In a two-plus-years-in-the-making move to slash greenhouse gas emissions and boost the city’s supply of affordable housing, Saint Paul has joined neighboring Minneapolis and a growing handful of other major American cities by eliminating minimum parking requirements for new residential and commercial developments.
The proposal was approved 14 to 3 by the city’s Planning Commission in late June before making its way to Saint Paul City Council, where council members voted 6 to 1 in favor of eliminating the zoning rule on August 18. A public hearing on the matter was held several days prior on August 11. As clarified by the Star Tribune, developers will still be able to include on-site parking up to permitted city maximums. Under the new zoning ordinance adopted by Saint Paul City Council, however, properties with more than 25 residential units or 20,000 square feet gross floor area will be required to implement Travel Demand Management (TDM) strategies such as bike parking that promote alternatives to driving.
“The new ordinance will create more options and flexibility to build fewer parking spaces where it would otherwise be difficult to meet minimum requirements, or where they are unlikely to be needed or used by new residents, tenants, workers, or customers,” the city elaborated in its announcement.
It’s worth noting that the downtown core of Saint Paul, which is Minnesota’s capital and second-most populous city, has never had minimum parking rules while minimums along the Metro Green Line, an 11-mile light rail corridor linking downtown Saint Paul and downtown Minneapolis, were eliminated a decade ago. Minneapolis voted to put the kibosh on citywide parking minimums this past May.
Outside of the Twin Cities, other major American cities to fully or partially remove minimum parking requirements include Denver, San Diego, Portland, Oregon, and Hartford, Connecticut. Buffalo was the first to do so in 2017.
“Removing barriers to our city’s growth is critical to building a truly sustainable and thriving future,” said City Council President Amy Brendmoen, in a statement. “By leaning in and embracing this new change Saint Paul will be able to grow and densify more quickly, allowing us to fulfill the growth and prosperity goals of our 2040 Comprehensive Plan, reducing the costs of development for everyone and welcoming more businesses, visitors and families in our city.”
Currently, a staggering 36 percent of Saint Paul’s land area is dedicated to the moving or storage of cars while 31 percent of its total carbon emissions come from vehicles. Per the city, the full elimination of off-street parking minimums provides greater “opportunity for housing developments, incentivizes housing affordability, reduces carbon emissions, and reduces overall urban sprawl.”
“Our rapidly growing population demands forward facing public policy,” added Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. “This simple step will help add much needed housing and jobs as we seek to maximize this period of historic economic expansion in Saint Paul.”
The new rules, which are supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge, will take effect 30 days after the ordinance is signed by Carter, a fourth-generation Saint Paul resident (and the city’s first African-American mayor) who served on the steering committee of the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda. In 2018, Saint Paul was announced as one of 25 winning cities in the American Cities Climate Challenge, a $70 million initiative that supports cities as they advance efforts to tackle climate change with an emphasis on buildings and transportation, the two largest sources of pollution in urban areas. Other Midwestern cities to “win” the challenge are Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Columbus, Ohio.