Downtown Brooklyn’s mandatory parking minimums would be cut in half for new development and eliminated outright for affordable housing under a plan from the Department of City Planning. The change is significant — the first rollback of the costly and car-ownership inducing requirements under the Bloomberg administration — but doesn’t go far enough. Even by DCP’s own roundabout admission, the reduced parking minimums will still create an unnecessarily large supply of parking.
Currently, zoning for the city’s third-largest business district requires a 40 percent parking ratio for market-rate housing units (i.e. four parking spots for every 10 apartments) and 25 percent for affordable housing. The DCP plan would drop the market-rate ratio to 20 percent and eliminate the requirement for affordable housing. There are currently no parking minimums in the area for commercial buildings and no parking minimums on any development along a designated stretch of Atlantic Avenue.
“Our goal is to rationalize parking requirements for Downtown Brooklyn, recognizing that it has some of the best transit infrastructure and one of lowest rates of auto ownership in New York City,” said DCP Director Amanda Burden. “Our new Downtown Brooklyn Off-Street Parking rules will better allocate parking where it is needed while removing the financial burden of having to provide parking for affordable housing.”
The reforms are badly needed in Downtown Brooklyn, which DCP senior planner Lish Whitson noted boasts “some of the best transit infrastructure in the country.” Residential developments simply don’t use the amount of parking they are being required to build. Existing garages in the area are only half full on the weekend and 40 percent filled during the evenings, according to data provided by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.
“There’s an oversupply right now,” Burden said.
In his presentation to the planning commission, Whitson singled out one building to illustrate how the new rules would work. The Avalon Fort Greene has 631 rental units and was required by law to provide 252 new parking spaces along with them. During the evenings, DCP found, only 88 of those spaces are filled. Each parking space in the area costs $50,000 to build, Whitson said. When the spaces sit empty, or when garages have to drop their prices to attract customers, he noted, “those costs are passed on to the residents of the buildings, most of whom don’t own cars.”
But at 20 percent, the proposed parking minimums are still too high for the area. At the Avalon, Whitson admitted that the new minimums would have required 126 spaces to be built, a number that is still 50 percent higher than what the building currently rents out.
Why, then, mandate such a high number? More than one planning commissioner wondered the same thing.