As a firm that solves redevelopment challenges on a daily basis, we have had time to reflect on one of the repeated biggest redevelopment hurdles we face in Atlanta- on site parking requirements. What’s the big deal with requiring parking you may ask? Everything. Our goal for Atlanta is to have it be chock full of thriving, walkable, car-optional neighborhoods ideally connected by some form of transit- bike, light rail, MARTA, or bus. The single biggest roadblock we encounter when aiming to make this happen is a very simple and insidious zoning requirement that says every site should provide adequate parking for its use on its own property. Here is the thing, if you want to have a vibrant, walkable neighborhood center, it needs to have significantly less parking provided than zoning currently requires, there has to be some form of shared parking, and in some places, that shared parking should have some cost based upon the market demand.
Why less parking than zoning requires? The City of Atlanta requires one parking space per a certain amount of building use provided. For example, the typical office use requirement is that you provide one parking space for every 300 square feet of office. One parking space, with an associated portion of driveway ends up being very close to 300 square feet of asphalt. That means that you should have equal amounts of asphalt as building on a site if it is a ONE-story office building. If you were to build a TWO-story office building, you would either need to build a parking deck or have twice as much land dedicated to parking than for building.
So that’s office. The city requires that retail parking be provided at a ratio of 1 space per 200 square feet of use. That means that a one-story retail building needs 1/3 more of a site dedicated for parking than an office use. But here is the killer. Restaurants and coffee shops are required to provide parking at a ratio of 1 space per 100 square feet. This means that to meet this requirement, you typically have to dedicate 70-75% of a site to parking (unless it is in a parking deck). One of my favorite examples is to look at the neighborhood commercial node in Candler Park at McLendon and Clifton Avenues. Just imagine what this would look like if each restaurant had to have 75% of its site dedicated to parking. There would be no walkable node if that happened. It would be suburbia.
It gets worse though. The city of Atlanta requires that when you change the use in an old building, you need to bring it up to standards for zoning. That means that if you have a great old building screaming for a restaurant or office use, it can’t be saved and converted unless you can find a place on the site for parking. If it is an older, in-town structure, the likelihood that 50-75% of the site is already dedicated to parking is unlikely. Most of the time part of a building has to be torn down to provide parking. People wonder why folks keep tearing buildings down in Atlanta. Providing required parking is a significant component of this.