Change isn’t easy – especially when we’re talking about parking. Despite the high cost of residential parking spaces ($30,000–$60,000 per space to construct), developers can have a tough time gaining approval for projects that offer alternatives, even when they bring benefits for the surrounding community.
For good reason, developers must often clear significant hurdles to receive permission to construct large developments. Environmental impacts are reviewed. Community opinion is solicited. And cities take a close look to ensure that the plan is consistent with their rules for zoning and building. Hopefully, these steps lead to the best possible project for the community that is financially worthwhile for the developer.
On October 10th, the Garden Village project proposed for central Berkeley is heading into the final stretches of this process. If approved by the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB), Garden Village will become the first residential development in Berkeley to provide such a broad range of traffic reduction strategies. Due to this robust package of transportation demand management (TDM) measures, the project will be able to support zero parking for private cars.
Instead of parking spaces, residents will receive free AC Transit passes, car-sharing memberships, BikeLink cards, and other non-driving transportation benefits for the first 40 years the building is open. The project also provides 2.8 bike parking spaces per unit and 24 secured bike guest spaces with 8 more on-street guest spaces. What’s more, the project offers an added measure of neighborhood parking protection through an annual voluntary monitoring program to track actual transportation patterns.
These benefits are conservatively estimated to reduce driving by at least 69% per household compared to the Bay Area average – and with 77 homes planned, that’s a significant amount of miles not traveled. The cumulative financial transportation benefits of the project could add up to over $1.2 million over 40 years. That earned Garden Village a Conditional Certification from GreenTRIP, a TransForm program that assesses the traffic reduction potential of new developments and suggests strategies to help residents drive less.
Garden Village has set a new bar by offering the most aggressive and comprehensive TDM program certified by GreenTRIP to date. The project is an inspiration for our soon-to-be-published GreenTRIP Platinum standards and will easily meet our new certification level. We believe that Garden Village holds the keys to “growth without gridlock” and will contribute to a growing body of evidence to support updated zoning codes that recognize the impact of innovative GreenTRIP strategies.
Not surprisingly, Garden Village hasn’t sailed through the approval process. Some nearby residents are concerned about the size of the project and lack of parking, even though the transportation benefits will dramatically reduce car ownership while improving the economic vitality and safety of the neighborhood. The Design Review Committee (DRC) held three hearings before signing off in July, and shrank the project by 4 units and over 20 bedrooms.
Chronically missing from these deliberations are the voices of future residents that would benefit from this high-quality yet affordable-by-design housing. In the absence of testimony reflecting the true diversity of Berkeley residents, it is a challenge for ZAB or DRC members to approve a project like this without reducing units or adding more parking, no matter the amount of parking studies and rational data-driven analysis.
Nonetheless, developer Nautilus Group is still pursuing permits for the project and believes that it can be financially viable despite the changes. The question is whether the people of Berkeley will reject the outdated development habit of “if you build parking, they will drive,” and instead support a truly cutting-edge project with great affordable transportation choices that actually supports the goals of the city’s Climate Action Plan and the adjacent Downtown Specific Plan.
A public hearing on Garden Village by the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board is scheduled for its October 10 meeting.