Are you an architect or a developer and you have a project in which the development potential is being limited by a parking deficit on your site? "If we could just fit 10 more cars this development would be much more valuable." You may be saying.
This parking dilemma is a regular occurrence with my job. And hey I get it. Parking? A blog about parking? Really Steve?
It is not one of my favorite parts about being an architect, but it is a very valuable resource. If you can solve your client's parking demands you will bring a tremendous value.
In this blog I will share:
- How architecture school didn't prepare me for parking design
- The challenges of meeting your client's parking demands
- 5 tools for increasing your parking count
It's Architecture School not Parking School
When I was in architecture school, I had no idea how much of my professional architecture career would be dedicated to designing parking lots.
Looking back at all of the fictitious buildings we designed in school, I can remember only a few projects where we were actually required to accommodate cars.
My thesis project for example: An aquarium surrounded by a mixed-use development on the Washington DC waterfront.
I guess people were supposed to swim there.
Paved Paradise And Put Up A Parking Lot
Well.......in the real world outside of architecture school people do in fact drive cars. In fact, every project I have worked on has had some sort of zoning requirement for cars.
That song will be in your head for the rest of the day. You're welcome!
A majority of the work I do with LS3P is in the City of Charleston; therefore, we need to comply with the City of Charleston's parking zoning ordinance. For example:
- A hotel requires 2 cars for every 3 hotel rooms
- An office requires 1 car per every 600 feet of usable office space
- Multi-family residential requires 1 car for every apartment or condo
- Single family residential requires 1.5 cars for every house
In the city, land values are extremely high so we try to make the best use of every square inch of property. Another phrase we use is maximizing a property to its 'highest and best use.'
As a result one of the first tasks we do when designing a building is to design the parking lot.
No joke. It starts with the parking.
Because if we can't fit the cars we need then it will limit the density of the development. In commercial development, higher densities lead to higher profit.
And that's the reason we say "parking drives the design."
That is a pun. And a bad one.
The design of most urban buildings starts with the parking design.
I know...kind of depressing right?
Well it gets worse. After accepting the fact that parking lot design was going to be a staple of being an architect, I discovered something else:
Why Parking Lot Design is a Thankless Job
Typically the main goal of parking lot design is to park as many cars as possible.
Efficiency is the name of the game. No matter how talented of a designer you may be, there are 3 reasons why your efforts will fall into the category of a thankless job.
1. You Will Never Get Enough Cars For Your Client
This scenario happens at the beginning of every project. I start with a couple sketches of the ground floor: identifying the location of the lobby, the egress stairs and laying out the parking. We will also include other service related items: utility rooms, trash rooms, etc.
Most of the projects I work on include at least 1 level of parking on the ground floor with the primary use: hotel, office, or residential occurring above the parking.
After about 3 sketches I will usually find an ideal fit.
I will call Jane Q Client and say: "We have the first pass at a ground floor plan. It is looking good except that we were only able to accommodate 40 cars. Since you would like to have 50 apartment units, zoning will require 50 parking spaces.."
Jane Q Client thinks for a bit and then says: "Come on....that's the best you can do? What if we rotate the lobby, pinch in here, shift that column, flip this, delete that thing, add some compact car spaces..............If we do all of that it looks like there is room for a few more cars. Come on Steve, you can do better!"
So I go back to the drawing board.
Yay....more parking design!
And sure enough, if I make a series of 10 changes some of which compromise the overall function of the building.........I am able to squeeze in......2 more cars.
Still 8 short.
Which leads me to my next point.
2. You Will Never Get Enough Cars For Your Client
This typically occurs after Scenario 1. After pushing and pulling and deleting something necessary like the trash room, you are able to squeeze in those extra cars. You now have just enough parking to meet the zoning requirements and have made your client happy.
You are a hero!
Not so fast......
Your celebration will be short-lived. Eventually that trash room comes back into play. A few of the structural columns get bigger. Oh, and now your client wants to be sustainable and include bike storage and a locker room facility for their employees.
During that process you loose 8 cars. Now you are back to being short on parking.
Hero no more.
It is inevitable that during the course of design things will pop up that will cause you to lose parking spaces.
I wish I could predict all of these things and account for them on day one, but it is impossible.
One major milestone for me was when I acknowledged to myself that no matter how skilled I become as an architect I will never be able to predict and plan for every scenario.
For that reason, I recommend that designers and clients stay conservative about those early parking counts. If you need 50 cars for your project to succeed then your schematic design should have 55 cars.
There is nothing worse than realizing you have a parking deficit in the 9th hour.
Believe me...I've been there.
Hero no more.
3. Parking Garages Are Ugly
Let's say by some miracle you make it through the parking count gauntlet and are able to achieve the magic number of cars.
You are a hero!
But wait.....there's more.
Packing in the cars is half the battle. Designing an attractive facade around your cars is the other half.
Well, I guess that's architecture in a nut shell. Design the interior, design the exterior. Or I guess that's the nut and the shell.
There is just one problem.
People generally despise the way parking garages look.
You can add fancy louvers, fake windows, expensive trellis materials, garden walls, pergolas, colorful lights, cheese graders, dream catchers, blah, blah, blah.........It still looks like a parking garage.
The only proven solution is to completely hide a parking garage by wrapping it in another building type.
We call those wrapper buildings.
5 Tools For Increasing Your Parking Count
So I have already stated that parking drives the design, right?
The more cars you can accommodate on your site the more density you are allowed.
So far this article has been a lot of me whining about parking. Despite my parking design struggles we have discovered a few tools for increasing our parking counts.
Tool #1- Tandem Parking
Tandem parking is simple. You park one car in front of another. Sometimes people use the term stacked parking in place of tandem.
Tandem will allow you to increase the efficiency of your parking. Here is an example:
Parking Lot 1
Parking Lot 1 is a conventional lot with single spaces. No tandem. This design accommodates 44 cars at a density of 429 square feet per car.
Parking Lot 2
Working within the same building footprint, Parking Lot 2 utilizes tandem spaces to reach a higher density of cars. Within the same building footprint, Parking Lot 2 accommodates 64 cars at 278 square feet per car.
Those extra 20 cars equal: 20 extra residential units if it were residential, 12,000 extra sf of office space if it were an office building, or 30 extra hotel rooms if it were a hotel.
That is huge!
The Cons to Tandem Parking
Of course tandem parking is not ideal from the user's perspective since one car must be removed to allow for the other to get out.
But hey man....desperate times require desperate measures. And this is the type of thing that is common in urban environments.
If a valet is hired then tandem parking can be used in most building types. If a valet is not used then the only use where tandem parking is practical would be in residential where the two tandem spots could be assigned to the same apartment or condo.
Tool #2 - Mechanical Parking Lifts
Also referred to as stacked parking or parking stackers. These are mechanical lifts that lift one car above another. Just like at Jiffy Lube!
Parking lifts have become my favorite trick for getting out of parking jams. They are very common in big cities like New York and Chicago and are just now starting to make an impact on Charleston.
Most of my clients cringe when I suggest that parking lifts may be the best way to accommodate the required parking. I think that in their head they think of the worst things that can happen. People getting stuck on a lift, cars falling off lifts, valet staff running into lifts, a lift falling and smashing the car underneath.
So they say no...and sometimes h*ll no!
And then a funny thing happens.
After kicking tires for a few weeks and getting no where on the parking design the client realizes that the parking deficiency is going to severely hurt their density.
All of a sudden.........parking lifts sounds like a good idea.
And here is why parking lifts come back into play: Money Talks.
In Charleston, a structured parking space on average costs $25,000 to construct.
So a 200 car parking deck will run you $5,000,000 to build.
The average cost of a single parking lift is $7,500. So in theory, you could build a parking deck to accommodate 100 cars and buy 100 lifts for a total of 200 parked cars. So the math would be: ($25,000 * 100) + ($7,500 * 100) = $3,250,000.
Same amount of cars, $1,750,000 delta. I have also heard multiple sources cite the value of a parking space in the urban core of Charleston at $100,000.
Parking lifts sound pretty good, right?
You can also do triple lifts, quad lifts and they have the ability to do lifts back to back tandem style.
Imagine if we took Parking Lot 2 above and made them all double lifts? Now we have 128 cars!
The Cons to Parking Lifts
It is not all gravy. To have lifts in a project, you will need to hire a valet staff. You can't have Joe Public operating the lifts. So you will need to account for that cost, however most developers are focused on first cost. The valet staff can be lumped into operation costs.
You will also need a higher floor height in your garage. Most double lifts need 12'6" clear. You also need to take special care coordinating ductwork, fire sprinklers, lights, etc.
Parking Lift Companies we have Specified:
Tool #3 - Underground Parking
This one may be the least practical and most expensive.
In Charleston we have height limits. For example 55' is a common height limit in Charleston. That will typically accommodate a 4-5 story building.
It is common that my clients do not want to build two levels of above ground parking because that 2nd level of parking will take away from a sellable level of office, residential or hotel rooms. or a level of hotel rooms.
If you can't go up, then you can always go down.
I know what you're thinking: "Um, Steve, Charleston floods! You can't go underground!"
It is correct that Charleston is close to sea level and does flood on occasion. For this reason the ground floors of most of our new buildings are flood-proofed.
Similar flood proofing precautions can be used for a building underground. And in general there is economy in scale. So if you are already digging down 2' for your ground level parking, then the price to go down 4' or 8' becomes cheaper with greater scale.
We refer to underground garages as bath tubs. That keep water out.
The image above is a current picture of the underground parking garage for the new Bennet Hospitality Hotel on Marion Square. If you had any doubts about the possibility of building below grade then that picture above should clear things up.
The Cons to Building Below Ground
The cost is the biggest obstacle. Unfortunately, I don't have cost data; however, I know that in most cases it is cost prohibitive.
And if none of that works.....
Tool #4 - Off-Site Parking Lot
OK. You have exhausted every design trick and gadget available. What are your options?
One option is to park cars off site.
The City of Charleston's zoning allows you to count parking spaces within 400' of your property as on-site parking. The 400' can be measured from the closest property line of your site to the closest property line to the parking lot being used.
These spaces can be owned or leased. If leased then you have to provide proof of a 10 year lease agreement.
This option can be very useful and will help lower the first cost of construction.
And if none of that works......
Tool #5- Parking Variance
Now we are in Hail Mary territory.
This is extremely hard, but could be the best solution. Can't provide the parking required by zoning? Then don't. Get a variance.
In most cases, parking variances are hard to get. The main reason is because neighborhoods will typically fight parking variances.
The most recent parking variance that we were successful in getting was a variance to extend the 400' rule. Our client had a parking lot 800' away from their property. We used the fact that they had ownership and a valet staff to justify the variance on the 400' rule.
Again, I must stress that parking variances are hard to come by.
To Drive It Home
As Charleston and other cities continue to grow in popularity, the nuisance of the automobile will become even more intense. As architects and owners we are going to have to get creative.
Nobody wants a city of parking decks.
One of the goals of this blog is to highlight the challenges of the AEC community and suggest solutions. In this blog, I shared the struggles of designing parking lots and have offered potential solutions for dealing with parking.
There is never a perfect solution.
I hope this article has been of use and would like to hear how other designers are dealing with the parking crunch.