Apartment buildings are going up all over Portland, this summer. The construction is a positive trend in the sluggish economy. But nearly two-thirds of the recent projects are going up without any parking places.
This isn’t a reflection of a big change in policy – it reflects a change in demand.
Patricia Cates lives in downtown Portland. She’s single, and works for a local non-profit. Evan Burton is married and lives on Portland’s east side. He teaches college classes and works weatherizing homes.
They live in apartments, and neither of them owns a car.
“Many of the people here don’t drive, and least our immediate neighbors that we know of, do not drive. And we do not drive, no,” Burton says.
“I love my lifestyle. I don’t like to get pushy, but when people ask me about it, I explain how much less expensive it is, and less stressful it is, and how I lost 20 pounds the first year, because I was walking everywhere,” Cates says.
Burton and Cates have one other thing in common: the buildings they live in don’t have parking places. Developers are betting that many more Portlanders like them are looking to rent new apartments.
One of those developers is Dave Mullens with the Urban Development Group. He opened the Irvington Garden in a close-in Northeast Portland neighborhood last year. It’s 50 units with no parking places.
“The cost of parking would make building this type of project on this location unaffordable,” Mullens says.
Mullens calls the difference “tremendous.”
“Parking a site is the difference between a $750 apartment and a $1,200 apartment. Or, the difference between apartments and condos,” he says.
Mullens says the current market is friendlier for affordable rental apartments than for condominiums.
He says the Irvington Garden filled within weeks of opening, and has remained that way. He says the majority of renters don’t have cars – though some do, and park on the street.
When builders want a project approved, they come to this city permit center run by the Portland Bureau of Development Services.
Planner Tim Heron says the new push to build without parking fits within current zoning – and is consistent with the city’s planning goals.
“Portland wants to grow up in terms of its density – and parking cars, meaning making the space and creating the space for them to park on a site can eat up a lot of space. So we’ve seen an increase in developers wanting to exercise a no-parking option, and use that space for units or for retail.”
Of 40 apartment building projects to be filed in the last year and a half, 25 offer no parking.
Heron says the projects have to fit the places they’re in. Just a few blocks from the permit center is a 282-unit building for Portland State University students.
“This is downtown. This is where the highest intensity of the zoning is for the city – and it’s there for a reason, because it’s well-served by transit,” Heron says.
Heron says 16 stories with no parking wouldn’t fly anywhere else.
And in several parts of the city, neighborhood activists are hoping to stop projects that are even a quarter that size.
Al Ellis, president of the Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association, cites a proposed four-story apartment complex on Fremont Street.
Ellis says the building would be out of character with the neighborhood. And residents worry that without parking provided, tenants would jam the side streets with parked cars.
Planners and developers say successful, no-parking projects have two things in common: frequent transit service, and a nice, walkable neighborhood.
Ellis agrees that his is a fun neighborhood. But he doubts the bus service is good enough to attract people without cars to rent the 50-or-more units.
Ellis says he invited the project’s developers to meet the neighbors. He warned them the proposal wouldn’t be popular.
“And they came to the community meeting, and there were hundreds of people there. It was standing room only, and it was a real hornet’s nest. They learned that the community really – it pushed a button in our neighborhood.”
The Fremont Street proposal is not one of the 40 projects to come before the city recently. There’s no formal application yet. Ellis says it’s a work-in-progress.
“They came into the meeting saying we’ve already made some concessions. We decided that we will include retail. We decided we will have less units, and some of them will be larger than 400 square feet. Still, the parking issue was still unresolved.”
Ellis says he’s meeting with the developers this week to talk about further changes.
Conflicts between developers and neighbors are flaring up all over Portland. A project on North Williams is facing an appeal hearing this week. People in the Richmond neighborhood are worried about multiple projects along Southeast Division.
And Evan Burton – the apartment dweller who doesn’t have a car – says recent construction has split his Northeast neighborhood: renters of apartments vs. owners of houses.
“Younger apartment dwellers, it’s really a non-issue – many of whom do prefer to commute by bicycle or by public transit. Homeowners who live in the neighborhood are concerned.”
Burton says he’s heard some specifics from neighbors.
“The personal anecdotes I’ve heard have to do with elderly relatives coming to visit, or driving into the neighborhood, and having to park a block or two away, and/or fears about that.”
Ellis with the Beaumont Neighborhood says homeowners aren’t the only ones worried about where visitors will park. He says businesses along Fremont are already suffering a parking crunch approaching that of the city’s poster child for the problem: Northwest 23rd Avenue.
Portland’s Planning and Sustainability Bureau recently announced it’s begun a parking study. Ellis hopes that will lead to changes in the zoning code.
But developer Dave Mullens doubts Portland will do anything to back away from its goal of establishing dense, urban neighborhoods.
Sources for this story came from OPB’s Public Insight Network.