De-standardized Parking

De-standardized Parking

Angelenos might soon see more street life and less stringent parking requirements in some of their neighborhoods.

In August the Los Angeles City Council voted to adopt a new planning tool dubbed the Modified Parking Requirement (MPR) District, which will allow parking regulations to be determined by specific location, rather than by a blanket citywide dictum.

“We can’t have a one-size-fits-all parking standard throughout the city,” said Tom Rothmann, the Los Angeles city planner in charge of formulating the MPR District.

New districts, which must measure at least five acres or two block faces, can be proposed by City Council, the Planning Commission, the Planning Department, or any individual, and will require signatures from at least 75 percent of owners or lessees of the proposed district’s properties.

Districts can contain any of seven specified parking strategies, allowing architects and developers to be more creative in their approach to parking requirements. “Right now, if you want to build an interesting building on a tiny or a weirdly configured lot, you cannot do that unless you get a variance,” said Rothmann. “If you build a 100-unit building in downtown LA, you have to provide 200 parking spaces. MPR Districts would change that. It encourages more creative architecture.”

Under the proposed new districts, options include: provide off-site parking up to 1,500 feet away; request fewer parking spaces on a project; decrease parking; increase parking; retain previous parking standards despite a change of use; establish a commercial parking credit system in which those with excess spaces can sell credits to businesses to meet requirements; or set maximum parking limits.

Before passing City Council, the MPR had to overcome the concerns of affordable housing advocates, who feared that further decreasing parking requirements would lessen the incentive to build rent-stabilized units, which already have less stringent parking requirements. In response, projects taking advantage of density bonus incentives are entitled to even lower parking requirements than those set in an MPR District.

Neighborhoods with a specific plan are also exempt from MPR Districts, given that specific plans already allow residents full zoning flexibility. “We didn’t want to confuse the issue by having an overlay on top of an overlay. If they want to increase or reduce their parking, they can do that anyway,” said Rothmann.

The city planning department already has a few candidate areas to test out this new planning tool. Prime candidate districts include: the Broadway district downtown, between 2nd Street and Olympic Boulevard; and Van Nuys Boulevard in Van Nuys.

Creating an MPR District along Broadway—a historic district—could mean older buildings could potentially be converted to new uses without having to invest in expensive parking. In Van Nuys, vacant old storefronts could finally be used by new businesses through, perhaps, a commercial parking credit system. But these are only speculations, clarified Rothmann, the next step is to really look at the needs of the community and determine what the actual parking requirements are. The flexibility of MPR Districts could mean a new day for architecture in the city, one that isn’t straitjacketed by the city’s parking norms.