[Quick note, most of the photos here were taken on a weekday morning. I was trying to beat the heat plus it’s been a busy summer for me. I mention this because I typically try and get photos with people in it as that is more interesting than the opposite but sometimes you can’t help when inspiration strikes, am I right?]
Announced back in July of this year, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance (DRA) and the city have partnered with a few consultants to create a plan for Downtown as the last few years have seen unanticipated changes. The largest of those being the uptick in remote and hybrid work and how downtown businesses were reliant on a certain number of workers coming to the office and frequenting them for lunch and goods. It is also a great time for a new plan as the previous downtown plan was implemented in 2015 and plenty of policies and recommendations from that one have already been put in place.
There’s a big rezoning case that’s now being discussed at council. Basically, a majority of Shaw University’s campus is up for an increase in height, if approved. There has been a lot of public comment on this one, from residents and alumni, with concerns. In short, the university is sitting on very valuable land and with the ability to build taller, they can explore options to expand or even partner with developers to lease land for new development.
One of the latest rezoning cases for downtown Raleigh, Z-87-22, is up for a public hearing at the city council. This has all the indicators of passing without issue. The planning commission discussion was light, which you can watch here and here. There are very few nearby homeowners. The Raleigh Convention Center is next door. Finally, I’m not sure you can find that many better spots for taller buildings in downtown.
Today, let’s jump over to the corner of West Johnson Street and St. Mary’s. A collection of properties is up for rezoning (Z-55-22) and we’re almost one year into it as the case still has not been denied or approved. Negotiations with residents, mostly from the nearby Forest Park neighborhood, started in May 2022 and the conditions on this rezoning are starting to get a bit much. The latest public hearing, from March 7, 2023, about the case is shown above or you can watch it directly on YouTube here.
I’m not sure anyone has actually said that quote but maybe someone should. (I’ll take it if it’s up for grabs) The folks I’m really hoping are saying this repeatedly is our own city as they continue to work through the planning efforts of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
If you’re coming in fresh to the latest plans on the system then you can jump to the city’s website with an overview of the plans for the four corridors.
Now that it’s 2023, construction should begin on the first corridor of the BRT project. Throughout this year and next, dedicated bus lanes will be added, raised-platform, bus stations will be built, new sidewalks will be added, and traffic signals will be upgraded. We’ll be following along for sure.
What’s even more encouraging about all this are the efforts to slowly shift the dynamic of these BRT corridors by putting in place Transit-Overlay District zoning. It’s great to see the land use compliment the investments in transit.
I see it as a two-sided story. There’s the transit piece, buses, sidewalks, and roads, and then the land use piece requires more urban buildings delivering houses across the income spectrum, spaces for retail that residents can walk to, and office space for businesses. I see it as putting a mix of uses down a single street served by a faster and more reliable form of transportation.
The two stories for New Bern are summed up on these links and I encourage anyone reading to take a look:
I also can’t help but highlight a great map. This one shows the proposed rezoning changes for the New Bern corridor so if you drive down that street or live near it, take a look.
The new BRT changes are coming and as mentioned earlier, construction will kick off this year. The rezoning application is in the final stages and when submitted will hit the Raleigh Planning Commission. I imagine it’ll be a much discussed topic throughout 2023.
For me, you can’t have the BRT running effectively without the right land use so I’m in full support of this rezoning plan. I’m sure there are edge cases that can be tweaked, and that’s fine as it’s a rezoning request across numerous properties, but without the planning piece put in place, I would be nervous about the BRT’s effectiveness for current and future residents in Raleigh.
We also can expect similar rezoning cases come out as the other three corridors mature and come close to their construction dates. BRT will be one of my “most watched” projects this year so I’ll leave this post right here with more thoughts and updates to come in the future.
This week, the Raleigh City Council voted to remove all parking minimums for new developments across the entire city. This extends a previous parking reduction that was done in 2020 that mainly affected the downtown area. You can watch the discussion and vote in the embedded video above or directly on YouTube here.
It is worth reiterating that parking is not banned city-wide. It only removes the minimums required and, generally speaking, allows new projects to choose the amount of parking to be built. In some cases, there are maximums in place.
From what I’m seeing, right now new buildings in downtown are building above the minimums anyway. In the future, as transit options come online and our city adds more people, those who prefer to travel car-light or even car-less will benefit from a city that doesn’t dedicate so much space to parking vehicles.
Indeed, climate impacts and sustainability is a big driver of this change, as written out in the text change itself.
SUMMARY OF IMPACTS
Adoption of TC-11-21 would:
1. Because it removes subsidies and incentives for car ownership (because rent typically does not vary depending on whether a car is stored on a property or not, so there is no extra cost for car ownership) it would tend to reduce vehicle miles traveled and associated air pollution and carbon emissions.
2. Mitigate the climate change, stormwater, and other impacts created by large areas of paved parking.
3. Tend to reduce the cost of housing and goods and services by requiring less land to be used for vehicle storage. It would prevent households without cars from paying for parking they do not use.
4. Potentially lead to increased demand for on-street parking in some locations. If issues arise, excessive demand can be addressed through the creation of new residential parking permit areas, adjusting on-street parking pricing, and providing additional public parking.
From a sustainability and land-use point-of-view, I think it’s great to address problems of having too little parking on a case-by-case basis (point #4) rather than the problems of having to much. Well managed on-street parking programs are common in larger cities and it’s probably time Raleigh get into that game.
The change is a great, incremental step in the right direction and it’ll take time for the city to adjust. The next step will be to give Raleighites a transit system that allows for all of us to get around while putting less miles on our cars. That kind of Raleigh may lead to shorter buildings (less floors for parking), more destinations closer together, and more vitality to neighborhoods.
Today, I have a guest post by a fellow Raleigh content creator. Jed Byrne loves Raleigh, especially its people and places. He tries to engage with both on a daily basis. Jed tweets about spaces and places at @Oakcitycre, hosts the Dirt NC podcast, and sends a weekly development newsletter through www.OakCityCRE.com. He always enjoys connecting with new people, so reach out on social or via email at email@example.com.
For Raleigh to maintain and grow its reputation as a city of innovation, it’s important for us to experiment with dynamic parking pricing. I can think of no better place to pilot experimental parking than The Village District! But first, I think it’s important to share a bit of history.
If you have any questions about this post or have any Village District parking stories to share, hit me up on twitter at @OakCityCRE!
History of Innovation
The Village District has been an innovator since the beginning. Built in 1949, it was one of the first shopping centers in the country designed for the automobile age. In fact, the Village District was inspired by Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, the first center of its kind in the country!
Parking at The Village District
In all of my time here in Raleigh the congested parking situation at The Village District hasn’t kept people away. As Yogi Berra said “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
In order to improve the shopping experience at the Village District and increase sales, there are really only two options that the landlord can control when it comes to parking. They can increase the number of parking spaces, or increase the number of people who use the existing spaces per hour. It turns out that expanding the number of parking spaces at The Village District has already been tried. According to WRAL a parking deck lived at The Village District for 40 years!
The Original Parking Innovation
Originally built in the 1960s, the deck was demolished in 2005. You can see the original structure below in this satellite images from March 2002.
There was also a parking structure where the Berkshire Village District Apartments now stand at the corner of Oberlin Road and Clark Avenue.
I couldn’t find many historical images of the parking deck, but my friend Ian Dunn shared the following photo from 1992 of the parking structure undergoing some demolition work.
The demolition work above must have been for a modification because the second layer of parking stood for another 13 years.
In all my years of studying the built environment, this is the only case where I have heard of structured parking being removed from a project. From a practical standpoint, I am glad they removed the parking deck, though I never got to experience the deck first-hand. I think one of the main attractions to the Village District is the open air feel, which would have been hampered by structured parking. I am sure that the decision to remove parking wasn’t easy. Today a structured parking space costs $25,000-$35,000, roughly 5x the cost of a surface parking space.
Since adding supply didn’t make things better at The Village District, I think the time has finally come to address the congestion caused by “free” parking, once and for all.
In the book The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup, you can learn all about how “free to you” parking spaces actually have a lot of costs. For starters, there are the indirect costs of construction and maintenance that are paid by the tenants. Those costs are ultimately passed through to the customers who must cover the cost of the tenants rent.
There are also non-financial costs: the stress of congestion, the time and the environmental impacts of circling the lot looking for parking, and the induced demand for driving to shop in the first place.
The costs of “free parking” are ultimately paid by all shoppers, whether they drive or not, and even whether they spend money at the shopping center or not.
The Village District has been a place of innovation from the start. Its designers innovated what the shopping center looked like when they designed one of the first automobile-centric centers. Its owners innovated both by installing and ultimately demolishing the structured parking. I think it’s now time to innovate again.
Using a platform like Passport, which is already used by the City of Raleigh, The Village District could start charging for parking in a way that ensured there would almost always be available spaces in the parking lot. Because parking demand changes over time, the Passport pricing structure could increase and decrease as well. At lunch, nights, weekends, and holidays, pricing would increase.
These higher prices would encourage shoppers to only stay for the time they need to, and would also ensure that parking was always available. With more efficient use of parking and higher customer turnover the overall sales revenue would increase. Plus, if people knew they always had a place to park at The Village District, more people would come and shop!
So, what do you think? Would you pay – directly – to park at The Village District if it guaranteed you’d be able to find a spot quickly? I would!
Let me know what you think or share any Village District Parking stories by tweeting me at @OakCityCRE!