Thursday, December 2, 2010

Minimum parking requirments for 4-pack and 6-pack townhouses?

Gordon Price is one of the most prominent urban thinkers in this city, and I am always interested to see the latest posts on his blog pricetags. Today, it's an item about a recent decision in Seattle to reduce parking requirements for new townhouses in certain neighbourhoods in Seattle, covering about 8% of the city. The goal is to deter the development of 'four packs' and 'six-packs' which is the somewhat derogatory term used to describe higher density townhouses that are often built as infill developments on 50 and 60 foot lots.

The homes are usually built in two rows, one fronting the street, and one fronting the lane. In between is an 'auto-court' that leads to garages under the units. Sometimes the units have their principal entrances off the 'auto-court'. While the area between the units can be quite tight, and the 'auto-court' can be bleak, the concept is clever, in that it allows townhouses to be built on small lots in an incremental fashion.

A few weeks ago I went to Seattle to explore neighbourhoods offering this form of development. I took some photos which I shared with a few people around Vancouver. However, Gordon's post has prompted me to post a few photos here. There is no doubt that eliminating the parking requirements will significantly improve the design of these projects; however I can understand why many Vancouver neighbourhoods would not support zero parking....although with suitable design, I think they might support some four-pack and six-pack projects with appropriate design.
Here is another project that is not as attractive from the street, but does have a better courtyard character.While I have been advocating for years that we should consider making our minimum parking standards the maximum standards, I am the first to admit that completely eliminating parking requirements for townhouse developments may be going a bit too far, too quickly. That being said, I do support eliminating parking (except for visitor requirements) for some very well located apartment projects, if a developer is willing to take on the market challenge. After all, eliminating underground parking in a dense urban centre can save $50,000 from the cost of building a small apartment.

Now, as for the four-packs and six-packs, I am actively looking for a Metro Vancouver site where I might be able to design and develop an improved 'Vancouver version' of this form of townhouse infill project as a 'demonstration project'. With improved design, I think it would be an excellent housing choice for those wanting a ground oriented form of development, at a price comparable to an apartment.

So if you know of, or have a 50 or 60 foot lot for sale in an area that might be suitable for rezoning, just let me know. I'll be happy to buy the property, or partner with someone interested in rezoning and redevelopment, and possibly moving into one of the units, and/or keeping one or more as a future investment. I can always be reached at geller@sfu.ca.

15 comments:

Ralph Tieleman said...

some condos in Toronto have zero parking and work quite well....shopping close by and transit stops on the same block

D said...

Michael,

Thanks for sharing; I've also recently read about Seattle's revisions to their low-rise multi-unit residential zones and have been pleased to see that they're backing off on the minimum parking requirement.

Could you elaborate more on why you don't think that would work in Vancouver? From what I understand, transit options and traffic are both worse in Seattle than here, and car ownership in general tends to be higher in the States compared with Canada. This suggests to me that if Seattle can do it, surely Vancouver can.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts, from a developer's perspective on Vancouver's current minimum off-street parking requirements. Do you think that these types of projects are marketable without off-street parking? Do you think that not having the off-street parking could improve design flexibility and offer more affordable options?

At any rate, I'm curious why we don't just leave parking to the market and deal with any spillover problems through parking permits or other charges for curb parking where demand exceeds supply.

Thanks for posting and for your time.

-D

Tessa said...

I live in a duplex right now, we have a parking area at the back, but nobody in the home drives and so we're wondering what else we can do with it. Frankly, having a garage might make me less interested in living in a home, in particular if I have to pay for it. It adds up to pretty expensive storage.

There's a lot of people who are in a similar position, I'm sure, and there's already a number of homes in Vancouver without any parking, often apartments dating back to before motordom's dominance.

Relating to Seattle's "six-pack" developments, I've seen a lot of other pictures, though not in person, and found most of them to be extraordinarily ugly. The biggest problem I've seen with them has generally been the auto-courts, but also because they tend to bulk out at the top of the building, and overall tend to look like a big box form of housing. It's not the same as traditional row-houses or townhouses at all, in my experience. This blog has some great pictures and talks about a lot of the problems, if anyone is interested: http://seattleurbanism.blogspot.com/2009/10/townhouses-part-2-problem.html

I'd be curious to see how you would address some of those problems, and hopeful that they would in fact be addressed, if you are going to be bring this type of housing to Vancouver.

Michael Geller said...

Good comments....with respect to parking reductions, while Vancouver Council and staff might be supportive of further reductions, I suspect most neighbours would be concerned. I am certainly finding this in West Vancouver where there is a concern with 12 parking spaces for 9 units.

That being said, I agree with the comment that we should let the marketplace have a greater say in how much parking is provided for buyers/renters, although I do think it is important to genrally provide visitor parking.

Re: 6 packs...yes, they are often quite ugly, but need not be...it's a question of just how much density one is trying to squeeze onto the site. But I like the concept, and think it can be made to work. Michael

Tessa said...

Absolutely, I expect they could be done better, as long as they don't have the upper floors bulge outwards like the ones in Seattle so often do, and so long as they're designed well. I just don't know if the codes allow for that and for the project to be still viable. My understanding is that's what Seattle is trying to fix right now, with many more changes that flew under the radar with Gordon Price's post.

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