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ANALSYIS: The Sansom apartments brings large scale development without the parking to Center City

On the 1600 block of Sansom Street, Pearl Properties is currently constructing an 8-story, 104 apartment building dubbed  "The Sansom."  It’s exciting news anytime a new mid- or high-rise construction project comes to town.  But the kicker in this project is the amount of parking the new development provides for future residents: 0. 

Low numbers like these don’t come that often with large scale residential projects in Philly.  And for good reason – it’s the law; the City’s current zoning code mandates 3 parking spaces for every 10 residential units of multi-family development projects like The Sansom (in certain overlay districts this requirement may not apply).
One of the problems with mandating so much parking in an urban environment is its cost, something developers incur and then pass off to potential buyers and renters. This drives up housing costs and prices out middle and lower income residents.  In high demand areas such as Center City, this means the richest among us are the only ones who can pay the additional price for parking.  Most of us simply can’t take on that burden.    

This is a problem.  Americans want to live in walkable places, but only a fraction can come up with the cash to do so.  According to a new study, the people fortunate enough to live in neighborhoods like Center City tend to also be the wealthiest among us. 

If the goal of Philly is to continue revitalizing our urban core, it does us no good if these areas become enclaves of the rich, banishing the rest of us to less walkable, less transit accessible parts of town.  Quite simply, we need more affordable housing in our walkable areas like Center City, and fast.      

One way to go about doing this is to develop like ‘The Sansom’ and forget the parking.  Poster child Portland, Oregon provides an example.  In that city, nearly two-thirds of their recent residential projects are being built without any parking spaces.  Thanks to years of investments in a robust public transit system and the City’s push to build without parking, a substantial increase in density and vitality in Portland’s downtown and nearby neighborhoods has been achieved.

It’s also led to cheaper unit costs in residential developments.  As one developer put it in a recent report, in Portland adding a parking spot to a unit is the difference between a $750/month apartment and a $1,250/month apartment.

In Philly, The Sansom is still relatively expensive due to its prime Rittenhouse location, starting at $1,895 for a one-bedroom apartment.  But other projects in less central neighborhoods like Graduate Hospital and Passyunk would likely see the most benefit from relaxing multi-family housing parking requirements.  While we can’t have it all and three spots for 10 units seems progressive enough, for now, making it even easier for developers to build without parking in the future would be a plus.  Or ensuring neighborhood groups and the ZBA don’t make developers jump through hoops to build no parking developments should be a goal.  Whether it be the City as a whole or a renter on his/her own, we can’t afford to do otherwise.

WriterGreg Meckstroth
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