It has recently been determined by certain members of City Council that we have a parking problem. In order to solve this problem council recently passed an ordinance it maintains will create more off street parking spaces by removing the parking area from floor area ratio. You might wonder exactly what floor area ratio has to do with parking. Floor area ratio is a difficult concept to grasp so I’ll leave it for later. I attended the council meeting and asked a number of questions, none of which were addressed. So let’s start with something simpler.
My first question was how do you know we have a parking problem? Was a study performed? Did you identify where parking problems exist? Did you determine the cause of the problem? Did you come up with a list of possible solutions? In fact was any kind of analysis done at all? Perhaps it was looked at in the Planning Board. Who knows? Maybe they performed some kind of study.
Well sure there are areas of town where parking appears to be a problem. Anywhere close to the beach. Those day trippers need a place to park. And surely we have a parking problem in some of the older neighborhoods, especially those without alley ways and off street parking. We allowed construction that covers the entire lot and there’s no place to park but on the street. But the recently passed ordinance applies to the entire town. So the question is, is this a targeted approach to a specific problem? Will it in fact provide a solution for those neighborhoods where parking is a problem? Maybe we’d be better off by creating residential parking zones. In that case day trippers can pay to park in a lot, walk a little father, or pay a fine for illegally parking in a residential neighborhood.
A council member identified one of those neighborhoods by dropping the name of someone that lives there. So I asked that person how he felt about the ordinance. Whether he thought it would alleviate his parking problems. "No" he said "it won’t create more parking. In order to park beneath my home I’d have to put in a street cut (for egress) that would reduce on street parking." So it would seem that this approach is something like a cat chasing its tail. You’re not doing me any favors.
As for the rest of the town, where this ordinance also applies, will it have any effect on parking? It was argued that we needed to pass this ordinance so that homeowners can park beneath their homes. But isn’t that the case now in most neighborhoods? So if you can already park beneath your home how will this ordinance create more parking? It was also argued that we needed to pass this ordinance so that we can skirt (enclose) the parking area. Said one council member "If I wanted to live in a place that looks like North Carolina I would have bought in North Carolina." What he was talking about was the appearance of homes sitting on exposed pilings. That’s all well and fine except that you can skirt the parking area now. Look around you. It would seem we have a solution looking for a problem.
Now for floor area ratio. Simply put floor area ratio constrains the overall building size by limiting the amount of floor area. It goes even farther by constraining the amount of floor area in relation to lot size. That is to say the smaller the lot size the smaller the amount of floor space is allowed. That’s where the ratio part comes in. It makes sense (right?) that you would tailor the size of the building to the size of the lot.
It was also argued that this was a necessary measure to compensate for the increased volume of the parking area due to the new elevation requirements. That because of the increased height of the parking area more space will be lost to parking that can no longer be used in the living area. But is that true? I don’t think so. Floor area ratio is a constraint on floor area which is independent of height. It is a two dimensional and not a three dimensional constraint. The height of the parking area has nothing to do with it.
So the question is, "Why did we pass this ordinance?" What is the effect of removing the parking area from floor area ratio? The official word is that it will not create more living space or lead to bigger homes. But where does that space go? That part of permissible floor area that the parking area no longer counts against. And there’s more. The ordinance also removes the attic area from the calculation of floor area ratio.
I’ll tell you where I think that allowable space will go. It will go towards habitable space on a third (upper attic) floor where it couldn’t be used before. And I go back to what I heard about the new hospitality zone and the intent to allow new construction on less than 30 foot lots. Is it possible that this is also an attempt to weaken the constraint on floor area in relation to lot size? So we can build bigger in less space?
Maybe I’m not as sympathetic as I should be. I don’t have a parking problem. I have 5 parking spaces behind my home and none of them are underneath it. How did I accomplish that? It’s simple really. Mine is an older home that doesn’t take up the entire lot. There’s room on my lot for parking. Maybe building smaller homes is a solution to our parking problems (real or imagined?)
Let’s be honest folks. Our problems from flooding to streets to parking are caused by over development and by the explosion in both the intensity and density of development. New homes are going in at twice the size of mine. And what is being proposed as the solution to those problems is more of the same. If parking is the problem why are we implementing Coastal Cottage? If this makes sense to you please explain it to me. We’re not doing anything to solve our problems. We’re only making them worse.