This Warrant Article seeks to remove minimum parking requirements and establish maximum parking ratios for most commercial store front uses within the Transit Parking Overlay District. The TPOD covers most of North Brookline and is defined as all parcels within 0.5 miles of a Green Line transit stop. The TPOD was adopted in 2016. The purpose of establishing the TPOD was to better align Brookline's residential parking requirements with household vehicle ownership and travel behavior as well as achieving better alignment with historic land use patterns within areas served by public transportation.
Subject to Town permitting review, commercial property owners and businesses would be free to propose any amount of parking considered appropriate, up to a reasonable maximum. The proposed maximum is equivalent to the current town wide minimum parking requirements for commercial storefront uses as identified in Section 6.02, paragraph 1, Table of Off-Street Parking Space Requirements. In general, the current minimum parking requirements range between 3 -5 spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. for ground floor retail and general office uses. Upper floor general retail and office parking requirements range from 1 space to 2.5 spaces per 1,000 sq. ft. Required parking for restaurants is calculated based on the number of seats the restaurant, (or other uses considered "public assembly") have, ranging between requiring one parking space per 3 seats to one space per 5 seats. This often results in a parking requirement that is much higher for restaurants than for general retail, causing permitting issues when a restaurant wishes to locate in an existing retail storefront. It's interesting to note that the Selectmen's Parking Committee (2010) documented that 68% of Brookline's commercial businesses that are primarily retail or restaurant had no onsite, off-street parking.
An impact of this Article would be to allow greater flexibility and case-by-case consideration of parking for a commercial change of use within existing storefronts. This same flexibility would apply to any proposed new commercial development within the TPOD. Existing storefront uses which have on-site private parking could repurpose some or all of their on-site parking if they deemed it to be unnecessary, subject to Town permitting, licensing and review. This could have the beneficial result of allowing for more shared parking between adjacent uses and public use of our existing private parking resources.
The principle reasons for taking this step are as follows:
1. Our compact, walkable neighborhood commercial areas succeed because of their transit access, shared public parking resources, dense neighborhoods within walking and biking distance, and the juxtaposition of multiple civic, shopping and entertainment destinations. Most of the buildings devoted to store front uses in these areas were built prior to the advent of minimum parking requirements for such uses, and therefore do not have on-site private parking. This fact contributes to the compact, inviting, pedestrian-friendly commercial areas we enjoy today. Requiring a minimum amount of on-site private parking for new commercial projects or for a change of use within our existing storefronts limits economic activity. In addition, meeting such requirements is often not possible or desirable if we wish to maintain our historical and current land use patterns and walkable accessibility. Inadequate room for new parking on existing sites prevents the renovation of older buildings, or can result in replacing storefronts (or entire stores) and street trees with garage entrances and associated curb cuts, and/or blank facades hiding floors of parking, all of which substantially degrade the pedestrian environment When everyone parks at their destination, with no reason to use the sidewalk, street life is eliminated, and storefront businesses in the vicinity of the destination see less foot traffic.
2. Transportation accounts for approximately 40% of Brookline's greenhouse gas emissions. The Town's commitment to prioritize planning to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050 requires a reconsideration of old planning norms based on automobile-centric design and land use patterns. We must take steps to improve and support active and public transportation options. Incentivizing car parking through private parking requirements - when transit, walking, and biking alternatives are readily available and heavily used - works against this goal.
3. Traditional minimum parking requirements are based on outmoded planning and engineering concepts. The basis for the parking demand estimates embedded in traditional parking requirements derive from parking occupancy counts at isolated commercial properties in suburban and rural settings. Therefore, these requirements do not reflect conditions in compact, mixed-use, transit-oriented settings such as Brookline's commercial districts and historic transit corridors. Such requirements were developed "without considering parking prices, the cost of parking spaces, or the wider consequences for transportation, land use, the economy, and the environment."
4. In our neighborhood commercial areas, new businesses seeking to lease an existing storefront can sometimes be forced through the special permit process, adding expense and delay to their business plans, simply because the use they are proposing requires more parking under our Zoning By-Law than the business previously occupying the same location - even when the previous business occupied a storefront with no on-site parking. Additionally, to avoid a special permit or variance request, proposed restaurants often have to limit the amount of seating they could otherwise provide because the minimum parking requirements are tied to the number of seats. These added burdens can sometimes be too much for a small local business, causing new entrepreneurs to look elsewhere to open, or to close rather than adapt their business model within their current location. With the advent of this Warrant Article, change of use requests for storefront uses can be reviewed and permitted by Town Building Department personnel, without resulting in new small businesses having to get a special permit for these storefront uses.
5. Small businesses contribute to Brookline's quality of life. Moreover, expanding our commercial tax base will help the Town close a forecasted structural revenue shortfall - an important town wide goal. Based on tax revenue per square foot of land area, businesses in our walkable, compact commercial areas are exceptionally valuable to the Town from a tax revenue standpoint. Private on-site parking is an extremely inefficient use of our limited land resources and works against commercial productivity. Almost all of our recent overlay zoning districts have removed minimum parking requirements for commercial uses and capped the number of parking spaces allowed by including a maximum number of parking spaces. This more flexible approach has proven successful in the market for which these projects secured financing.
6. Maximum parking standards for businesses in mixed-use, transit-oriented districts make sense because parking in excess of what is actually needed could invite automobile trips that would otherwise be shifted to transit, walking, bicycling, or carpooling. Numerous jurisdictions around the United States have adopted maximum parking requirements in transit-oriented commercial settings, and the MBTA's transit-oriented development policy encourages communities to set reasonable maximums within their station areas. For Brookline, the current town wide minimum parking requirements represent a reasonable set of maximum requirements for storefront uses
within the TPOD: from a zoning perspective, these requirements have already been deemed to provide adequate parking capacity for businesses located anywhere in town, including those that lack proximity to Green Line stops or shared parking resources. It is reasonable to expect that businesses within the TPOD would not need more parking, on a dedicated, on-site basis, than these maximum standards would allow. In exceptional cases, a property owner would have the usual right to seek relief through the Zoning Board of Appeals.
7. The urban form of North Brookline was established long ago, before the automobile became ubiquitous. Land use patterns were based on access to public transportation, biking and walking. Many studies have documented the desirability and value-added of walkable settings, and this is a part of Brookline's historical legacy that we should maintain. The resulting density and compactness of our commercial areas are key to the charm, usefulness, economic efficiency and support for small and local businesses that these areas provide. Adding significant quantities of on-site private parking works against Brookline's core values, strengths, and character in such a setting.
Though not addressed directly by this warrant article, our shared, public parking resources, both on-street and in our Town-owned lots, should be better managed to meet customer demand and encourage customer parking turnover, utilizing best practices, such as performance pricing. Generally speaking, the term performance pricing refers to implementing a dynamic parking pricing strategy based on demand that achieves a performance target, usually set at a goal of 85% parking utilization, thus always having 15% of spaces available. Such a strategy significantly reduces circling the block, etc. and provides available parking where it is most desired.
Additionally, to better manage our public parking resources, the Town should pursue Transportation Demand Management to incentivize active and public transportation use by employees. New solutions, such as merchant employee parking at the Coolidge Corner School during non-school hours, would effectively increase the public parking supply. Public shared parking is much more efficient than single-use private parking, with several businesses enjoying customer and employee utilization of a single parking space. If it is determined that additional parking resources are necessary, the Town should consider expanding shared public parking, as well as encouraging the shared use of existing excess capacity on private sites.