Richfield Considers Lowering Parking Minimums

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On Monday, the Richfield Planning Commission split 3-3 on a recommendation by planning staff to reduce parking minimums in mixed use zoning districts. In areas near transit, the plan would reduce minimum requirements from 1.5 to one space per unit. Outside of areas with high frequency transit, parking minimums would be made consistent with existing rules in high-density zoning districts — 1.25 spaces per unit.

The proposal now goes forward to the Richfield City Council, where it will be considered without a recommendation from the Planning Commission.

Richfield city planner Matt Brillhart told commissioners that apartment projects approved within the last two years had mostly been within the 1.25 to 1.3 range, with the exception of a building consisting mostly of studios that included one parking space per apartment.

Commissioner Sean Hayford Oleary said the reduction they were considering was still “a much higher number than what Minneapolis requires just a few blocks north of where many of these apartment buildings are.” (Note that Minneapolis has gone even further by eliminating residential parking minimums entirely in the recently adopted 2040 plan.)

Commissioner Peter Lavin responded, “We’re not Minneapolis.”

Lavin argued for maintaining the commission’s ability to judge parking requirements on a case by case basis for each proposed development. Earlier in the meeting he voted against allowing a bubble tea cafe to open with 13 parking spaces — two spaces under the 15-space minimum.

Commissioner James Rudolph explained his own personal parking math: winter snow occupies 1/3 of every parking lot for nine months of the year, with just four months snow-free (he didn’t explain why his year includes 13 months).

Brillhart, the planner, pointed out that most new residential parking in Richfield is covered, and in cases where it’s not, they have dedicated space for snow storage. In cases where commercial development has been built at the minimum requirement, it’s specifically prohibited to store snow on site.

Rudolph called the idea of a residential parking minimum reduction a “nightmare.” He delivered a series of parking anecdotes throughout the meeting, which were called into question by a skeptical Commissioner Susan Rosenberg.

Rudolph: “I see it every day. You can drive by my house. You can drive by the new developments…”

Rosenberg: “You see people circling the parking lots not finding a place to park?”

Rudolph: “The parking lots are full.”

Rosenberg: “Everyday?”

Rudolph: “People are parking on the streets. Yes.”

Rosenberg: “Mhmm.”

“In my experience living in Richfield, we do have vast amounts of parking space,” Said Commission Chair Allysen Hoberg. “It does behoove Richfield to look at our parking requirements.”

Brillhart explained the justification for his staff recommendation:

“Richfield’s best transit days are ahead of it. We don’t have too many high frequency transit lines operating today. That’s going to change within about three years. The D Line will be running on Portland Avenue offering rapid transit service. The Orange Line will be running on 35W, stopping at 66th Street and 76th Street, offering high frequency transit between here and downtown.

“The zoning code is not looking backward at the past, it’s looking forward. The average household size is smaller than ever. Vehicle ownership rates are steady or dropping. Not every household in Richfield owns a vehicle.”

One thing unaddressed at Monday’s meeting is the sheer cost of parking. It’s expensive, especially when it’s structured. In 2015, a Minneapolis developer told the Star Tribune that the cost of underground parking is $25,000 per stall, plus maintenance, taxes, and insurance. This cost affects what sorts of buildings are possible and the price people pay to live there.

The proposed parking minimum reduction was one piece of a package of recommendations from Richfield planning staff intended to “address inconsistencies” and “make other adjustments based on lessons learned from recent and approved development projects.” The other proposed changes, mostly related to setbacks and permitted uses, were passed by the Planning Commission without controversy.