Can new parking rules attract development while reducing use of cars in Burlington?

Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 5:55 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - How can Burlington find a way to attract more housing development with the goal of also reducing dependence on cars in the city? The City Council hopes to strike that balance with a new ordinance that expands minimum and maximum parking regulations throughout the city.

An ordinance passed two years ago eliminated requirements for developers to include a minimum number of parking spaces for housing projects in the downtown. That is being credited with helping developers meet the need for more housing. Now, the city wants to take that idea citywide.

“With my work, I have to unload and load a lot of gear in and out of cars, trucks and stuff, so it needs to be close by,” said Pat Markley of Burlington.

Residents in Burlington talk about the necessity of having a vehicle to go about their daily lives and a place to park near where they live.

Two years ago, the city removed minimum parking requirements for new housing in the downtown and along transportation corridors. A new ordinance would take that concept citywide.

“We are not just trying to shift our transportation infrastructure and how we subsidize transportation, we are also trying to make it easier to build less expensive housing in Burlington,” former Burlington city councilor Jack Hanson said.

Hanson says it’s all about taking steps to move toward a less vehicle-dependent society.

The measure also requires housing developers to offer subsidized transportation options such as car-share while uncoupling the price of parking from the apartment and only charging a parking fee to tenants who use it.

“We still are requiring them to support sustainable transportation options for their tenants but we are not requiring them to build parking anymore. We feel that that’s a really beneficial tradeoff for developers. It’s a lot less cost burden that we are placing on developers,” Hanson said.

The ordinance not only gets rid of minimum parking requirements, but it also caps the maximum number of spaces a developer can build.

Developer Eric Farrell says that makes sense in parts of the city where there are other parking options like public garages. It isn’t practical elsewhere in the city.

“I’m not going to build any more parking than I need, but I’m not, I can’t build buildings that have less parking than I need, than the market requires. If I can’t build enough parking to support the demand for the occupants for the building, I can’t build the building. I can’t finance that building,” Farrell said.

“I think it’s really important in Burlington because we don’t have affordable grocery stores within walking distance of downtown Burlington, so having parking and access to a car is really important to me,” said Julia Kermond of Burlington.

“For my family and my wife and my family, we do share the car, so we need someplace to put the car. I mean, I do take the bus and bike myself regularly, but if I couldn’t find parking within five blocks or something, it would be hard for me to want to rent there,” said Xander Naylor of Winooski.

I did speak off-camera with someone who does not have a car and is able to live in downtown Burlington.

Hanson says his hope for the future of this ordinance is to allow more development so people can all work, live and shop nearby so they do not need cars, along with hoping to solve the housing crisis.