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Austin slams the brakes on parking mandates

Patricia Lim
The city has long required residential and commercial builders to include parking in their developments.

Austin City Council members on Thursday voted to throw out rules that require homebuilders and shop owners to provide a minimum amount of on-site parking. By doing so, they went the way of dozens of other cities across the country, including Portland, Oregon, and Anchorage, Alaska.

“How we move people around is critical,” Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents much of East Austin, said before the vote. “Not everybody can afford to go climb in a car and drive around.”

The vote was 10 to 1, with Council Member Alison Alter voting no. The West Austin representative said while she supports reducing parking minimums, she was “not ready” to do away with them outright.

The city has long required residential and commercial builders to include parking in their developments. How much depends on the type of development; the city requires, in most cases, that every one-bedroom apartment be allotted 1.5 parking spots.

As council members sounded off their support of the item at their meeting Thursday, many cited environmental concerns and affordability issues as reasons to go the way of no mandated parking.

Council Member Zo Qadri, whose office brought the measure forward, tied Thursday’s vote to the larger push to amend the city’s land development code. An arcane collection of building rules, the land code has in the past decade become the target of elected officials for revision as Austin grapples with an affordability crisis.

“While we’re trying to get more people out of their cars, while we’re trying to reduce our carbon footprint and while we’re trying to get more housing supply and affordable units, these are all elements of our [land development] code that stand in our way,” Qadri said. “One of the big ones is parking mandates.”

According to the latest Census data, roughly two out of every three Austinites drives alone in a car to work.

Research suggests that doing away with or reducing parking requirements does result in developers building less parking. A decade ago, the city of Seattle greatly reduced its parking mandates. In a study published in 2020, researchers found that developers built 40% fewer parking spots than they would have under stricter requirements.

Qadri and others stressed Thursday that the decision to eliminate parking requirements does not get rid of any current parking spots, but instead allows developers and business owners to decide how much parking they want. Owners must still provide parking as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

With this vote, the council has instructed the city manager to come back to them with final rules by the end of this year.

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Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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