Parking has become the weapon of choice for NIMBY warriors.
Don’t like a housing project because it will bring the poor or the previously homeless or those with mental health challenges into the neighborhood? Well, just file a lawsuit insisting the proposal doesn’t have enough parking.
Two recent cases of just such obvious Not-In-My-Back-Yardism spurred the Boston City Council last week to stamp its collective feet and say: no more. The council voted unanimously for a change to the city zoning code that would end minimum parking requirements for projects where at least 60 percent of the units are deemed affordable. The move could render moot any efforts to use those parking minimums as the basis for a lawsuit.
And the council vote follows on the heels of an announcement by Acting Mayor Kim Janey and the Boston Planning and Development Agency of new and more transparent guidelines for major developments (those over 50,000 square feet) that would encourage a combination of transit-related strategies over simply demanding more parking spaces for both residential and office towers.
The object of both policies is relatively simple: The less parking — at a cost estimated by city planners of $50,000 a space — the more space and money can be used to create housing and the more residents will be encouraged to make use of alternatives to cars. The more people can be persuaded to walk, bike, or take public transportation, the less traffic and pollution. So it’s basically a win-win-win.
“We know that every unit lost due to delay or the cost of unnecessary, mandated parking is a lost housing opportunity for someone who badly needs it,” Councilor Kenzie Bok told the Globe. Bok cosponsored the ordinance with Councilor Matt O’Malley.
“It’s time to make sure we are putting homes for people first and doing away with parking minimums that don’t reflect our current needs,” Bok added.
Two unquestionably worthy projects proposed for Jamaica Plain — both the subject of lawsuits — are recent cases in point.
One five-story project proposed by the Pine Street Inn for Washington Street will provide 140 studio apartments for the previously homeless plus 62 units of more traditional affordable housing. It will come with just the kind of supportive services that those troubled by the growing human tragedy at Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard (“Mass. and Cass”) have said is essential as part of the solution.
The $96 million project — supported in part by $1.5 million in Community Preservation Act grants, $5 million in linkage funds from a downtown office tower, and Pine Street’s own fund-raising — was delayed for more than a year by a lawsuit from the owner of a neighboring building, who insisted the project’s 39 parking spaces weren’t nearly enough. An out-of-court settlement commits Pine Street to rent off-street parking for its staff.
That same landlord then turned around and sued developers of an affordable housing complex for seniors, again citing zoning exemptions that bypass off-street parking requirements. It’s a reed-thin excuse — but that doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact; in construction, time is money.
Doing away with parking minimums for affordable housing projects won’t mean doing away with parking. But it probably will mean giving those inclined to file frivolous lawsuits one less weapon to use.
Now, the City Council-backed ordinance isn’t the last word on the subject. It would have to be adopted by the BPDA, which, given its recent action on parking for large-scale developments, should certainly see this as a logical addition to that policy. The BPDA would then make its recommendation to the city’s Zoning Commission.
All of this is happening, of course, at a time when the city remains in political limbo, with the next mayor scheduled to take office on Nov. 16. But good ideas shouldn’t have to wait. And this is a very good idea.
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