City officials this week are pointing to last Monday, Sept. 17, at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) as a watershed moment in Everett.
It’s a moment, they say, when Everett’s administration officially turned from what has been traditional thinking about parking and traffic – embracing a City not dictated by the automobile.
The polar shift in thinking falls along the lines of desiring development without parking.
That’s right – without parking.
While the common thread for decades has been that more units mean more parking is needed, Mayor Carlo DeMaria and many in his administration now believe that less parking means less cars, which will allow more street-level amenities like coffee shops and other businesses to flourish in spaces that have heretofore been parking garages.
“The old development mandate of two parking spaces for each unit of housing is no longer smart, efficient or affordable,” said the mayor. “By reducing the number of parking spots required, we are reducing the cost of development, and increasing green space and space for street-level retail and restaurants that will bring vibrancy and economic development to Everett. As we reduce the number of parking spaces required for new developments, we are continuing to build in transportation alternatives that will reduce vehicle dependency for residents and visitors. These include the dedicated bus lane, shared parking facilities, and bike sharing services to help link residents to alternative transportation modes.”
The watershed moment came during a discussion at the ZBA about a controversial project brought by Greg Antonelli in the 600th block of Broadway. It contained 18 units, first-floor retail and no parking; and while some on the board didn’t see the wisdom in it, the matter passed 4-1.
DeMaria and his administration now see that as a mind shift where Everett will reward developers who bring in projects with little to no parking (and who also don’t allow street parking stickers) – shifting away from the two parking spaces per unit that are now required and moving towards a building scheme where developers choose how much parking they think they need.
And less is better under the new policy.
“It really was a watershed moment,” said Jay Monty, City transportation director. “It’s the first time ever we’ve had a no-parking development and no street parking permits allowed in the development. There was some pushback, but we also had some pushback with the bus lane when we first did that. The mayor went to that meeting and presented and convinced the Board in a 4-1 vote that no parking developments are the way to go.”
Monty said the common refrain of building more parking at ground level for more cars has been shown to only bring more cars. If one builds less parking, he said, you will attract fewer people who are dependent on cars. He said that if Everett continues to build out an innovative transit network and promote transportation alternatives like biking, ZipCars, walking and ride-share, fewer people will need their own car that needs a parking space.
“We basically said we aren’t going to subsidize parking anymore as a community,” he said. “Parking is not of high economic value when you have land values like we have. We have to pick between subsidizing parking a car or taking advantage of other economic development opportunities. We had a developer that wanted a coffee shop and had to get rid of parking for it. He wanted to put in sustainable economic activity that would better the community, but the zoning was saying to put in parking, which brings in no activity. The zoning is sacrificing street level economic activity…We want an active downtown and good jobs and we give that up now for the subsidization of parking spaces for these kinds of developments.”
Monty said the classic example is in Kendall Square where they took away parking, instituted better transit and pedestrian features, and actually reduced the congestion and traffic as they also developed millions of square feet. He said they believe they can do the same thing in Everett.
DeMaria and Monty said they look at the future as one where they don’t dictate to developers how much parking to put in, but rather leave it up to them to decide and reward them for having less.
“Our hope is it will be a lot less parking than what we currently ask for,” said Monty. “We’re hoping for zero. We want to see how it all pans out.”
Monty said they will soon come out with a list of conditions for the ZBA to follow that instructs on the trade-offs for having less parking. Some examples of trade-offs would be free T passes, bike stations, ZipCar spots, and other such measures.
“I think we want to be a little more flexible to say if you want no parking on Broadway at a development, then you have to do X, Y and Z – and one of them could be mandatory free T passes,” he said.
Both said a key to this would be to deed restrict developments from being able to have residents apply for street parking permits. Many have questioned whether that is legal, but Monty said they have gotten legal advice that says it is legal. He also pointed to the fact that Somerville has been doing this and without problems.
DeMaria likens it to a ‘No Pet’ policy at some residential developments. He said previously that if an apartment building doesn’t allow pets, then people with pets will not rent an apartment. He believes it will work the same way for car-free developments.
Monty said it all comes down to a choice, and last week Mayor DeMaria and the administration made a bold choice – a City that doesn’t prioritize the automobile.
If you manage traffic correctly, you can reduce the overall need for roadway space,” he said. “It’s a choice. If we keep permitting developments with parking, we will see more cars in the city. The other option is to require our developers and transportation partners to provide options like shuttles or passes for the T. These are powerful options.”