Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tying Vision to Process

Today's Trib has a story about the upcoming open houses for the Wasatch Vision 2040 process, conducted by Envision Utah. The Vision 2040 process is the first step in updating the long range transportation plan for the Wasatch Front and Mountainland Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). These bodies are required to have in place adopted long-range plans in order for us to receive federal transpotation dollars.

The Wasatch Vision 2040 process is the first formalized attempt at several things -- tying land use and transportation together, using a vision process in the long range transportation plan (LRTP) for the region, and the first time these two MPOs have co-operatively worked toward updates of their LRTPs. So for many reasons, this is a landmark effort.

I have been part of the working group that has been guiding and fostering this process, and it has been a great group of people to work with. For once, we will actually see the realization of long-range planning efforts in the selection and funding of transportation projects for our metro area.

I am a believer in the concepts expressed in Alex Marshall's book, How Cities Work. Marshall writes, "transportation is the most visible and active (factor) in shaping a place. It's a simple rule: how we get around determines how we live. But it's a rule we still haven't grasped. Transportation determines the form of our places.

"...a city's internal transportation system -- the layout of its streets and roads, the layout of streetcar systems and subways -- determines the character of the city, how its citizens live and work. ... Build subways and people will live in dense neighborhoods and walk to corner stores; build broad suburban boulevards and they will live in subdivisions and drive to Wal-Mart. The choice is a matter of taste, as expressed through political decisions, more than economics."

So -- if we want to make a difference in how the Wasatch Front region develops and grows, if we want to change its character, if we want all the things that Envision Utah put forward as part of its vision and plans a few years ago -- we can be most effective in the transportation systems we plan and build, according to this view.

And making a difference in what transportation systems we build starts right now, with the Wasatch 2040 Vision. So get thee to one of the four open houses planned over the next few weeks, and have some input! It may be the best comprehensive regional planning we can do.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Utah's Pioneer Planners!

Over the Pioneer Day holiday weekend, both the DesNews and Trib ran opinion pieces about planning and the foresight by the pioneer leaders in laying out our towns and communities.

The DesNews piece talked more about the current housing and population boom, with rising costs for housing, and subsequent lack of open space and the ability of communtieis to keep up with community services as growth races on.

The Trib called those involved in the Envision Utah planning effort, and the push for walkable communities and critical land preservation as today's pioneer-like vision of the future.

Either way, both put in a positive plug for planning and planners.

Friday, July 22, 2005

To Get Commuter Rail (or Transit in General), You've Got to Put Up

There were a couple of interesting items about transit on the blogs of two Utah legislators last week -- one by Jeff Alexander, majority leader in the House, and the other by Rep. John Dougall, who is on the transportation task force.

Both are also from Utah County, and they took UTA and John Inglish to task for saying Utah County needs to decide if it wants to have help from transit as part of its overall transportation infrastructure. Utah County politicians have not been particularly warm toward transit, in part because they seem to have some problems with UTA as an organization, the way it is run and what it is doing.

Alexander and Dougall both use the vote to increase the transit tax in Davis and Weber Counties as an example of what they don't want to do in Utah County. Says Alexander, "Let's look at Davis and Weber Counties. They have been paying a sales tax since 2000 and haven't seen any construction on commuter rail." He goes on to say that Utah County residents shouldn't do the same. Rep. Dougall seems to imply that Utah County officials will not be as "naive" as the other county officials to vote for a tax increase without getting specific plans and commitments for commuter rail and increased transit.

I respect these two gentlemen and their opinions very much, but I disagree with their premises and conclusions.

If you think transit is an important part of the overall transportation system for your community (and we here in Davis County, for one, really do think it is), then I believe you have to put up to play. Yes, we were promised expanded transit services in Davis County when we agreed to put the transit tax increase on the ballot, but we also knew that it would be several years before we would see anything concrete happen. Much of that is just because that's the process in the federal system, and because of the competition for transit money throughout the country, those that have actually committed will be the ones to get top priority.

In the meantime, UTA has done some very good things with the money. They have expanded regular and transit bus service in Davis and Weber Counties (which, by the way, Utah County has benefitted from as well -- those nice new red white and blue over-the-road express busses); the money has been used to purchase the rail rights-of-way from Union Pacific Railroad (which Utah County has again also benefitted from - with no new contributions from them). Also, construction has indeed started, and commuter rail will be up and running in early 2008.

What kind of commitment would we have gotten from the Federal Transit Agency if we didn't have the money committed, and UTA went to them to ask them to fund our commuter rail project, and oh, by the way, we'll try to get a tax passed later? They would have said, they have lots of other places around the nation like Denver, San Diego, etc., that have passed the taxes and are ready to go.

Why are elected officials in Utah County afraid to put the issue on the ballot? Let the people decide if what UTA proposes is adequate! Though I do agree, without the support of the elected officials, it would probably make passage a shaky proposition. But then...I guess you can wait even longer for transit to help with the transportation situation.

This all reminds me a little bit of the story of the little red hen, where she asked all the other animals to help her do all the prep work that leads up to actually baking a loaf of bread. No one wanted to pitch in. But when the hen had done all the work herself and the loaf was ready to eat...well, then there were lots of takers. We've done our part in northern Utah, and transit is coming.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Support for Referenda for Planning, Zoning Grows

Another editorial in today's Trib show the growing support for the idea of allowing referenda on planning and zoning issues.

This editorial focuses mainly on the procedural problems with Riverton turning down the petition because it was filed with the county clerk rather than the city recorder. But the overall message is clear -- the public has a right to refereda!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Schools Proposal Shows Need for Cooperation

I attended the meeting today of the Utah Legislature's Political Subdivisions Interim Committee, where there was an interesting discussion about a proposal to grant density bonuses to developers if they donate land for schools as part of their development plans.

Rep. David Cox sponsored a bill in the 2005 general session of the state legislature that proposed to do this, but the idea was relatively new and unvetted and did not go anywhere then. Today, Rep. Cox was back with the idea, along with the finance manager of the Alpine School District (I did not catch his first name, last name is Smith).

Mr. Smith essentially talked about how schools seem to get short shrift in planning and development approvals when new housing developments are considered by local governments, and some of the problems that have been encountered. He even cited one example where the city of Herrimann required one developer to set aside and donate land for a school as part of his plans, and then the city turned around and told the school district they would have to pay the city market rate for the land (did this really happen? Is there more to this story?)

The intentions of Rep. Cox and Mr. Smith are certainly in the right place -- schools need to be treated like other necessary community infrastructure and planned for, but our system of separate governmental entities with different powers and duties often precludes that from happening.

Jodi Hoffman and Gary Crane, representing the Utah League of Cities and Towns, talked about a number of difficulties with the bill as proposed, but did agree that some better means of coordinating with the school districts needs to take place. They rightly pointed to the bill passed by the legisature in the 2004 session regarding planning for facilities of regional significance. Under this bill, government entities are required to notify each other whenever they proposed to develop plans affecting land use and building facilities. Thus, cities are to notify the school districts whenever they are considering changes to their general plans, and school districts are required to notify local governments when they are considering plans for new schools and facilities.

If this process were to work as envisioned when the bill was passed, there would likely be much more dialouge between these entities and some accomodations could be made by both. But I suspect that even though the bill was passed, not much is actually happening. Oh, there may be notices sent out to each other as plans are considered, but I'm guessing the notified entities are generally ignoring those notices and what they could be doing to foster coordination and cooperation.

Another issue is the actual requirement of a land donation. This could only be done for developments that are large enough to require a new school on their own, I think. That's because such a requirement would still be subject to the proportionality test required by the courts and by law for such an exaction. In other words, a city or county could only require the developer of a project to contribute to the extent that his development requires new service, in this case, new classroom space for students. Let's say a new development is projected to generate 25 new students. That's certainly not enough to require a new school to be built. So how do you get that developer to contribute only enough land to accomodate 25 students in his development? It's the same problem local governments have had in past years requiring land contributions for new parks. It just makes more sense to put a monetary value to the requirement, and assess an impact fee, which fees can then be used collectively to buy a site and build a new school when it becomes warrented.

However, our same state legislature several years ago put the kibosh on impact fees for schools, mainly because of the knee-jerk reaction against impact fees by development-minded legislators, hence we now face a logical extension of the same problem.

The proposal to grant developers density bonuses for contributing land for schools also raised the issue of laying the cost for dealing with one entity's problems on another. Density is always a hot topic for cities and counties when developing general plans and approving new development. Under this proposal, an area zoned for a certain density could suddenly be built with more units than was anticipated because the developer was willing to contribute land for a school. How do you think that will go over with the neighbors, who were relying on the zoning in place "guaranteeing" a certain density? And who will likely catch the heat for that change? Not the school board, I'm betting.

So there are some problems with this proposal as it is put forth, but it raises the appropriate issues of how various local government entities need to find better ways of working together to address these concerns. And, of course, the legislature needs to be part of this.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

How to Get the Issues Out in Referenda?

I hate to say I told you so, but...

A couple of stories in today's Salt Lake Tribune underscore some of the problems with conducting planning and land use regulation by referenda.

The first story is about the upcoming referedum in Sandy, now that the Utah Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Save Our Community group. The vote is beginning to be cast as Davis vs. Goliath -- a citizens group against Wal-Mart and Lowe's and big retail developers. Money and perceptions (vs. reality) often play the leads in such match-ups.

The story asks, "will the mega-companies overtly campaign for the project leading up to the referendum?

"Last year, Wal-Mart pumped $2 million into two California campaigns. It lost a referendum for a superstore in the south but prevailed in the north.

"Ulitmately, even if the big companies pour big dollars into Sandy's referendum, Save Our Community leaders remain confident. 'I have to come back to my still-naive belief that money doesn't win elections [or] referendums,' Long says."

Naive is right. And, unfortunately, I think that's often how issues are played out in such referenda. "Of particular concern is the park. When the debate flared, a number of residents argued the land should be used as a park, and lawn signs dotted the community advocating for a 'park, not a parking lot.' City officials noted that they didn't have the $40 million it would take to buy the parcel. ... Now, they fear voters will go to the polls believing they are choosing between a park and a Wal-Mart."

And the press has gotten it wrong, contributing to the misperception. They have been calling the action the Sandy City Council undertook a "rezone," when in reality what they did was amend the text of the ordinance for the zone already in place for the gravel pit to allow for retail. Under current zoning, the property owner could proceed with apartments, hotels, office buildings and schools. The Trib story does get that part right, but again called it a "rezone."

So how easy is it to explain all these issues to the public and hope they understand before the head for the polls?

The second Trib story concerns the continuing efforts by the Riverton United citizens group to get their Wal-Mart rezone on the ballot. The story notes, "A Utah Supreme Court decision has revivied the [referendum] isssue. Earlier this month, the court unanimously ruled that Sandy City must allow a referendum on a 100-acre development -- this one also involves a Wal-Mart -- within its boundaries. ... The decision 'absolutely crystallizes [that] the referendum statute is to be interpreted liberally in favor of the right to vote,'" said Riverton United attorney James Tracy.

By the way, Riverton United has a website at www.rivertonunited.org

I told you so.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Referenda Postscript

Just another thought on the referenda issue as discussed in Tuesday's blog entry.

Davis Callies, another noted land use attorney, wrote in Land Use Law & Zoning Digest in 2003 about a decision about a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in City of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio v. Buckeye Community Hope Foundation. The issue dealt with the city's subjection of a site-plan ordinance to the referendum process. The Court held that this was not arbitrary government conduct in violation of substantive due process. What the Court did say, interestingly, was that the people retain the power to govern through referedum, "with respect to any matter, legislative or administrative, within the realm of local affairs."

Callies wrote, "...the Court has now extended due process approval of referenda beyond traditional legislative acts for the health, safety, and welfare of the entire community, to administrative acts affecting but a single parcel. ... While the referendum may well be an appropriate vehicle for deciding issues of community policy, it is an unacceptable vehicle for adjudicating the rights of individual litigants. As Justice Stevens observed twenty-seven years ago, [in City of Eastlake v. Forest City Enterprises] 'the essence of fair procedure is that the interested parties by given a reasonable opportunity to have their dispute resolved on the merits by reference to articulable rules.' That won't happen in decision-making by referendum. Direct democracy cannot be stretched so far. Nor was it ever meant to be."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A Legislator Who Gets It - And One Who Doesn't

I attended the legislative Tax Reform Task Force's RDA subcommittee meeting this morning, where Sen. Greg Bell gave an explanation of his proposal from the last couple of years to change the local sales tax distribution formula from the current 50% based on point of sale and 50% on population.

Sen. Bell gave a good explanation of how the truth in taxation law has shifted municipal revenue sources more and more away from property tax and toward sales tax, cities more and more make decisions geared toward maximizing sales tax revenue. The buzz word for this has become "zoning for dollars." During this same time period, RDA projects have also shifted more and more toward retail projects.

Sen. Bell feels that the 50-50 distribution formula for sales tax still incents cities to seek such projects to enhance their tax base, and that changing the formula more to one weighted toward population and away from point of sale, will reduce this incentive.

While I agree that such a change will have some effect, I think that a more effective change would be to get the tax revenue mix for municipalities back to some kind of equilibrium -- make property tax more a part of the mix, and the incentive for maximizing sales tax will diminish.

Regardless, Sen. Bell by and large shows a good grasp of planning and community development issues.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, on the other had, well.... . As the League of Cities and Towns reps were making their comments, Sen. Stephenson challenged their premise that property tax has not increased and thus reliance on sales tax is a bigger driver for cities. He cited the growth in property tax revenue for cities from 1994 to 2004, saying, "How can you say this is not an increase for the cities? It has increased substantially, and I think your argument is false." Roger Tew, a former state tax commissioner and now a consultant for the League, and Lincoln Shurtz of the League, correctly pointed out that property tax revenue has indeed increased over that time, but to a far less extent than other taxes. Why? Likely because of the difficulties imposed by truth in taxation.

In any case, it is interesting to see how planning and development issues are playing such a prominent role in the legislature's discussion of tax reform. Whether this will actually result in any changes in the coming legislative session remains to be seen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Development May Precede Transit

Yesterday's DesNews ran a story on Salt Lake City's general plan update to accomodate -- even encourage -- growth north of I-80 and west of 6400 West. Part of the reason is to help SLC grow its population again, to maintain its status as Utah's chief city. The city has apparently lost population again in recent years.

However, Mayor Rocky Anderson seems to be worried that growth in these areas would be encouragement of sprawl. "If we don't have a transit connection (first), we're going to be creating suburban sprawl," said spokesperson Deeda Seed. "It's going to be a little pocket of unconnected people out there in the middle of nowhere, and that makes no sense from our perspective of urban planning."

"We should try to consolidate and concentrate our growth around city centers that are already there in place and actually look for enlivenment and development potential there rather than continuing to go further and further away from those areas where we work and where we play," said Lynn De Freitas, executive director of Friends of Great Salt Lake, along with Marc Heilson of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club.

They feel that development should not take place in Salt Lake's Northwest Quadrant until light rail is extended to serve the area, but that is at least 15 years away. In the meantime, the Wasatch Front's population continues to grow, and higher density development near downtown encounters resistance (see earlier blog entry on this topic).

City Councilman Carlton Christensen points out that development in the northwest quadrant could take place along transit-oriented and quality growth principles, in anticipation of future transit extensions to the area.

The DesNews makes the same point in an editorial in today's paper, saying, "the city need look no further than the Daybreak development in South Jordan. Located in a remote location of a bedroom community, it is an example of how a development can be planned in such a way as to encourage walking and neighborhood interaction. ... Eventually, (Kennecott Land) plans to bring light rail in to further enhance the project. In the meantime, however, officials report that home sales are brisk."

Rapid growth is a reality for us here in Utah and along the Wasatch Front. We cannot wait for infrastructure such as transit to be built first before we allow growth in new areas. But we can develop with the idea in mind that transit will come someday, and in ways that will encourage less driving for many daily tasks.

Referenda to Ride Again!

I continue to insist that zoning referenda are going to become a big issue for us here in Utah, and that it will not necessarily be good for planning.

Last week, the Salt Lake Tribune editorialized that while they in general don't think zoning referenda are a good idea, the decision in the Sandy court case was a good one. "We don't believe that every city zoning decision should be subject to referendum," the Trib wrote, "but this one isn't just any decision. ... This issue holds tremendous consequences for Sandy. It is right that voters will decide."

So what is the criteria for when an issue is "big" enough that it ought to be put to the voters, or "small" enough that it shouldn't? Who decides that?

And what does it do to the general plans of our communities when any relatively small group of voters can put the issue on the ballot when they don't like a particular zoning decision, but they were never around to participate in the preparation of the community plan? Will our plans mean anything at this point, or will everything be subject to spur of the moment referenda?

I don't have much problem with voters putting portions of the plan up for referenda vote, as long as all the issues get a clear hearing. But how do you guarantee that? Election campaigns today seem to be all about getting your viewpoint out and stifling that of the other side. Usually, the side with more money gets their viewpoint out better.

Now the Riverton folks are back at it, according to a story in this morning's Trib. "'We're hoping to do what Sandy residents have done,' Dennis Sampson, president of Riverton United, said Monday. 'We're pretty optimistic that we'll see a referendum.'"

And so it will now go. More uncertainty, more time, more ability of small groups of NIMBYs to stop projects that may actually be good for the overall community.

Lora Lucero, a planner and land use attorney with a consulting practice in Albuquerque, has recently written an article for Zoning and Planning Law Report on zoning referenda. Lora is counsel to APA's amicus curiae committee and was previously editor of APA's Land Use Law and Zoning Digest. Lora is working with an APA committee to developa policy statement on planning and zoning referenda.

Lora has said on APA's Ask the Author webpage, "I'm a firm believer in meaningful public participation -- not merely perfunctory participation. But I'm not convinced that the initiative-referendum process is "meaningful" participation.

"I think we need to keep in mind that there are very different types of citizen participation -- (1) participation in the planning process, (2) participation in the electoral process, and (3) participation at the ballot box with ... initiatives and referenda... .

"If the goal is to create sound plans for the future of the community, we should focus on #1. If the goal is to strengthen democracy, we should focus on #2. If the goal is to accomplish something that we failed to accomplish with #1 or #2 -- then we should focus on #3.

"I'm coming to the conclusion that when we see the citizen participation occuring at the ballot box, we're seeing an implicit failure in the planning process and the electoral process. Rather than focus the energy and resources of the planning profession on #3, I would recommend that we figure out how to fix or strengthen #1 and #2."

Well said, Lora.

Monday, July 11, 2005

TDR's -- Can They Work with Regular Zoning?

I'm back! Had a great trip, travelled all over western Montana, Idaho panhandle and into Spokane. Glacier Park is wonderful, amazing. And if you want a pleasant, peaceful, beautiful place to stay for a night or two, try Waterton Park in Cananda -- the village is the best!

OK, lots to blog about -- a quick scan of news items over the week that I was gone show some interesting things being discussed.

First, take a look at this item in the DesNews about transfer of development rights in Mapleton. We are trying to do something similar in Davis County, but I have always wondered how we implement a system of monetary benefit based on density and development rights, when at the same time the regular system of zoning exists. Developers and landowners would rather just try to talk the planning commission and city council into upzoning and reap the monetary windfall that way.

Hence, what happened in Mapleton. In that case, homeowners near the receiving area are objecting to density credits being transferred onto property they thought was going to be developed at the traditional zoning's lower density.

"We expected neighbors, but not that many," said one of the Mapleton homeowners.

And there's the rub. It is difficult to explain to neighborns how the land is zoned for one density, but if the right developer comes along with some cash, he can buy credits and up the density.

It seems like an area needs to have either one system of land use control or the other. Mixing them makes it harder.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

More on Sandy Referendum Ruling

You can read a couple of press accounts of the Supreme Court ruling on the Sandy City referendum in the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune.

Cynthia Long, a member of Save Our Communities, said, "You can fight city hall. If you believe in something, you should speak up and try to make a difference in something that truly matters to you."

It will now be interesting to see how this referendum vote plays out. Gives us something to look forward to and write about in the coming months.

One land use attorney apparently didn't go away for the long weekend. Neil Lindberg, legal counsel to the Provo City Council and consultant, called me Friday evening and chatted with me about the ruling. Neil agrees that the ruling will potentially result in many more referendum challenges to rezone actions and text changes in land use ordinances.

Neil also pointed out that while we may not particularly like the direction things will now head as a result of this ruling, it is a very well reasoned opinion. He particularly thought the discussion in the ruling on vested rights and on administrative and legislative actions was very good. He did caution that it looks like the court is taking the position that governing bodies should not be making administrative decisions.

Neil plans to send out his thoughts on the court's decision to the Utah APA listserve shortly, so watch for that.

Well, I'm off to Montana and Washington state! Have fun, it will be interesting to see the fallout from this decision that will have happened by the time I get back.

See you after July 11.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Utah Supreme Court Rules on Sandy City Referendum Petition

Just got word that the Utah Supreme Court issued its ruling today on the petition by the Save Our Communities (SOC) group against Sandy City, to allow a referendum petition to go forward in the gravel pit development case. The court ruled in favor of SOC and ordered Sandy City to proceed with the petition.

I've tried to get ahold of a couple of land use attorneys to get their take on this case, but I think everyone has already headed out for the long July 4th weekend, so I'm on my own in drawing out some conclusions from this ruling. And I'm in somewhat of a rush to do so as well, as I am leaving tomorrow morning for a week-long vacation to northern Montana and then on to Spokane, where my oldest daughter (and grandkid!) are living. I won't be back until after July 11, and by then there will be lots of stuff out about this case, so here goes my best shot.

The court did some interesting things, which I think open the door for more referenda petitions on zoning and land use issues. Though this case has some peculiar twists that make it a little hard to figure how they will apply in more general instances.

In this case, the Sandy City Council amended its permitted uses in the SD-X zone (special district mixed use) to allow for hardware/building/home improvement stores and for drug/variety/garden centers. This amendment was to allow the Boyer Company to build, among other things, a Lowe's and Wal-Mart in an old gravel pit. The gravel pit property is the only property in Sandy with this zoning.

Utah State Code allows for local laws, including comprehensive land use ordinances and general plans, to be subject to referenda. It provides a specific exclusion, however, for "individual property zoning decisions," making these not subject to referenda. Most of us have read this to mean rezone actions.

This is a tricky area of the law, because other court rulings have made a clear distinction between legislative actions, which are clearly subject to the referendum process, and administrative actions, which are not. When a city adopts or amends the zoning ordinance text, for example, most agree that this is a legislative action. But rezones also require a vote of the governing body, which seems to indicate they are also legislative, but most have thought that the exemption from "individual property zoning decisions" carves them out of referable actions.

In this case, however, Sandy City argued that the change in the text of the SD-X zone was an individual property zoning decision because there was only one property in Sandy that had this zone designation. Hence, it was not subject to referendum.

The court ruling does a lot of discussing about what are administrative and what are legislative actions, but in the end, the court made a distinction on the basis of the action being taken by a city council under the council-mayor form of government. The court said, "...(we) conclude that all acts taken by a city council in a city organized pursuant to the council-mayor form of government are necessarily legislative and subject to referenda."

That statement by the court, I think, opens the door to more referenda in the future, even on rezones (because, they said, ALL actions taken by such city councils are legislative and thus subject to referenda), and confuses what happens in cities that are not council-mayor (the court talks about that in paragraph 35 of their ruling).

The state code also has a provision that supposedly raised the bar for "land use laws." For most legislative actions, a referendum petition must collect the signatures of registered voters equal to 10% of the number who voted in the last gubernatorial election. For "land use laws," the requirement is 20%.

The court said in its ruling that Sandy City's amendment of the text of the SD-X zone was not a "land use law" because the code says that is something like "a land use development code, comprehensive zoning ordinance, or an annexation ordinance." The court did not feel that a text amendment to an existing code rose to this level. "Although even a text amendment to a zoning category can be a complicated and involved process, we are persuaded that such an amendment is not of the same character as the comprehensive acts listed in the statute." Thus, a text amendment to an existing zoning ordinance, subdivision ordinance or land use ordinance does not have to meet the higher 20% signature requirement.

Katie, bar the door, there's going to be lots more of 'em now!

You can see the complete text of the Supreme Court ruling here.

You land use attorneys out there, I'd like to invite you to click on the comment line here at the bottom of this entry and clarify what you see, as I'm not going to be around for the next week to post any more clarifications. Thanks, and good luck!

If Less Parking is the Answer ... What Was the Questions?

Interesting piece in the latest issue of Governing magazine on parking policy and how it affects the development and fabric of urban areas. It makes a lot of sense, though getting officials to cut back on "sacred" (i.e., ITE) guidelines for required parking is not easy.

Alan Ehrenhalt writes about his thoughts on "free" parking, and also reviews concepts in the book The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald Shroup. They contend that parking is not really free, that it comes with a high cost in land (that the developer pays and thus affects what he's willing to build), and costs us in the way we live in urban areas. "For one thing," Ehrenhalt writes, "parking eats up a huge amount of land that could be used for more productive purposes. Many shopping malls devote 60 percent of their surface land to parking spaces and only 40 percent to the buildings. For the most part, that's not because developers insisted on all that parking. It's because zoning laws forced them to create it." And most of that parking sits empty most of the time, he says. In what other endeavors do we insist on providing capacity for the maximum demand times, when occurs only once or twice a year?

Ehrenhalt and Shroup are particularly critical of parking requirements in downtowns. "Meanwhile, in the central business districts of older cities, the amount of parking keeps increasing and the number of buildings keeps declining. Buffalo and Albuquerque devote more central-city land to parking lots than to all other uses combined. For anyone who wants to come downtown, a member of the Buffalo City Council lamented a couple of years ago, 'there will be lots of places to park. There just won't be a whole lot to do here.'" Sound familiar, Salt Lakers?

Ehrenhalt then indicates that some cities that have actually taken measures to limit downtown parking are doing better than their counterparts. "The central city districts that have done really well in recent years aren't the ones that have provided the most parking; they're the ones that have provided the least," he says. "Portland, Oregon, instead of expanding its downtown parking capacity, has spent the past 30 years restricting it. There was less parking per capita in downtown Portland in the 1990s than there was in the 1970s. And Portland, as any visitor notices at once, hs one of the most successful downtowns in America." Limiting downtown parking also enhances transit useage, they argue. Which I think is true, for those trips aimed at the CBD. But CBD trips are, at least in the Salt Lake metro area, only a small percentage of overall trips. But hey, every little bit helps.

Ehrenhalt then goes on to detail a number of cities that are actually taking some actions to limit downtown parking as first steps. His list includes Salt Lake City, which he says is using a version of trading parking costs for transit and allowing people to pocket the difference (is he talking about the U. parking program, and ones used at places like the Church Office Building?).

The venerable mayor of Salt Lake City seems to support such concepts, telling commuters and shoppers to his city (particularly those from Davis County) to come visit, but don't bring your cars. It's a great concept, but shortly after making this pronouncement, the mayor announced a new program of adding more FREE parking spaces in downtown Salt Lake by reconfiguring some streets to allow parking in the medians (like 300 South).

And, of course, just about every suburban shopping and activity center is required to have oodles of parking...

So...what principle are we really after here?