It’s Official: Denver City Council Values Parking More Than Housing

What’s more important: Providing sufficient housing for Denver residents, or cramming more car storage into the city?

With a unanimous vote on Monday to temporarily ban new small-lot developments without off-street parking, the Denver City Council has prioritized car storage over places for people to live.

The decision undercuts the City Council’s top two stated priorities: creating a less car-oriented city and making housing more affordable.

Building parking can add a fortune to the cost of construction — $26,000 per underground parking space and $18,000 for each above-ground stall. If parking is required, those costs depress the construction of housing, which Denver can ill afford. Already, housing construction is not keeping pace with population growth.

Parking-obsessed residents testified to Council before the vote. “To build a building with no parking spots is pure insanity,” said Doug Gragg. When it comes to on-street parking, “the potato sack is full,” said Bob Hickman.

Inherent in their argument is that parking a private car directly in front of their houses, in the public right of way, is an inalienable right — and that more people moving into their neighborhood would infringe on that right.

Not everyone agreed. Johan Barrios, an expecting mother, lives in Uptown. She hates circling the block for parking sometimes — but also hates the idea of getting priced out of her apartment in six months. “So now we have to choose,” Barrios told the council. “Do we support parking, or do we support the ability to live in our neighborhood in six months? And I can tell you that choice is really clear for us.”

Council members mostly agreed with the parking-above-all crowd. Councilman Paul Kashmann even floated the idea of capping Denver’s growth. “What is Denver’s ultimate population? Is it 900,000, or is it 4 million?” he asked. He shared an anecdote from a colleague in Indianapolis that he wants Denverites to consider: “There’s something very appealing about being a second-tier city.”

Among many problems with Kashmann’s line of thought is this: The City Council cannot stop people from moving to Denver. It can shape growth, but trying to put some sort of cap on housing will only backfire, until only the rich will be able to afford living here.

In Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray is responding to a housing crunch with a plan to build 50,000 new housing units (with 20,000 below market rate), including further reductions in parking requirements [PDF].

Denver risks heading in the other direction if the City Council doesn’t get over its parking obsession.

During the seven-month moratorium, a group of residents, council members, developers, and transit and affordable housing professionals will hammer out a new code that is more “contextual,” said Councilman Albus Brooks.

Councilwoman Robin Kniech said the new code should reflect that some new developments “might not need parking.” “The idea that we can just kind of continue our trend in planning for the single car and that some of this growth will go elsewhere — I don’t think that’s a realistic scenario,” she said.

The City Council grandfathered in nine projects already in the pipeline, so some car-free and car-light development will get built. Two of those projects will add 108 homes in City Park West, sans parking, costing $1,000 a month — $371 less than the average rent in the metro area.

These are the types of homes Council members will stifle in the future, all because some residents can’t conceive of a city without government-mandated parking.

  • Brian Schroder

    We live in a city. Not a suburb. I have gone car-less for over a year and I have a newborn as well. You don’t need a car to make it across town or to the grocery store, or doctor, or hospital or whatever.

    • HumanInDenver

      Please tell your city councilperson that

  • Paul Davidson

    $371 less than the average rent… Is that an argument that these are cheaper because of no parking? Would be interested to see the price of the average 500sf 1-bedroom in Capital Hill. These are pretty close to market rate. I’m also not sure I’d call a 500sf apartment in a high rise building with no parking a “home.” It’s just an apartment…the very short-term kind.

    • Sanperson

      It is not a “home” because it is 500 sq ft or because there is no parking spot?

      • Paul Davidson

        According to recent reports these are more like 350sf. More of a pod. From my personal perspective, calling them “homes” that are less expensive than the average implies they are more than they are: VERY small apartments.

        • Aaron

          Millennials don’t need or want McMansions and cars. It may not be what you want, but if people are willing to live there, maybe they don’t think like you?

        • Anthony

          A home has nothing to do with the size of the dwelling unit. It’s where people feel safe, comfortable, relaxed, and loved. That can happen in any size dwelling space.

  • Sandi Heller

    Exactly how many people would Mr. Sachs like to cram into a too-small space at premium prices? Or maybe the question here is ‘How much did developers pay to have this article written?’ Until public transportation is up to snuff, adding hundreds of shoe-box-sized apartments is not feasible.

    • Brian Schroder

      Public transit is up to snuff… if you live without a car you can get around just fine. There are so many choices with varying degrees of cost from no cost walking to renting an Uber. All you have to do is have a plan everyday for your life.

      • Sandi Heller

        Do you guys understand the demographic these micro-pads are for? Have you noticed all the out of state license plates? These places are going to be bought up and rented out at a premium to newcomers, people that have a set habit of driving, and they’re going to get jobs anywhere they can. Ever try taking public transit to Greenwood Village, Denver Tech Center or Englewood? That means you expect them to likely be trying public for the first time, to go to an interview, to go shopping, to go skiing and hiking, etc. All this while paying for an overpriced closet, student loans, and every other expense. Details are important.

        • Aaron

          The 0 bus runs to Englewood I believe, and the light rail runs to the Tech Center (I know someone who is working in the Tech Center without a car, looking to find a place close to the light rail so he can /continue/ to go to work without a car.

        • Brian Schroder

          People that have a set habit of driving? I have been on the train to the DTC with people that are newcomers and they didn’t own a car when they got here and they seemed fine getting to their new job on the train from Denver. Just the other day I was talking to the bartender at Hop Doddy in Union Station. He said that he and his gf both newcomers to this city sold their car, because after they moved here they didn’t use it.

        • ANM

          Your post assumes that the only way to get to another part of town is by driving alone. That is, in fact, not the case. There are plenty of options for getting to all the places you have mentioned without actually owning a personal car that needs to be parked on the street in front of your residence. These options include:
          Walking
          Bicycling
          Taking the bus, light rail, or commuter rail
          Hailing a taxi
          Hiring an Uber or Lyft
          Checking out a Car2Go
          Renting a Zipcar or eGo car
          Renting from a traditional rental car company

          Most of these options, when utilized in the course of daily city life and the occasional trip to the mountains, cost less than owning a car.

          This.. in fact, can be done EVEN in the far reaches of SE Denver as I have discovered this week because my family had to unexpectedly return the car my family was renting while our other car is getting repaired from hail damage because the insurance wouldn’t cover it anymore. So I am currently a one-car household for the foreseeable future… 2 kids in daycare, 2 parents that have to work in Downtown Denver and all the way out in the boonies of Havana and Alameda. Turns out – he can even take the bus to work and it’s not that much longer than driving alone. We’re making it work. By using every option available to use, communicating about our needs and planning strategically.

          • Sandi Heller

            That is a lot of strategy, and it’s not even snowing yet!

        • Anthony

          The 12 to the E/F is the easy way to Greenwood Village/DTC by transit from the 16th & Downing proposal. Easy peasy, even for my New Jersian wife who’s never gone anywhere without a car until we moved here.

          • TakeFive

            I’d keep her then. 🙂

      • AlCummings

        Your scenario is true for very very few people. Others need an auto.

    • Dane Johnson

      Talk about missing the point of the article. Where does Mr. Sachs advocate cramming people anywhere? He is arguing that Denver faces two distinct issues 1. The cost of housing and 2. Vehicle congestion. The idea that you can build more residences and market those to a population of people who do not rely on daily vehicle transportation is exactly what this city needs. You’re not going to stop people from moving to Denver regardless of how high and hard you shake your fist at them… More housing lowers cost of living for all of us and limiting the addition of cars is a good thing. And Please, “How much did developers pay to have this article written?” what is this clandestine group of developers you worry are around the corner subsiding the writing of grass roots pro-people articles like this one?

      • AlCummings

        How does more housing lower the cost of living for everyone? Seems to me 10,000 more people here each year drives up the cost of living for everyone through simple supply and demand. If more housing lowered living costs, it’d be cheaper rather than more expensive to live in big cities. The opposite is true.

        • neroden

          Learn some economics. SUPPLY AND DEMAND applies in this case. The *demand* for housing is based on the number of JOBS. The *supply* is based on whether the city council allows the construction of housing.

          If demand exceeds supply, rents go UP.

          Most big cities have incredibly stupid, super-restrictive zoning codes which prevent the construction of housing. The result is that SUPPLY is too low and rents go way way way up.

          I can name several big cities where it’s way cheaper to live there, cheaper than living in rural areas. Like Detroit! (Yes, it’s still a big city!) Why? There are very few JOBS so the demand for housing is very low.

          Point is, the number of people moving into the city has NOTHING to do with the amount of housing. It has to do with the JOBS.

          If you want to keep Denver small and prevent 10,000 people from moving in… you need ANTI-JOB policies designed to chase away employers and make businesses move out of town.

          It’s an idea. It would do the trick. Do you really support it?

          If not, you need to support construction of lots of apartment buildings.

  • Debates such as this overlook one important trade-off: a driveway displaces one on-street parking space so off-street parking requirements often do nothing to increase on-street parking supply, and since on-street spaces can be shared (a space can be used by residents at night and visitors during the day), they are used more efficiently overall. Most neighborhoods are better off with less off-street parking and better management of on-street spaces.

    • greenbuildingindenver

      Todd, Denver has alleys in 90% of neighborhoods and front driveways aren’t allowed by code anymore.
      But this point is mostly true in the suburbs.

  • Paul Kashmann

    David — I in no way suggested capping growth. What I have been looking for is an evaluation of what is sustainable. Do we have the water, transit systems, parkland, power grid, etc. to sustain unbridled growth, or is there a point at which we will be stretching our resources past the point of their ability to meet our needs. I’m suggesting we simply need to have a dialogue as a community as to what type of Denver we are working toward. I think that will help inform these types of decisions as we move forward. We talk a good deal about density, but there are varying levels of density. Is the goal simply to house as many people as possible, at all costs, or is their a desire to maintain quality of life as well. And what does that quality of life look like? I think its a fascinating discussion. I’m glad streetsblog is around and playing a relevant role in that discussion.

    • Aaron

      Cities are unsustainable, but less so than suburbs. Factoring in cars isn’t going to solve the problem of water, parks, and power. In fact, it wastes valuable time and effort from solving the real issues.

  • Anthony

    This location is one block away from Colfax which has busses running east and west every five minutes. 16th Avenue has a popular bike lane, while pretty much all the side streets are bike friendly. We have a housing shortage that is requiring people to pay $1500/mo for a pretty decent one bedroom apartment, or $1200/mo for a less decent place.
    For some people, it’s not about how much you’re getting per $ per square foot. I wouldn’t get a 10,000 sf place if it were $0.50 per square foot because that $5,000 price tag still exceeds my budget despite the “great value.” When you’ve got a $1,000 housing budget, it doesn’t matter that you get a swimming pool, sweet gym, and garage parking space for an extra $250/mo, you still can’t afford it.
    Not everyone lives like you. Not everyone feels the need to have an expansive 1,000 sf apartment, the need to own a home, a want to drive anywhere (let alone everywhere). Nobody’s forcing you to live in these micro-units, some people like to because they support (or require) a minimalist lifestyle. This is the city, and an extra couple hundred units will not change the character of the neighborhood. Despite the density if my part of Capitol Hill, it still has a very distinct residential feel, plus we get the bonus of being able to walk to the grocery store, restaurant, hardware store… Whatever we need.
    My last point, is regarding parking. If you have off-street parking, this has no impact on you. If you have on-street parking, you’re a hypocrite for saying others can’t park on the street. If preserving a parking space is so important to you, find a place with a parking space or rent one out. The people who choose to live in these units will do the same. I’ve parked on street in Capitol Hill before; if it’s that important for you to have a parking space, you can pay for it. Don’t make people who don’t own cars pay for your parking space.

    • John Riecke

      Preach!

    • Ben Schumacher

      Don’t forget car2go, Lyft, and Uber as transportation options…especially car2go.

      • Anthony

        Agreed; my wife loves Car2Go and I use B-Cycle for those same trips. Options abound!
        Seattle has BMW’s ReachNow which has the Car2Go point to point concept but the cars are all at least 4 seaters. Once that concept (the larger cars part) comes to Denver there will be almost no financial or convenience reason to own a car if you live and work in any of the close-in neighborhoods or Downtown. Even if you go to the mountains literally every weekend, the cost of renting a car every weekend is almost the same as individual ownership but without having to worry about the car being in the shop or parking it outside in a hail storm or finding a parking spot in Capitol Hill/Uptown.

  • Gerhard W. Mayer

    Oye – and I thought they were enlightened over in Denver. What does it take for us to admit that the world we built for ourselves with and around cars was a mistake we must undo as quickly as possible?

  • Aaron

    People in Denver act like Denver never existed without the automobile. That is a blatant lie. In fact, the Queen City of the West was fully developed without the car, with trains running to Golden and Boulder. That all changed after WWII when affluent folk moved to the suburbs to take advantage of government programs favoring suburban growth and expansion, and the Urban Renewal Authority started tearing down buildings to make room for people to park cars. Denver existed longer without cars than it has with them.

  • Aaron

    In talking about how many people can comfortably live in Denver given the finite number of resources, the question gets turned on its head. Public transit and SOV alternatives are less pollutant, so if all these new residents come to the city with cars in tow, we may see a resurrection of the brown cloud of yesteryear (I for one always want to be able to see the mountains from town).

    Furthermore, city residents use less water per capita than their neighbors in the suburbs. Aurora is expanding east, other communities are expanding west. If we don’t act soon, all of the things we fell in love with about Colorado, namely the open space and clean air and freedom, will all be paved over by cookie-cutter subdivisions, not to mention they’ll be using precious water at a higher rate.

    All of this fails to mention that the millennial generation doesn’t act like the baby boomers. We don’t want cars or houses. We are fine riding our bikes and buying condos. Yet, we have to move to the suburbs and buy cars because we can’t afford to live in cities. If you want parking, let the markets decide. Don’t require parking, but sell it at cost or the market rate (currently the cost for a structured space in Denver is around $20,000). If people really need the space, surely they’d be willing to pay for it?

    It’s not just out-of-staters moving to Denver; many new residents are coming from other Colorado counties. So stop using distracting arguments to take attention away from the problem and instead lets work to create the best Denver we can.

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