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The Parking Panel Recap

Today, November 3, 2023, the ordinance to abolish parking requirements citywide has passed! Following are notes from the event we hosted last week at The Colton House Hotel rooftop & drawing room event space regarding this ordinance. Thank you to our panelist, Patrick Dean of Cosmic, Nhat Ho of Civilitude, and Stephen Oliver of OPA Design.

The event began with happy hour at Cosmic Coffee + Beer, apps from the LeRoy and Lewis, and just down the road a quick Uber ride to The Colton House. Once at the rooftop, we all enjoyed catching up with old friends, meeting new friends, we ate delicious bites from Mama Betty's and SLAB BBQ, enjoyed beverages from Big Country Organic Brewing Co. along with cocktails from our hosts at The Colton House Bar, and dove into the details of the ordinance. We held an intriguing discussion of parking's future in Austin's ever changing development scene, redeveloping buildings, and how businesses will work with the AEC community in solving this parking puzzle. These changes are due to be in effect through Austin's council updated the ordinance on November 2nd to go into play in 2024.

Night views from The venue's rooftop space.

The discussion consisted of two parts, where we covered the details of Austin's relaxed parking requirements and the second part we presented our solutions and ideas for ways to work together in this solution. It was clear to all of us in the room, the best solutions have teams who know Austin, know the development process (with all its challenges), and combine that with the local businesses who are ready to tackle challenges and take advantage.

True town hall fashion: a genuine debate saying our goodbye's to parking requirements.

Part 1: We meet our panelist Steve, Patrick and Nhat. Each are business owners and have vested interest in solving and working to reduce parking while maintaining strong connections to customers who drive, walk, bus, train, or ride to their respective projects.

Removal of parking requirements by the City of Austin: A draft resolution set to appear on the agenda of Austin City Council’s upcoming May 4 meeting would initiate an amendment to the city’s Land Development Code removing minimum parking requirements citywide, a long-awaited urban reform intended to reduce carbon emissions, create safer streets, and promote the development of affordable housing types while reducing sprawl. Excited to read the 86 page document?! Here it is:

Initial question: What are the odds the parking is 100% lifted from all zoning types?

Nhat is a 95%er and strongly believes in the city staffers ability and motivation from constituents in lifting of requirements. Nhat brings the important point of us all acknowledging neighborhood’s power and roles to essentially check and balance but there will be lawsuits from a few different parties/neighborhoods with the addition that PUD's and NCCD's have to address the relaxed requirements to their own specific language.

Patrick Dean, of Cosmic Hospitality Group, is ready for the change. As an operator Pat would prefer to leave the challenges of parking out of his day to day and problem solve more important issues .

Steve Oliver is shocked it finally happened! As he jokingly laughed that he spent two years working to bring this to council while he was on the Planning & Zoning Commission, he's ecstatic to finally see it happening. However, he, more than most is very aware of the benefits and challenges of the next few years since it's not a black and white deal to simply remove the spaces from existing or soon to be planned or designed projects.

2. Nhat & Steve: What does a relaxed parking requirement look like for a project you are designing that's in the queue? Can we chat about a specific site/place?

Stephen's project along Manor Rd, The Alright, is a small brewery and neighborhood patio bar in old Austin and has no parking. There's quite the story behind it, they were told to have parking associated at one point, then those street spaces were turned into bike lanes and now they've been told zero parking is OK. The owners of The Alright even purchased a contiguous lot to provide parking, which now will be just a bonus to customers and maybe alleviate the pressure on the neighborhood... Or will it? We then examine the customers’ expectations that finding parking once nearby means they;'ll often and potentially always expect parking.

Patrick knows first-hand that customers can have high expectations. Let's take Cosmic Pickle (121 Pickle Rd) for example, once a customer has luck finding a space, they'll come back that same day later for drinks and circle the lot and sometimes leave simply because their expectations were so high to find closely located parking.

Danny (MC): Pat told me early on in our relationship when discussing future sites and parking, that he knows Cosmic Pickle is busy when he drives down South Congress and three blocks away the cars along streetside spaces are already packed. Cosmic’s all day customer volume is impressive to say the least, but the team at Cosmic H.G. does a tremendous job educating the customer where to park or how else to arrive. Since Cosmic’s bar sales are high, they expect most customers find a way other than behind the wheel and they are not afraid to share that.

Nhat admittedly has a development project he hopes (and has some ownership in) gets approved in the next 12 months because as he says, "this is the time when nobody will have had time to put up roadblocks yet." Basically, we know when ordinances pass, it can take time but there will be opposition. So, if we're following Nhat's lead, get your site into site plan approval now :)

Danny: This is interesting as there are definitely other bets being placed on a few development and adaptive reuse projects around town where timing to get approved (sooner than later) will benefit them with a much easier to meet number for parks and less expenses to provide them. The impact on a brewery, for a bar, or restaurant tenant is an intriguing case study as we all know they'll be able to park less (and we all agree they should not have much parking anyway). However, the there's an assumption we all agree that all of these uses will need to address neighborhoods that lie out of two or three zoning categories. Good news: less parking will be required. Bad news: there's not a perfect definition or number defined.

An example:

We brought up a project Civilitude and OPA Design worked on; Meanwhile Brewing. Did you know they had plans to build office space where the futsal sized soccer field is?! And, the site is very cleverly parked. We all got a little schooling on how they did that. What you all can tell is that Meanwhile is busy by the immense amount of street parked cars when you get on the street they are located on.

We also discussed another project these two are working on that's yet to be revealed to the public or others outside this room! We got all the details... about parking and the cool project, of course. Don't miss the next event!

Danny & Patrick have a laugh about that time Pat telling a developer/owner he doesn't care about parking and us watching the owner's reaction"

Part 2 (20 minutes):

During our second part we’ll discuss and provide examples of solutions authentic to Austin’s style and how we all can provide help to this opportunity Austin has to create, reuse and adapt developments in real estate better.

The initial example from Nhat is his company's work for Paperboy with a future retail/hospitality in mind for a current parking design.

Another more generic, but relevant example being the businesses, developers, and landlords along East sixth. We've achieved minimum parking requirements and walkability (sort of ). If the city would step up and accommodate a more walkable/patio centric street design that area would be friendly to all and encourage minimum drive traffic especially during peak play hours (afternoons, evenings, weekends).

Stephen Oliver presented his current project, The Alright which couldn't be done without a true Austin solutions along with a wicked game of design/planning chess with the city zoning and use commission which at the end of the day told the business to open with no parking, please. This, after, initial responses from city insisting a parking ratio must be met. Whew....

Ok, so how does an Austin business accommodate the customer, the developer meet the needs/wants of the tenant (local businesses), and the consultants (A & E) appease the city planners?

Panel simultaneously agreed from a design (owner, civil and architect) perspective that most projects being presented after parking is lifted will have a reduced parking design but will still accommodate the customer or client at the end of the day. We take two apartment complexes for example. One providing no parking, the other providing spaces but at a higher rent. You can take the same example to office projects. There's a select number that fits the demand for parks at each use. Everyone agrees the current number of parking per sf for generally all uses is simply too high. Project specific parking requirements are in order and glad to see it.

The team at Civilitude is working with Paperboy on a very Austin specific solution, for a site nearby their current location to provide a parking structure that will be retail and hospitality project in the future.

Cosmic has a site along Menchaca that they are excited to work with friends and business owners along the busy street that has bustling nightlife. When operators work together, we all agree (much like a great tenant mix at a mixed-use retail project) the customers benefit!

Big thanks to The Colton House Hotel, SLAB BBQ, Cosmic Coffee + Beer, Mama Betty’s, Big Country Organic Brewing Co. and Blenders and Bowls.

Reference: “No to extra parking” for The Alright"

Link to Fresh Air podcast, How Parking Explains The World, referred to in discussions:


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