Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My continued frustration with 315 W. Ponce opponents

There was a marathon meeting in Decatur about the 315 W. Ponce development. Thomas has the goods, and Decatur Metro has some good thoughts, as well. The zoning board tabled the issue indefinitely. I wanted to highlight a post from inDecatur:
As a number of people noted, this is a landmark decision in the development of Decatur. If the wrong decision is made, we may kill the goose that laid the golden egg, ruining the delicate Berkeley/Mayberry balance of our charming little town in the city.

One noted that, if this developer is given a variance for shared parking, even with lots of land to work with, and no hardship since it can solve its own problem by reducing the number of units; future developers will see how the game is played and also build cases for their "need" for shared parking and a variance. Eventually, we'll have a city with more cars than parking spaces.
First, Decatur may feel like Mayberry, but it already has high rise office buildings denser than this proposed development. Also, this development is less dense than many existing properties. So I don't think this development will ruin the small town feel of Decatur. I think it will actually help it by rehabilitating an ugly surface parking lot in the heart of the city.

Second, the issue is not about a hardship. It is about smart growth principles. And, I doubt the developer could reduce the number of units and make it work, because of the cost of land. Once land becomes expensive, you've got to increase the density for the project to be profitable. So if you ever want to see something done about the surface parking lot, which most "urbanists" would agree qualifies as a form of blight, then you are going to have to deal with more units.

Third, part of the point of density is that it is difficult for cars. You want a city with more cars than parking spaces, because it means you have created a dense, pedestrian friendly environment. In the short run, it may be difficult to find parking. But people will adapt - they will buy scooters, start biking, or leave their cars in the garage and take MARTA to work. This is how you get people walking and taking alternative transportation. It is how you get changes in long run behavior. And you can only make these alternatives possible by creating a pedestrian friendly environment to support them - which is what this development does.

Hey, I live in Virginia-Highlands. People park all over our side streets. You know what? It really isn't that bad. I don't think any of the businesses in the area meet mandated parking ratios, but the rents are the highest in the city outside of Buckhead or Midtown. They do just fine. Mandated parking ratios are really just a prescription for killing your city. People should be applauding a developer willing to take a risk on something like shared parking, not fighting it.

Finally, mixed-use developments often make do with less parking and less traffic than predicted. Neighbors were up in arms about the Edgewood Retail District and all the traffic it would bring, but it has hardly impacted congestion in the area. I fly through that stretch way easier than I do L5P. Neighborhood objections are often overreactions, and smart-growth tactics can mitigate problems.

It is so frustrating, because in the big picture I think this is a good development. I would be pissed if I lived on the street with the side of the parking deck, even if it is supposed to be screened by trees and such. I'd love to see a quality facade required. But other than that, I can't see a whole lot that isn't a model of smart infill development.


  1. Thank you!! This is a real breath of fresh air. It is so frustrating how the major media outlets consistently cover this issue from such a suburban angle.

    Here's a perspective you won't read about in the paper -- I live carfree in a new-ish highrise condo in Midtown. I bought here because it's one of a handful of places in the city that offer truly good amenities for carfree living -- a MARTA station, an urban grocer, Zipcars, etc. Yet despite all that, I was required to pay for a deeded parking space I don't need and don't want -- all thanks to these ridiculous parking minimums insisted upon by car-crazy activists in the single-family neighborhoods.

    For a bit, I leased the space to a neighbor, for a piddly $70/mo -- a fraction of what monthly secured parking goes for in any truly urban city, and not even enough to cover the portion of my mortgage payment that can be assigned to the cost of the space. In any case, that arrangement ended and now the space is again sitting unused, an indication of just how oversupplied parking is here.

    Atlanta is never going to become a genuinely sustainable city if it can't get over this obsession with parking, parking, parking. The fact that residents of central Decatur -- a supposedly "progressive" place -- are so oblivious to this is very distressing.

  2. A trend I have seen is that developers will plan for 1 parking space per unit, and some of the two-bedroom units have to buy a second space. It only works in areas where car-free living is an actual option, though.

    It helps create a demand for situations such as yours - as I'm sure you are aware, residential spaces are often secured, so your only pool of potential buyers are other residents.

    (You probably won't be complaining when it comes time to sell, though. Most buyers are going to want to have a parking space with the unit.)

  3. Very good points. I don't have enough information about what level of density is appropriate. But I do regret attempts to limit people density but upping the number of parking spaces.

    It's not the number of people but the number of cars that really taxes our system (granted kids and school space is another issue but these developments on a ratio basis don't populate schools like single family homes do).


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