The city is trying to spur development and reduce car use

Parking spaces and the housing crisis may not intuitively go together for people who are not working in the development world. But as those inside know, building land and garages for people to park their vehicles is an integral part of any project.

For some Burlington developers, the parking requirements put in place by the city have been a barrier to housing construction, something most Burlington residents agree the community desperately needs. A proposed City Council ordinance to be voted on Monday aims to eliminate citywide minimum parking requirements and expand transportation demand management requirements for two reasons: to encourage developers to build more housing and to change car use to reduce fossil fuels. emissions.

While some back the shift in a bid for a future with fewer cars and more affordable housing, others wonder if the need for parking will ever disappear.

What the order will do

The elimination of minimum parking requirements has been in place in some parts of the city for a few years. The ordinance on the table would extend the elimination to the entire city.

Megan Tuttle, director of Burlington’s planning department, said in an email that her department is monitoring the effects of eliminating parking minimums for the aforementioned areas of the city and has seen an overall reduction of 15% in 2021. compared to parking built over what would have been required with previous minimums. She said every project was different, however, some were building considerably less than past minimums would have allowed and some were building around the same amount they were required to build.

Ward 5 councilman Ben Traverse is in favor of the ordinance. Traverse said the general consensus was that developers were building too much parking lot than they needed with the minimums the city had in place.

“We’ve heard from many developers that one of the barriers to developing more housing is the requirements we have imposed to have enough on-site parking for these buildings,” he said. declared. “I’m hopeful that lifting these minimum parking standards will help solve the problem.”

Traverse also acknowledged that Burlington is a car-dependent society, hence the need for parking, but he believes the society needs to be given a little nudge towards less car use.

“I think we have to plan and develop for the future and not for today,” he said.

Joan Shannon, councilor for the southern district, is concerned about the elimination of minimums. She is not convinced that car use will decline in the future and sees parking as essential, even though bicycles and other modes of transport are used more. Shannon said she knew Afghan refugees in Burlington and their top priority was to buy a car.

“They lived without a car, and they’re like, you can’t get around here without a car,” she said. “Our society and our culture were created around the car and not to recognize it is just a denial of reality.”

Will there be enough parking?

Eric Farrell, a local developer of housing including the Cambrian Rise neighborhood in the New North End, doesn’t like the city’s pressure to cut parking lot construction across the city. In addition to getting rid of parking minimums, the city implemented new maximums for the amount of parking lots developers could build two years ago. He thinks his developments in Cambrian Rise require more parking than downtown apartments due to the suburban nature of the neighborhood and thinks developers should be trusted to build the amount of parking they need.

“I’m not going to build more than I need, and I’m not going to build less than I need,” Farrell said. “You have to let me build what I consider to be market demand.”

The maximum amounts of off-street parking developers can build depends on the City of Burlington area. The densest areas of the city are limited to one space per unit in an apartment building and two per unit for a single family home or duplex. In the other districts of the city, developers are limited to 2 or 3 places per dwelling. Farrell worries the maximums won’t meet market demand for parking. He must prove that he has sufficient parking to the appraisers in order to obtain a loan to build.

Tuttle said the city is looking at that concern and the market demand for the area. She also said developers can still request a waiver from city parking limits if they feel their project deserves an exception, a process a handful of developers went through in the past year.

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Transportation demand management includes many strategies to reduce car use, including creating more cycling infrastructure such as this bike path pictured on North Avenue.  The proposed ordinance would extend transportation demand management to the entire city.

What is Transportation Demand Management?

In addition to removing the minimums, passing the ordinance would extend the city’s transportation demand management program to the entire city instead of just the densest parts.

Vermonters produce more greenhouse gas emissions from transportation than from any other category, including electricity generation and heating fuel according to the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. Transportation demand management is a set of strategies to reduce the demand for parking, car ownership and use, and increase public transit and non-motorized travel in accordance with the Comprehensive Development Ordinance of Burlington.

Under current rules, residential and commercial developments of 10 or more units or 15,000 square feet or more in a predominantly downtown zoning district must follow the guidelines outlined in the Transportation Demand Management Plan. . These requirements include educating renters about public transit and car-sharing opportunities, providing free two-year car-sharing memberships and one-year public transit passes to renters, and the completion of an annual study on the use of parking which is reported to the city. Developers must also separate the price of parking from the rent. If the Table Ordinance is passed, subdivisions of five units or less are also subject to parking unbundling from rent.

Traverse said the hope is that with less parking and a bigger push for public transit, car sharing, cycling and walking, demand will increase for better transit services and infrastructure, and more funding will follow.

“Public transit needs to improve here and car-sharing membership could always be expanded and increased, Traverse said. “Hopefully we will create more demand for it.”

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Wiley C. Thompson