In 2014, Kirkland embarked on an effort to reform over-sized residential parking minimums that were much higher than neighboring cities. The effort was a failure, raising minimum requirements for many buildings where they should have been lowered. Just two years after the revised requirements were enacted in 2015, a series of failed developments are forcing a second look.
It had started promisingly. Partnering with Metro, overnight parking counts were conducted at multifamily buildings across the county. A second round gathered more local data. A model of right size parking needs was developed to match minimums to current usage. But fears of spillover parking and a hostile reaction from neighborhood activists overwhelmed the analysis.
What emerged were parking minimums far above current demand. The adopted rules started with the right-size parking averages, then added a 15% cushion for varied demand at some buildings, then layered on another 10% for designated guest parking. The result fairly guaranteed nobody anywhere would ever lack a parking spot in a residential building, even if many stalls went unused.
The prior code included an important data-driven element that mitigated its worst impacts. A developer could conduct a parking study, demonstrating lower utilization at similar buildings, and gain a ‘parking modification’ to build only the stalls they needed. Since 2015, parking modifications have been padded with the same 15% cushion and 10% guest parking as the base code.
In Totem Lake, the previous code was more flexible, allowing a case-by-case parking analysis to encourage urban development. That was updated to the same restrictive standards as elsewhere in the city.
What happened next should not have been a surprise. High and inflexible parking minimums are a tax that increases the cost of housing. In a sufficiently high-demand market, some projects pencil anyway. In Totem Lake, where rents are lower, parking requirements can kill an otherwise feasible project. In just two years, several projects with hundreds of homes have been cancelled.