News
07.19.2012
Empty Garages? Fuggedaboutit!
Parking minimums in Downtown Brooklyn to be slashed.
A parking garage in Downtown Brooklyn.
Travis Eby

City-mandated parking minimums are set to be lowered in one corner of Brooklyn, but many say the proposal is too timid for one of New York City’s most transit-rich neighborhoods.

Under a plan released June 4 by the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP), parking minimums in Downtown Brooklyn could shrink by half if no objections are raised during a 60-day review period by Brooklyn Community Board 2 and the Brooklyn Borough President. Currently, zoning in the district requires a 40 percent parking ratio for market-rate housing units—in other words, four parking spaces for every ten units. Under the DCP plan, the minimum would be lowered to 20 percent. For affordable housing, the current required ratio of 25 percent would be eliminated entirely.

Some transit advocates wonder why a district with 13 subway lines needs parking minimums at all, especially given that new garages often sit largely empty. Noah Kazis, a reporter with the transportation news and advocacy website Streetsblog explained, “There certainly isn’t any technical explanation for why Downtown Brooklyn needs 20 percent parking minimums. By DCP’s own admission, the lower minimums would still force developers to build more parking than they can rent out. DCP will still be pushing up rents and car-ownership rates, in contradiction of stated city goals.”

Asked how they arrived at the new minimum threshold, a representative from the DCP explained that the proposal to reduce parking from the current 40 percent requirement down to 20 percent for market-rate units is a balanced response to the concerns they heard from local developers and stakeholders on parking utilization in Downtown Brooklyn.

Major residential development in recent years has softened Downtown Brooklyn’s reputation as a sterile business district that shuts down at the end of the workday. Under current zoning, however, new developments often include garages and curb cuts that dominate a building’s street presence and compromise the pedestrian realm. Further, housing advocates argue that garages—one of the most expensive parts of a building on a per-square-foot basis—raise the cost of construction and thereby contribute to New York’s perennial lack of affordable housing.

New York lags behind other cities in parking reform. Kazis points out that “cities from Washington, D.C. and San Francisco to Seattle and Buffalo are eliminating parking minimums outright in neighborhoods with far worse transit [than Downtown Brooklyn].”

Albeit timid, the Department of City Planning’s proposal to reduce parking minimums in Downtown Brooklyn is a good step toward enhancing vitality in the city’s third largest business district. The DCP continues to study residential parking in areas outside of, but close to, the Manhattan core, and expects the data to inform future policy. Given Downtown Brooklyn’s exceptional transit connections, however, the DCP’s latest plan seems to indicate that truly progressive parking reform is unlikely to benefit any of New York’s more distant outer borough neighborhoods anytime soon.

Travis Eby