Almost What We Don’t Build Anymore

This is the Opal Condominiums at 16th and Pike, just a few blocks south of the older two-story apartment in discussed in this post. It has some obvious similarities. Why, in this case, did the developer not go with a townhouse 4-pack?

The Opal is three stories, with six units and underground parking (the parking entrance is off Pike at the south end of the building). My guess at why this project was feasible: the units are high-end and there is a small number of them. The selling price of the units was apparently high enough to offset the cost of building the underground structured parking. The slope of the site also helped. And with only six units, the number of stalls, and thus the parking area could be kept relatively small.

The Opal replaced a funky, 2-story early 20th-century house that was split up into four apartments. Rent was absurdly cheap — I know cause I lived there for a year in 1995. It had a shack of a garage off the alley that was mostly full of the owner’s junk. The residents parked on the street.

As this example demonstrates, the City’s parking requirement all but makes it inevitable that on small lots, developers will build low numbers of expensive units rather than higher numbers of affordable units. The proposed development at 1126 34th Ave in Madrona is another example. If expensive urban land is used to store cars, someone has to pay.

Requiring parking is in direct conflict with at least three of the City’s key sustainability goals: to provide affordable housing, to increase density, and to reduce car-dependence. Seattle residents who howl about parking whenever new development is proposed might do well to think a little more deeply about the big picture. If and when their constituents become more rational about parking, the City leaders will follow.

5 Responses to “Almost What We Don’t Build Anymore”

  1. Dave

    Can’t we park all these cars on I-5 like LA does on the santa monica highway?

  2. Josh Mahar

    Has there been any legislation attempts to reform this anachronistic law?
    Seems like something that Likata or Conlin would be all over. You make an incredibly good argument for affordable housing here. Perhaps you could even get McIver and Rasmussen in on it.

  3. citruspastels

    I think the main argument is that by not building parking, instead of attracting residents that don’t have cars, they just park their cars elsewhere in the neighborhood. And unfortunately it’s not just the cars from the units, but also friends and family who come to visit.

    Right now I am OK with required parking. For many, many people this is an essential item. However, this setup does discourage the ostentatious 2-3 cars you see out in the ‘burbs. Of course, as long as the building is served by excellent mass transit and/or is a mixed-use neighborhood there will be minimal car driving anyway.

  4. Steve

    I believe there was a recent reform to create some zones where there isn’t a parking minimum (Plymouth’s low-income project at First and Ceder is taking advantage of this, for instance), but I don’t think it extends to low-rise zones anywhere.

    As an aside, I bet the 4-unit apartment danb used to live in at this site didn’t have 4 units of parking on-site and I believe that if someone were currently dividing a similar house now, they’d be required to provide new parking so there was at least one space per unit. I’d much rather fix that (so conversions of existing buildings don’t require new parking) than fix the new construction code — new construction requires loans, and lenders often require parking anyway.

  5. Chris Stefan

    See the Pearl district in Portland for an example of the kind of development that can happen without silly suburban style parking requirements.

    BTW the Seattle parking requirements are based on what was recommended for suburban cities back in the late 80’s. They are completely out of step with urban land values, good urban design, transit oriented development and $130/barrel oil.

    Seattle needs to do a 180 on parking. Let the market dictate the amount of parking any project will have on-site. In some parts of the city where you want to discourage cars and car oriented land use place a tax on parking. Large surface lots should be taxed out of existence within the city limits.

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