Center City parking requirements: How low can (and should) you go?

If the developers of a proposed residential/commercial mixed-use project have their way, the parking spaces in this Sansom Street lot will disappear forever. It's the wave of the future, according to a recent research report.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) recently released an interesting report “Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People Are Driving Less and What It Means for Transportation Policy” that studies what appears to be a shift in automobile consumer behavior by those traditionally most intent to drive – 16- to 34-year-olds.  From the report:

By 2011, the average American was driving 6 percent fewer miles per year than in 2004.

The trend away from driving has been led by young people.

From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (16- to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita – a drop of 23 percent.

The report also provides remarks on the future of federal transportation policy:

Policy-makers and the public need to be aware that America’s current transportation policy – dominated by road building – is fundamentally out-of-step with the transportation patterns and expressed preferences of growing numbers of Americans.

This trend is relevant to Center City, considering the area holds twice the national average of residents ages 25-34 and 38% of residents already walk to work.  As more young people move to Center City, new residential development is inevitable, and like the federal transportation policy, Philly’s zoning code must be in step with consumer demands.  Unfortunately, as it stands today, this is not entirely the case.  Despite the positive steps the City has taken with its recent zoning code overhaul, certain issues still abound.  Specifically, zoning districts CMX-4/5, zones that cover the majority of Center City west of 7th Street, will still mandate developers to provide three spaces for every 10 units of residential development. There is a ‘Center City overlay district’ that might overrule these regulations in certain circumstances, but that remains unclear.

On the flip side, rumors surrounding a potential new project on the 1600 block of Sansom Street do reflect the PIRG’s report on young people’s transit habits.  Apparently a new nine-story building will be constructed here featuring ground floor retail, 122 residential units, and zero parking spaces.  Yes, zero!  There is a public hearing on this project in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment on April 18, so it is likely the developer will do some hoop jumping to get the go-ahead.  (One hoop the developer has already cleared is that of getting a green light from the local civic group; the Center City Residents’ Association voted not to oppose the variance request at its March zoning committee meeting.) And this is unfortunate: the City needs to embrace the changing habits of young residents moving to and buying homes in Center City and remove most, maybe all, residential parking minimums in this transit-rich part of town.

-By Greg Meckstroth for PhiladelphiaRealEstate.com