How parking requirements hamper low-income property developments

Many exciting urban development proposals fail to gain traction. Development rights exist, the property developer has sourced financing, and the development responds to local needs, but no take off. How can this be? Seasoned property developer Chris Hayman of the Venture Group argues that parking bay requirements in new developments are hampering development. 

As a Cape Town-based property developer, we want to invest in developments that responds to a rapidly urbanizing city, which means higher density living patterns. Not only is such an urban form an essential element in the sustainable growth of our city, but a life line to educational and vocational aspirations of the poor. 

Many Capetonians are faced with these dynamics on a daily basis: get up at 4am to go to work, and return at 8pm; students live in overcrowded and potentially dangerous fire traps; development capital goes to the wrong use, or languishes in some banker’s low interest account. Proximity to well resourced areas of the city – close to jobs, education, health services, and transport interchanges – is simply not a possibility for many, partly because not enough affordable property is available. 

In my experience, the re-purposing of a stagnating urban building gets shelved, time after time, after a cup of coffee with a town planner. You may ask, what is hampering progress towards affordable property developments? Because unrealistic or just plain inappropriate parking requirements make development costs jump beyond the level of feasibility. 

"The re-purposing of a stagnating urban building gets shelved, time after time, after a cup of coffee with a town planner" (Source: Jeff Sheldon at unsplash.com; uploaded with CC Zero Licence)

"The re-purposing of a stagnating urban building gets shelved, time after time, after a cup of coffee with a town planner" (Source: Jeff Sheldon at unsplash.com; uploaded with CC Zero Licence)

Cape Town's town planning parameters are outlined by the 2015 Municipal Planning by-law [PDF, 4mb] which in Chapter 15 sets out the Parking, Loading and Infrastructure requirements for new developments. In our case, we are interested in Group Dwellings, and for this 1.75 parking bays for residents and 0.25 bays for visitors are needed per unit (Note: Page 144 of the Municipal Planning By-Law outlines the parking requirements for all kind of properties). A parking bay is “5m x 2.5m for perpendicular or angled parking and 6m x 2.5m for parallel parking”, according to the By-Law. Hence, on a new development of 80 units, 2,000 square meters need to be allocated for parking.

The City of Cape Town appears to be acknowledging that these requirements are undesireable. In 2013, the City adopted a Parking Policy [PDF, 914kb], with the intention to “to address private car dependency proactively through Travel Demand Management (TDM) strategies and support public transport use where possible”. It is said that this Policy will reduce red tape and parking requirements for properties located in PT1 and PT2 areas. 

PT1 is an area where the use of public transport is promoted, or where the use of private vehicles is limited. PT2 is an area where the provision of public transport services is good, or where the use of private vehicles is very limited.
— City of Cape Town press release

The PT1 and PT2 Zones as demarcated by the City's Municipal Planning by-law. (Source: City of Cape Town)

In these targeted areas, mapped out by the City’s spatial planners, it is true that parking requirements are being relaxed. If a property is located in these so-called PT1 and PT2 areas, the parking bay requirements drop significantly. 

PARKING REQUIREMENTS FOR "GROUP DWELLING" PROPERTIES

Non PT1/2 PT1 Areas PT2 Areas
Parking requirements: Occupants 1.75 bays 1 bay 0.75 bay
Parking requirements: Visitors 0.25 bay 0.25 bay 0.25 bay
Total 2 bays 1.25 bays 1 bay
Total space needed: 80 unit dev 2,000 sqm 1,250 sqm 1,000 sqm

If your property development is outside the PT1 and PT2 areas, you will need substantial land to accommodate the parking requirements. This means developments outside PT1 and PT2 will most likely be for middle and upper class, where the cost per unit can justify the land allocated to parking bays. Property developments for the low-income market are once again unfeasible. In some cases, the developer could apply for departures to the rule of 2 bays per unit, but this is a costly and time-consuming experience, with no guarantees that the departure will be allowed. 

Our problem might appear to be more clear. At the same time, there is no simple solution to this problem. Any blanket relaxation of rules or radical change to a system is a high-risk move for a local government. Sometimes, unscrupulous developers, non-in-my-backyard sentiments, or inappropriate and inexperienced administrators will exploit the system. I do, however, believe that a more flexible approach should be encouraged, and it could change by institutionalising the following: 

  • Engage developers proactively on site-specific considerations as the new norm;
  • Empower administrators and provide legal protection from the threat of retribution when things might go south; and
  • Focus on critical needs areas such student and low income housing in the surrounding suburbs by employing a “tax break” type of formula where merit is shown to unblock low-income projects.  

If we don’t find some way to unblock this particular obsession with the parking bay which causes major logjams, students will remain unhoused, workers will travel unbelievably long and expensive routes to work, and what could be beautiful repurposed buildings would continue to stagnate and decay. 

About the author:

Chris Hayman, 2015

Chris Hayman, 2015

Chris Hayman is a director and co-owner of the property development and management Venture Group who provides construction management, refurbishments and regeneration, technical specifications and design, property management services and property developments. Chris specialises in the repurposing of existing commercial and residential stock through lightweight structures and energy efficient interventions. Some of our projects include Masiphumelele multi-story low-income housing, regeneration of derelict Westlake office block, and numerous high-end commercial developments. Find out more about Venture at http://www.venturegroup.co.za/

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