I attended a brief training class on Return on Investment (ROI) software developed by Fregonese Associates. The system allows you to evaluate the economic viability of a proposed development by specifying a variety of factors affecting the cost of development and the potential revenue (from leasing or selling units). Some of those parameters are derived from the parking requirements in the City of Tulsa’s zoning code. It’s quickly apparent that our high minimum parking requirements act as a barrier to new commercial development.
City code requires restaurants to have 1 parking spot for every 100 sf for the first 2,500 sf, and 1 spot for every 75 sf over that. This means that Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, had it built on a suburban greenfield, would have needed 30 parking spots to comply with code.
It has 13.
And — surprise! — thirteen is enough most of the time. Most mornings there is at least one empty spot to the side of the shop. Some mornings there is not, but even then I manage to get my coffee. I park on Lee Barton Drive. Or I park in the Taco Bell parking lot next door — which is no big deal since Taco Bell lets CBTL use its parking lot before 10 a.m. I doubt CBTL loses any business because it is “short” 17 parking spots.
And flexibility is what is needed:
Businesses want their customers to have a place to park. Sometimes they might prefer to provide another 2,000 sf of asphalt. Sometimes, though, they might prefer to find space elsewhere that is not being used. The asphalt on Lee Barton Drive, rather than lying empty, is now being used productively. Taco Bell’s asphalt, rather than lying empty before lunch time, is now being used more productively. CBTL avoided pouring a bunch of concrete that would have lain empty 23 out of every 24 hours. Each square foot of asphalt provides more value now than before. And that’s all because CBTL was allowed to figure out an informal solution to its “shortage” of parking.
Austin is seriously crowded these days, with 750,000 people in an area half the size of Oklahoma City, but I don’t remember having any problems parking at neighborhood establishments last time I was there (summer of ’08).
“A shopping center will have 10 different uses, and the zoning code looks at each use individually and applies the parking requirement on the assumption that each use could need its minimum parking at the same time… When it comes to parking, we look at every piece of property as if it’s on an island.”
This is simply not feasible for infill development, in Tulsa or anywhere else.
I suspect that at the heart of most such ordinances is the belief — supported by ample visual evidence, alas — that most people can’t parallel-park worth a damn. It’s time we learned. Oklahoma City is planning to double the amount of curbside parking in the Central Business District, which beats the hell out of adding a bunch of little asphalt islands scattered hither and yon, even if you do have to feed a meter once in a while.