Neighborhood study suggests less parking

The campus area has unique parking rules some say should be relaxed.

by Nicolas Hallett

The neighborhoods surrounding the University of Minnesota are reassessing their parking needs.

Amid conflicts between residents, businesses and developers, the University District Alliance will host a community forum Wednesday evening to discuss exactly how much parking the area needs.

The alliance, a partnership between the University and its surrounding neighborhoods, organized a parking task force to solve the problem when Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon asked it for help in October.

Across Minneapolis, the standard parking requirement is one space per residential unit. But in 2008, city planners shifted the University district’s policy to require 0.5 spaces per bedroom but no less than one space per unit, because of the area’s growing trend of high-density developments.

Since then, developers have complained this requirement is asking too much from them, while businesses say they need the parking to attract customers and combat a shortage of spaces.

The problem spurred the Dinkytown Business Association to draft a small-area plan around the lack of parking in the business district, among other issues.

“Policy around parking is something we never feel we have 100 percent right, because it’s kind of a moving target and it’s really complicated,” Minneapolis principal city planner Haila Maze said.

At issue is the University Area Overlay District, the ordinance that requires 0.5 off-street parking spaces for each bedroom, which the Minneapolis Planning Commission has overlooked at times.

Developers proposing projects often said they didn’t need the required parking because of the projects’ proximity to campus and public transit, so they requested variances to reduce the requirement, Maze said.

“Our planning commission has been willing to grant [those] variances,” she said. “If you grant the variance over and over again, you think, ‘Maybe we just need to change the rules.’”

Phase I of the University District Alliance’s study focuses on residential parking and recommends further reducing parking requirements.

“This will have the impact of making it easier to build developments with studio and [one-]bedroom units,” the study said, “something that has been requested by both neighborhoods and developers.”

If community members endorse Phase I, it will be presented to the City Council as an amendment to city code. That process could take several months.

Phase II will focus on commercial parking, but Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association President Cordelia Pierson said commercial and residential parking shouldn’t be separated.

Developers are proposing projects in and around Dinkytown, she said, so residential parking will have a direct impact on the business district’s parking.

“To have reduction in parking requirements right now seems ridiculous when people are extremely concerned with having adequate parking,” Pierson said. “It might end up being a fine idea, but the timing is terrible.”

Ted Tucker, president of the planning commission and former University District Alliance chairman, said the commission granted “many” parking variances for developers, but they were often in areas with transit and high activity, like Stadium Village and Dinkytown.

That’s exactly the problem, Pierson said, adding that people in Dinkytown are “panicked” about parking.

“I’m sure we’ll hear a lot about that at the forum tomorrow,” Tucker said. “That’s the point of having the forum: Introduce an idea, and see what people think about it.”