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Phoenix Residents Debate Reducing Parking Requirements at New Apartments

By July 21, 2023No Comments

By Taylor Seely | Arizona Republic

Tempers are flaring in Phoenix as neighborhood leaders across town push back against the city’s proposal to reduce parking requirements at new residential developments.

The proposed city law would change the city’s formula that calculates how many parking spaces an apartment complex needs. Most 100-unit developments would go from 150 required spaces to 125 spaces, plus there would be lower requirements for unreserved parking.

Affordable apartments and developments near light rail would see steeper reductions, but the steepest cuts of all would be for affordable apartments near the light rail, which in most cases would require zero parking spaces.

The proposal is intended to improve rental affordability and the environment by reducing costs associated with building parking spaces and steering residents toward public transit. Reducing building costs should result in lower priced apartments, plus more of them, the argument goes. The benefits of reduced car dependence is twofold: fewer cars to contribute to emissions and less asphalt to contribute to the urban heat island effect.

But so far, the proposal has only sparked controversy and fiery debates from members of the city’s 15 Village Planning Committees. Seven of the 10 committees that have heard the idea rejected it. Three voted yes and the rest have yet to vote.

Committee members, advocates and residents sent testy emails reacting to the policy in early and mid-July.

“It’s disappointing — but not surprising — that some of our VPCs are putting their heads in the asphalt,” one Phoenix resident wrote in an email.

Another replied the city needs a solution that doesn’t turn Phoenix “into New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago.”

Some believe the city’s public transit system isn’t robust enough yet, and that fewer parking spaces won’t work. They also question the logic underpinning the policy that low-income renters need less or no parking. Some even worry it could do economic harm to low-income renters.

But supporters of the proposal say it’s an opportunity to lead Phoenix into the future, improve housing supply and affordability and reduce emissions and the urban heat island effect by using less asphalt.

At the heart of the debate is a skepticism about free market policies and a concern that quality of life and residents’ needs will take a backseat to developer’s preferences and profits.

“Follow the money,” said JoAnne Jensen, a south Phoenix resident. “Money is not a bad thing. Development is not a bad thing. But my concern is that over and over again those who live in affordable housing are not given the same consideration and amenities as those who live in market values.”

The debate also puts into focus questions about the city’s order of operations: should it wait to enact policy that aims to reduce car dependence until the public transportation system is fully built out, or should it enact policy that puts public transit in higher demand, which would validate the need for its expansion?

Village planning committees are city-sanctioned groups that review and vote on proposed developments and land use regulations that affect their neighborhoods. Their perspectives are provided to the City Council so that the elected leaders may take them into consideration when voting, but the votes bear no extra weight.

Village committee votes are typically not a strong barometer of council outcome, but the emotional response from village members to the proposed policy change ricocheted through City Hall in mid-July.

Councilmember Kevin Robinson of District 6 in the Biltmore, Sunnyslope and Ahwatukee areas said July 17 he took multiple meetings to discuss the policy. Derrik Rochwalik, chief of staff to Councilwoman Ann O’Brien, who represents District 1 in northwest Phoenix, also heard about the response.

Mayor Kate Gallego, who has advocated for a Phoenix that builds up and not out, told The Arizona Republic in a statement, “we must weigh all options to create a denser and more dynamic Phoenix, including reducing parking minimum requirements.”

She said she looks forward to hearing community input as the city strives for “a more innovative community design that will support transit-oriented development and affordability.”

The council is slated to vote on the proposal in early September. So far, only Councilmember O’Brien has expressed concern, through her chief of staff, although a few council members did not indicate how they leaned.

Seven of the 10 village committees that have heard the policy proposal so far have voted no. The three that voted yes — Central City, Encanto and Camelback East — are located in or near downtown where the most significant requirement cuts would occur. Camelback East is located in Robinson’s district. Multiple committees in or near O’Brien’s district had opposed the policy.

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