Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission Tackles Parking Reform

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By Kimberlee Stafford

On May 19, 2022, the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission adopted, on a temporary basis, rules known as the Climate-Friendly and Equitable Communities project. The new rules are a major update to state land use standards, and have been two years in the making. While the rules are currently temporary to give cities more time to comment, they are expected to become permanent in July.

The new rules apply to cities in the state’s largest metro areas and, among other things, require them to raise standards for bikeway and walkway design, limit the amount of additional driving per person for any new transportation investments, increase the acceptable building height to four stories in designated climate-friendly areas, and require more trees in large parking lots to reduce heat islands. But, perhaps the most impactful part of the rules is implementation of comprehensive parking reform in Oregon’s largest urban areas.

Parking mandates were first implemented across the nation after World War II, requiring a minimum amount of parking space depending upon the development project. Housing and transportation experts have long called for measures to reform or eliminate these parking requirements. Transportation advocates note that because parking lots force buildings to be spread apart, the effect is to keep cars necessary at the expense of other transportation options. In areas where buildings are separated by large parking lots, bus stops are unable to service as many people or destinations. Housing advocates note that parking mandates make it illegal or prohibitively expensive to create homes, retail shops, or offices in spaces where driving is less necessary due to the cost of creating and maintaining parking. In the last few years, parking reform efforts have gained traction across the nation.

The parking components of Climate-Friendly and Equitable Communities rules give urban areas various options to roll back or eliminate parking mandates. Cities can decide to eliminate parking minimums altogether, or choose options which either implement parking policies like taxing commercial parking, reducing parking mandates on apartment buildings, and requiring large employers to offer flexible commute benefits; or eliminate parking minimums for small businesses, long vacant buildings, adaptive reuse projects, transit-oriented development, and small home settings (e.g., one bedroom homes). Both options would require cities to eliminate minimums for affordable housing, adult and child care facilities, and areas nearest transit.

One needn’t be worried that the reform of parking mandates will result in not having enough parking. Developers understand that people still need to drive to get certain places, and also understand the economic risks of not building enough parking for their project’s tenants and customers. But, by making parking optional, developers will be able to right size the amount of parking to the needs of the specific project, with the result hopefully being more active commercial and residential development in urban areas, and less underutilized space.