Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rows of Vegetables or Rows of Cars

Garden Cafe
Source: Garden Cafe.

I went to a garden party last weekend. Literally, a garden party. I had dinner on the patio of the vegetable garden of the Garden Cafe in East Dallas. What once was a rundown, dilapidated, decaying (you get the idea, right?) old shopping center is now a neighborhood gem serving breakfast, lunch and, by pre-arrangement, dinner, with meals of some of the freshest local produce around.

After the jump, what's wrong with this picture?

Irritatingly, the Garden Cafe's success is being handicapped by local zoning laws. Supposedly, the story goes, that garden patio would have been turned into a seating area more suited to year-round use, except for a City of Dallas regulation that would have required the restaurant to provide more parking. The Garden Cafe could have, I suppose, paved the vegetable garden, but instead wisely chose to leave their additional seating area a patio, suitable only for fair weather.

America's zoning laws regarding parking are ass-backward. Typically, they require builders to provide a minimum amount of parking, say one stall for each 200 or 300 square feet of building space. The idea seems natural. If the restaurant doesn't provide parking, cars spill out into the surrounding neighborhood, creating a nuisance. (That's right -- cars are a nuisance, but we keep on subsidizing them.) Paradoxically, overparking forces development to spread out, increasing demand for cars and killing the charm of the neighborhood the regulations were designed to preserve.

Those minimum parking zoning laws are a kind of tax on developers, subsidizing cars. Those streets that we don't want people parking on were also paid for with tax dollars, another subsidy for cars. You might think free marketers would be all for eliminating such hidden taxes and letting the free market decide how much parking is needed. You'd be wrong, although there are some signs that cities, even Dallas, are rethinking their position. They still have it upside down, however. Instead of just relaxing the requirement to provide, say, one parking space per 300 square feet of store instead of one space per 200 feet required now, they maybe ought to put a *maximum* on the amount of parking allowed. Force developers to create denser, more walkable developments. Maybe a generation or two of subsidizing walkability instead of cars might bring a welcome balance to our cities.


Anonymous said...

I agree the minimum parking requirements seem too high. I live near Campbell and Coit and there is way more parking in that area than is needed. I have never seen the lots more than 50% full.

Mark Steger said...

An article in the New York times estimates that there are over 800 million non-residential parking spaces in the US. In cities such as Los Angeles, one-third of the land area is taken up by parking lots. I'd say this country is maybe a tad over-parked.

Gabe said...

Patrick Kennedy cites someone (can't remember) that there's four spaces for every car in America. Most suburban city governments place parking minimums for retail at a level to support parking based on the busiest days of the year. When you combine that with the fact that we have four times as much (per capita) retail as other first world countries, it's a lot of unused parking spaces.

It should be noted that those of the small government persuasion ought to be in favor of lowering parking minimums (meaning less spaces are required). If the business thinks it needs 100 spaces, that's fine; but it shouldn't be written in the code without regard to context.

Sassy Texan said...

Look at the Pot Belly/Starbuck's combination at Campbell and 75. Richardson decided to allow parking in the hotel lot at their disagreement to account for the needed parking of that corner. I guess if they can create the zoning, they can decide to ignore it too. Hotel is still not happy though.

Busy, busy, busy work til something tangible comes along!!