Anchorage has entirely eliminated its previous rules that required new residential and commercial developments to include costly off-street parking, in a citywide policy reform aimed at bolstering affordable housing efforts.
The Anchorage Assembly passed the parking reform measure in a unanimous vote Tuesday night. Anchorage is joining dozens of other cities around the U.S. that have nixed or relaxed their off-street parking requirements.
The measure is also adding a minimum bicycle parking requirement for new large residential buildings and for new commercial buildings, which goes into effect in 2024. Additionally, when new developments do include parking lots, a higher percentage of handicapped spots will be required.
The policy reform comes as city officials seek ways to combat a housing shortage. Proponents say the changes will help cut costs for developers and businesses, reduce urban sprawl and encourage other forms of transportation. It will also help entrepreneurs repurpose vacant buildings and transform them into new businesses — projects that had often been hindered by the city’s parking rules.
The changes don’t mean a lot of existing parking will disappear, and developers will still build lots due to free market pressure, according to Assembly members Daniel Volland, Kevin Cross and Forrest Dunbar. The three members led the policy reform effort, working with the city’s planning department and some community members, including local group Bike Anchorage.
Downtown already does not have parking requirements for developments in the area, and new ones there have included parking areas.
But in the rest of the city, the previous rules often meant that developments had to include the maximum amount of parking that could be needed, even though many fewer spaces are used most of the time. That meant developers were forced to build parking lots far larger than necessary. Land was used up that could have been designated for something else, the Assembly members have said.
“There’s actually a lot of residential development that’s not getting done because they’re trying to add units, and the original size may not allow for enough parking spaces, so it’s actually limiting housing,” Cross said.
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Also starting in 2024, the city will require large developments to implement at least one strategy to help alleviate parking demand and incentivize alternative transportation and ridesharing. The list of possibilities includes building more bike parking, sponsoring public transit passes for employees or residents, or developing pedestrian amenities, among other options.
The addition of bike parking requirements is meant to help curb parking demand and encourage alternative transportation. Most new developments need a minimum of two bike spaces, like one U-shaped bike rack. That minimum increases for larger developments, though the Assembly approved a last-minute change that relaxes the bike parking rules for multifamily residential developments.
That will help lower the cost burden for developers and make bike parking more flexible and practical to implement, Volland said.
Existing buildings will be grandfathered in and won’t have to add bike parking.
The process to develop the measure was all about collaboration and compromise, Volland said.
“My goal when I set out was to make this a win-win,” he said. “A win for builders and a win for bikers.”
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson welcomed the policy change in a post on social media Wednesday, and praised the Assembly members, the city planning department and community groups that supported it:
“This change will make more housing projects economically viable. I have stated before, there’s no daylight between myself and the Assembly when it comes to the need for housing,” he said. “My administration has long supported these types of changes.”