Spokane Journal of Business


The Journal's View: Market-driven approach to parking makes sense


A newly passed city ordinance slashing parking requirements for multifamily housing developments is good for developers and anti-sprawl advocates alike, something you can’t say often—if ever.

The only criticism is that it might not go far enough.

The ordinance, which the Spokane City Council passed unanimously June 25, frees developers, in certain neighborhoods and under certain conditions, from off-street parking requirements.

Neighborhoods in which the parking exemption applies include those in areas zoned for centers-and-corridors uses. Examples include a long stretch of north Monroe Street and the Hillyard area.

In those areas, the exemption is relevant only for projects for which developers apply for the Multifamily Property Tax Exemption, which incentivizes developers for setting aside a portion of the units for low-income residents.

The parking exemption was proposed by Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, whose mantra in recent weeks has been, to paraphrase, making the permanent housing of people a priority over the temporary parking of vehicles. His main motivation is to make development of low-income housing less expensive, thereby creating an environment in which more living units are available.

A byproduct of that perspective is decisions about parking development becoming market-driven, rather than subject to a one-size-fits-all law. Developers still could choose to provide parking, in many instances—possibly as much parking as has been required by law. But they will get to decide just how much, and their prospective tenants will get to let them know whether they’re right.

Most businesses would like to see more cases where government eases regulation and enables customer demand and other market factors to decide what should happen. The Council should look for more ways to unencumber businesses from unnecessary regulation.

As it stands, apartment developers in Spokane must provide one off-street parking spot for every 1,000 square feet of living space, and that rule still will apply to all market-rate projects and low-income housing outside of centers-and-corridors neighborhoods.

One could make the argument that the parking requirement should be lifted—or at least eased—for other apartment projects, regardless of whether they are in certain parts of town and whether they include low-income units. If a market-driven approach is appropriate for some projects, it should be considered, where practical, elsewhere in Spokane.

The logic behind the current parking exemption is that centers-and-corridors neighborhoods generally are known for walkability or having good access to bus routes, or both. In other words, residents still have options for services nearby or access to transportation, even if they don’t own cars.

The City Council should be open to expanding the exemption in the future. But the current ordinance is a good step in the right direction.