Until recently, I worked in real estate development, doing everything from property acquisition and permit filing to management and sales.
One of the biggest hurdles our small company always faced was paying for the construction of mandated, and usually unnecessary, automobile parking.
For example, there was a project on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock. The property had (and still has) a small home on a little more than 7,000 square feet. That is not a lot of room to work with. The zoning code allowed for multifamily residential and commercial uses on the same property.
We thought we could do something really nice: ground-floor offices topped by four two-story apartments. Our plans fit in perfectly with the gentrifying neighborhood (area-specific plans called for light commercial that was walkable). Our plans also fit nicely with the mixed-use zoning code ... until it came to parking.
Car parking requirements forced us to shrink everything – the ground-floor commercial was squeezed into a 400-square-foot space; the building had to have an extra story just so we could stuff a bunch of cars underneath. The cost on paper shot up, meaning that our four one-bedroom apartments turned into four studio condominiums – and once you subdivide a property into condos, you have to go through a whole bunch of planning hoops, bumping up costs even more.
This easy $200,000 construction project turned into a super-risky $1.2 million, four-story fiasco.
To make a profit, we’d have to sell 800-square-foot studio units for nearly $400,000 apiece! Even at the height of the boom, that was insane. So, after months of meetings, research and design sessions, the tiny project was scrapped.
The car parking requirements killed our project, which was precisely the sort of infill development that politicians and neighbors wanted: low density, modest heights, and room for small local businesses to thrive. Plus, we could have made some real money.
So, in real estate development, parking costs a lot. Car parking requirements kill small, profitable and properly scaled projects in favor of larger, out-of-scale, riskier projects that favor chain or auto-based retail and services only.
But is there an alternative to the car in development in Los Angeles?
Taking a seat
I believe there is, in certain neighborhoods – and it is the bicycle, which is daily becoming more and more popular for neighborhood travel in Los Angeles.
In 2009, I stumbled upon LAMC Sections 12.21-A.4(c) and 12.21-A.16. These sections allow for something quite unique – they authorize a building owner to swap out some of the required car parking spaces for covered bicycle parking.
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