would eliminate the parking requirement for affordable housing units, and halve the requirement for market-rate units. By changing the zoning regulations, city planners seek to prevent the creation of garages that will be underutilized, and to encourage the development of residential housing that reflects how Brooklyn moves.

Developers building residential units in New York City are required to include certain amounts of parking in their plans. In Brooklyn, the average requirement is 40 percent.

“The zoning code has been a one-size-fits-all requirement,” said Tim King, managing partner at CPEX real estate. “People who choose to live in Downtown Brooklyn rely more on mass transit.”

Downtown is the center of Brooklyn's bus network, and sits at the intersection of 13 subway lines.

According to Census Bureau data, 20 percent of Downtown households own cars, compared to just over 40 percent borough-wide. Confusing this statistic is the number of people with cars registered out of state. The Department of Transportation found in a study from 2008 that approximately one in five cars in certain Brooklyn neighborhoods was registered outside New York.

Supporters of the proposed change see it as something that could incentivize the building of more affordable housing. Dropping the parking requirement for the affordable units would reduce costs for developers, many of whom receive city subsidies for pricing one-fifth of residential units in a new building as below market rate.

The proposal is being supported by City Councilmembers Steve Levin and Letitia James.

“By making the development of these units lest costly, we increase the incentive to build much-needed affordable housing,” said James.

Parking reform in Downtown Brooklyn is more nuanced than other parts of the city, explained Chris Havens, a broker or Creative Real Estate Group. According to Havens, the garages on the west side of Downtown, along Court and Livingston streets, are likely to see more use as the neighborhood develops. On the east side, he added, many garages are, and will likely continue to be, underutilized.

“People don't want cars in Downtown Brooklyn,” Havens said. “This is the most connected transport area there is they want public transit and bicycles.”

Because of these types of requirements, developers are likely to build more parking than is necessary, according to a report released last March by NYU's center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, pointing to links between denser neighborhoods and many more transit options. The study also suggests that, with fewer regulations, developers would likely build less parking and more housing, according to need.

“Parking requirements may encourage more car ownership if they force developers to build more spaces than residents in the new building would otherwise demand,” reads the study, which also points to a large increase in commuting by car in past decades. Car ownersihip, it argues, is encouraged by the lower price of car ownership that comes from creating extra parking.

Brooklyn Community Board 2 and the borough president have 60 days to hold a public hearing on the issue, before it goes to vote in the city planning commission and the City Council.

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