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The City Stopped Mandating Parking In New Urban Housing. Builders Are Providing It Anyway

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The City Stopped Mandating Parking In New Urban Housing. Builders Are Providing It Anyway

Jun 14, 2024 | 8:06 am ET
By Ben Angarone/Civil Beat
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The corner of Piikoi Street and Young Street, which is empty right now but poised for new development, is theoretically well-positioned for residents to live without cars due to its central location in urban Honolulu. A 24/7 Safeway is visible at right in the background. (Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2024)
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The corner of Piikoi Street and Young Street, which is empty right now but poised for new development, is theoretically well-positioned for residents to live without cars due to its central location in urban Honolulu. A 24/7 Safeway is visible at right in the background. (Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2024)

The proposed affordable housing development at the corner of Piikoi and Young streets should be an ideal location for residents to save money by living without cars.

It’s almost the dead center of urban Honolulu — walking distance from grocery stores, pharmacies, schools, the Blaisdell Center, the Ala Moana Center, protected bike lanes and bus lines that stretch from Kalihi to Hawaii Kai and Waikiki.

The Honolulu City Council got rid of its minimum parking requirements in 2020 for projects in the urban center between Pearl City and Diamond Head and in Ewa. But the developers are still planning 245 parking stalls for 247 units, likely spending about $10 million on a structure seven and a half stories tall and taking up about half the footprint of the lot. 

The continuing reliance on cars is a big problem on an island with finite space and a lack of affordable housing, said Kathleen Rooney, director of transportation policy for the sustainability advocacy group Ulupono Initiative.

“If half of an urban plot is dedicated at any given time to parking, then it means that it’s not dedicated to housing,” Rooney said. 

The City Council got rid of minimum parking requirements in certain areas in 2020 to encourage residents to use more sustainable methods of transportation and save developers money.

But four years later, many developers still spend tens of millions of dollars to build hundreds of parking spots, even in transit-rich areas of the urban core.

They are up against a simple truth: Many people have a hard time parting with their cars.

For one thing, other options pose their own difficulties. Bike lanes can end suddenly, and many aren’t protected from car traffic, raising safety concerns.

Skyline, the new rail system, is only open so far from East Kapolei to the defunct Aloha Stadium, leaving it impractical for now for many residents.

And though TheBus has an extensive network around the island, its limited schedule makes it difficult to rely on, especially outside of rush hour.

For those and other reasons, people still want cars and developers still feel the need to provide them places to park.

High Costs Of Parking Structures

The development at Piikoi and Young streets is aimed at residents earning from 30% to 60% of the area median income, which in 2024 is $29,000 to $59,000 for a single person or $42,000 to $84,000 for a family of four.

It’s currently awaiting approval for tax credits and exemptions through the state’s 201H program, designed to expedite the building of affordable housing, and is projected to open in summer 2028, according to a timeline shared with neighborhood boards. 

Off-street parking costs about $40,000 to $50,000 per stall in urban Honolulu, according to a 2020 report from Ulupono. Using that figure, the 245 parking stalls could cost the developers about $10 million.

Chris Fong, overseeing the project for Tradewind Capital, declined to comment.

This developer isn’t the only one choosing to provide parking absent the requirement.

At the Pahoa Ridge affordable housing development, which would be built near the Waialae Avenue entrance of H-1, nine of 28 stories would be dedicated to 281 parking spaces, costing at least $11.25 million using the Ulupono estimate. Highridge Costa Development Co. did not respond to a request for comment.

And Kuilei Place, a mammoth development along Kapiolani Boulevard that will include both affordable and market-rate units, would spend about $80 million for a 13-story tower of 1,670 parking spaces, using the same Ulupono estimate. Alana Kobayashi Pakkala, manager and executive vice president for the project’s developer, Kobayashi Group, did not respond to a request for comment.

These construction costs — and later maintenance costs — contribute to high prices of housing, Rooney said. Her organization advocated for a bill to get rid of the required parking minimums between Pearl City and Diamond Head in 2020. It passed later that year as Ordinance 41

Persistent Market Demand

It will take time for developers to stop building as much parking, she said. They’re in the habit of incorporating the cost of parking into their projects and know that it’s an attractive amenity, she said.

“Or I could try something new and get community neighbors nearby all cranky at me because I’m not providing as much parking,” Rooney said. “The path of least resistance is still building the parking, unfortunately.” 

As planning director for the city’s Department of Transportation Services, Chris Clark works with developers who must produce traffic studies for their projects. 

He said developers worry about attracting enough residents to repay their loans.

“I think it’s just a fear that they won’t be able to sell,” Clark said. 

The affordable housing development Kokua Hale in downtown Honolulu has only 35 parking stalls for its 234 units and has been slow to rent them out, though the developers denied that the problem was a lack of parking spaces, given the area’s walkability, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported

Clark said that he encourages developers to allocate parking spots for car-share programs and to provide transit passes. Just adding more cars strains urban roads, he said. 

“So they can add that parking space, but there’s just nowhere for that car to go, especially in a peak period of the day,” he said. “So that’s why we’re discouraging constructing additional or unnecessary parking.” 

Clark said that the project at Piikoi and Young streets might have been built with even more parking just a few years ago.

“A 1-to-1 ratio is actually better than it was before,” Clark said. 

Going forward, he said that the city pays attention to trends like this as it determines where and how to invest more in transportation upgrades.