Late last month, in a series of zoning code changes that prompted praise from dozens of local nonprofits and businesses, the Denver City Council substantially reduced minimum parking requirements for new housing developments. The changes come as Colorado’s largest metropolitan region experiences breakneck growth that has inflicted serious strain on local housing markets.
In Denver, where planners have not updated parking minimums in over a decade, some parts of the city require as many as 1.25 parking spots per unit of housing. In denser areas where access to public transit is markedly higher, parking minimums drop to 0.25 spots per unit, though a report from the Regional Transportation District (RTD) indicates that parking provisions are still far in excess of actual need.
According to the local transit agency, approximately 61 percent of low-income households in Denver have no car. Affordable housing developments maintain about 50 percent more space for parking than is used by residents, often at a cost of $20,000 to $30,000 per spot. For many housing advocates, this represents a colossal waste of resources and space.
Many developers in the metropolitan region have turned away from promising and much-needed affordable housing projects, contending that Denver’s parking minimums made certain buildings impossible to realize. As reported by Denverite last summer, parking standards at the time brought construction of the 36-unit Charity’s House Apartments to a complete halt. Analiese Hock of Denver Community Planning and Development pointed out that many projects fail to even make it to the local government for review, as developers often calculate that the cost of building and maintaining excess parking spots is not worth the investment in affordable apartments.
With Denver’s housing crisis worsening by the day, city council members voted unanimously to adopt new parking minimums at 0.1 spots per unit, or one spot for every ten units. The move had widespread support across industry groups, advocacy organizations, and public agencies, including the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Division of Housing.
According to 5280 Magazine, Cassie Slade, principal of the Denver-based engineering consultancy Fox Tuttle, is optimistic about how the city might be able to redirect the funds that might otherwise have been spent on unused parking spaces: “It allows a lot of opportunities. All of a sudden, you can reallocate that money and/or space to other things lower-income folks need to have self-worth and to build their lives again and to have shelter.”