Downtown Developer Advances Parking Relief Plan

Thomas MacMillan PhotoA New York developer seeking to convert a downtown office tower into apartments earned a key city approval not to build a single new parking spot for cars—as long as there are 45 spots for bicycles.

The developer, Cooper Square Realty, plans to convert the Union Trust Company Building at Church and Elm, on the corner of the New Haven Green, into apartments. Cooper Square asked the Board of Zoning Appeals Tuesday to reduce the parking requirement for cars from 145 to 100. All 100 spots would be in existing nearby lots, not new construction.

By a unanimous vote Wednesday, the City Plan Commission approved the reduced parking plan—with an added condition that the developer include 45 bike parking spots, 30 more than the legal minimum. The matter now heads back to the Board of Zoning Appeals for a final vote.

The proposed 100 car-parking spaces “would be located at one or more of the three New Haven parking Authority facilities located within a thousand feet of 205 Church Street,” reads the City Plan Commission advisory report.

Where where would the bicycles park, since all of the parking is off-site?

City Plan staffer Tom Talbot said there are no specifics yet on a plan for bike rack locations.

Talbot said there was no equivalency between 45 car spots reduced and 45 bike spots added. The zoning requires only one bike parking spot for each 10 dwelling units, or 15 bike spots.

The applicant did not propose any additional spots, but Talbot did, because the ordinance gives discretion to staff to add more if they see fit, Talbot said.

“If a significant number of your tenants are without cars,” which Talbot framed as a reasonable assumption, “it’s not unreasonable to suggest 45. Forty-five is not a lot,” Talbot said.

City zoning code requires some bike parking to be on site. “They have a big basement,” Talbot noted.

The project still needs approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals. And even though nearly all of the renovation of 205 Church St. will be internal, with no change of footprint, the project still must return to the City Plan Commission for a site plan review.

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posted by: TheMadcap on May 16, 2013  11:45am

Correction, they’re not building a single new parking space period, which is awesome.

[That’s right. Clarification made.]

posted by: Mister Jones on May 16, 2013  11:53am

I don’t really disagree with this result, because there’s no way to use this building otherwise, unless you force the developer to build a garage attached. But recognize that downtown parking has become a bit of a shell game. Sure, there’s plenty of parking on the streets and in the garages on paper. But what about in the ebbs and flows of peak uses in real life? Gateway squeezed out lots of monthly parkers from the glorious Temple Street Garage—where did they go?

posted by: Curious on May 16, 2013  11:54am

Cool.  All of Yale (except West Campus) is reachable by bike from here, so hopefully this will work out very well.

posted by: HhE on May 16, 2013  11:57am

This strikes me as very reasonable.

posted by: DingDong on May 16, 2013  12:03pm

By the way, that picture of a bike rack is of one of an incompetently installed bike rack that drives me crazy.  It’s installed too close to the building wall behind it to allow you to put the wheel of the bike over the rack, as the rack is intended.  As a result, it can hold far fewer bikes than it was designed to hold.

posted by: William Kurtz on May 16, 2013  12:39pm

I would go so far as to say it strikes me as very progressive. Nice job.

posted by: Stephen Harris on May 16, 2013  1:00pm

It’s downtown who cares. Time to revise the code to eliminate mandatory parking for residential uses. Either that or just designate the Temple Street garage for all parking since that’s what everyone seems to do anyway ;-). It is a bottomless pit of spaces you know.

posted by: robn on May 16, 2013  1:14pm

I think its a sensible solution, but these kind of trade-off/incentive solutions, (bike storage, car sharing programs, automated parking) should no longer arbitrated piecemeal by the BZA and should be codified by the BOA into our zoning law.

posted by: Pedro Soto on May 16, 2013  2:23pm

The city actually keep quite close tabs on parking capacity and demand in the city with projections of parking demand into the future.

Here is the most recent report - 2011 (prepared in 2012) Parking Plan.pdf

The city projects that there will be almost 95% of downtown parking utilization beginning around this year and next, settling down to 85%, once various projects are completed, which is right where renowned transportation professor Donald Shoup states cities should aim for.

You can’t wish parking demand away, but you definitely need to be proactive in balancing parking demand to supply, without building overcapacity. The city so far has done a pretty good job on this front.

Bringing zoning in line with where things have actually been going would only make this easier to do in the future.

This is a fantastic project and only strengthens downtown. The fact that very large private money bets are being made in downtown (and satellite to downtown e.g. chapel west and upper state st) without large subsidies is a huge deal. This is not happening in every small city.

posted by: anonymous on May 16, 2013  3:44pm

Pedro, although projections are better than flying blind, those studies are nonsense. They do not consider peak and non-peak periods, parking outside the “study area” that people use, or the idea that if you were to raise prices by $1 or install a new bus/bike lane,  demand can dramatically change.  We should be dramatically reducing the amount of parking in our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

posted by: DingDong on May 16, 2013  5:09pm

Regarding my above comment, there is now a different picture.  The bike rack now shown is totally fine (so far as I know).

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 16, 2013  6:32pm

Those who bike around this city are the epitome of snobbish to me. Arrogant spoiled child-like grown-ups who spend time talking about bicycles and cannot understand that not everyone lives for bicycles.How make you all pay at parking meters.

posted by: HhE on May 16, 2013  9:58pm

3/5ths, guilty as charged. I am a complete snob, albeit only about things and not people.  I love playing games with my children, and racing their slot cars.  I have been known to talk about bicycles.  While I understand that not everyone lives for bicycles, I struggle to, as when I am riding as feel so alive, just as my children do when they are on one of their bikes. 

Good luck on that meter thing.  When I use my Brompton, I take it inside with me.  When I ride a Pashley, I typically secure it to a proper bike rack.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 17, 2013  12:09am

Arrogant, child like adults who can’t move themselves without having to surrounded by steel and gasoline and think they’re threatened by someone on 10lbs of steel.

posted by: AMDC on May 17, 2013  6:01am

Dear Curious—yes, this will work out very well—for Yale.  Those few of us who care to come to downtown NH are obviously not needed or wanted.  There is no parking and you risk a $20 ticket for daring to overstay your visit.
Yes, there is a vision for NH—- it is a Yale and corporate-dominated vision—- apartments for the elite and Yale-connected carpetbaggers.
Citizens/residents of NH and surrounding towns—- do you get it now?  You are not wanted or needed in NH—- only your tax dollars are welcome—- take the hint—- bring your business elsewhere.
  Poor New Haven—or will it be named Yaleville soon?

posted by: Walt on May 17, 2013  8:32am

Only remotely related to this article re bikes, but so rare an occurrence that, I had to post it

At 7 AM this morning. I actually saw a tight-pants-bikist at the corner of Sackett Point Road   and Universal Drive in North Have, calmly   waiting for the red light facing him to change to green before proceeding, rather than recklessly going against traffic and the red light as bikists usually do


posted by: robn on May 17, 2013  8:49am

The city could densify its parking by moving to automated parking. These companies have been doing this for the automotive industry for 50 years. You can fit more cars in less area.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 17, 2013  10:21am

When you say there’s no parking on downtown New Haven, what you really mean is “I might actually have to walk 5 minutes”