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Dallas parking minimums could be left up to developers if council greenlights code change

The Dallas city hall Wednesday, Aug 16, 2023.
Yfat Yossifor
Since 2019, Dallas city officials have discussed amending the decades-old parking requirements.

A proposed Dallas code change could essentially eliminate parking minimums across the city.

Advocates say leaving the decision of how much parking to build up to developers may increase available development space, cut down on unused parking and help the city grow economically. But critics say the change could reduce the availability of off-street parking at buildings such as apartments and hotels.

The city’s Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee is scheduled to discuss the issue on Tuesday.

District 1 City Council Member Chad West and other members have urged the city to investigate other parking options since 2019.

First passed in the 1960s — and updated slightly in the 1980s — the ordinance has remained largely the same. A simple formula that critics say is based on “arbitrary numbers” dictates how many spaces per square foot, hotel key or number of bedrooms any given project must have.

Parking reform advocates say the ordinance was developed and passed at a time when most people drove everywhere in Dallas. Now, developers and city officials are saying that’s changing.

“That code has resulted in a tremendous amount of waste, meaning that there is a ton of overparked structures in the city of Dallas,” Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee member Enrique MacGregor told KERA.

Advocates are proposing a change: Revise the code to eliminate minimum parking requirements, think about adopting maximums — and let the market be the consequence of not building enough options.

But critics have said a blanket approach to parking issues across the city is not the right policy option — and could decrease parking in already “under parked” areas of the city.

And city staff’s report — slated to be presented during Tuesday’s committee meeting — acknowledges that the proposed code change allows parking lot owners to charge for parking and could create a “public nuisance” for neighboring communities or business.

‘Required off-street parking: None’

City staff’s proposed changes to the current code could ultimately eliminate minimum parking requirements in most parts of the city and remove “the requirement to offer off-street parking for free.”

Although most of the current code would still apply to Planned Development (PD) district around the city, the proposed change would also allow the Dallas Board of Adjustment to weigh in on reducing parking in those zones.

PDs are areas specially zoned with their own unique requirements that dictate how development projects are carried out.

Staff’s report says the intended outcome is to “allow and applicant to benefit from the BDA’s shorter public hearing process rather than go through a lengthier change in zoning process.”

“…Without city-imposed minimum parking amounts bloating development costs or preventing a project from occurring in the first place, a development team can tailor parking to each unique site and situation,” the report said.

Staff also said that developers already build more parking than necessary — “often exceeding the minimum requirements.”

But what will incentivize developers to build enough parking — instead of trying to save money on a project?

Both staff’s report and some in the Dallas development community say the code change will rely on economic factors as oversight on development projects.

“It just shifts the decision making process from really the government to allow the market to work itself out,” MacGregor said. “And if they get it wrong it’s the developer that pays the price, right? You’re not going to go to a restaurant that doesn’t have enough parking when there’s another one down the block that has sufficient parking.”

Lucilo Peña is the president of development at the Billingsley Company, a Dallas-based development firm. Pena says that along with eliminating parking minimum requirements — he believes a cap should be put on parking at any given project.

“What we have found over the years is that probably, a third to 40% of parking….in some of our properties is never used,” Peña told KERA. “All this excess parking is being created and the only way I can think of limiting that is by having a minimum and a maximum.”

Peña says having a parking maximum could also allow the city to limit large suburban lots across the city.

Wade Johns is the chief operating officer of the Dallas-based development firm Alamo Manhattan. He says, like other parking reformers, the city’s code has stalled since the 1980s.

“The Dallas parking code…has not evolved with the times,” Johns said. “It was certainly done before anyone contemplated Uber or Lyft or walkable areas…its very antiquated.”

Johns says that parts of Dallas have changed drastically since the last time the parking code was amended and cites his company’s Marriot Uptown Dallas hotel as a prime example.

“The whole purpose of our hotel is for walkers,” Johns said. “Right now, somebody could land at Love Field, get in an Uber and be at our hotel in seven minutes and spend their whole week all around without having to drive a car,” Johns said. “Yet the zoning assumes that every single room has a car…the real demand for parking is 30 to 40% of what we supplied.”

Both Johns and Peña belong to development firms that handle a wide range of high-end office, multifamily and mixed use developments. That includes the Uptown hotel and Billingsley's Art Plaza project near downtown Dallas.

But if developers say the decades-old policy will benefit walkability, reduce development costs and hopefully spur more development — who will the proposed code change negatively affect?

‘Always a party that could be losing’

MacGregor, Johns and Peña all agree that it’s likely not everyone will benefit from the proposed change. Eliminating minimum parking requirements could mean an influx of on-street parking in areas near a restaurant, bar or hotel.

“There is always a party that could be losing,” Johns said. “Lets say you are a single family homeowner and you’re near an entertainment district, and they don’t have enough parking. Well they could be parking on your streets.”

Johns cited Lower Greenville and the Bishop Arts District as examples of entertainment areas directly near residential communities.

“If you talk to neighbors…there are always parking in their streets,” Johns said. “And they don’t like that.”

City staff’s report points to the same possible outcome too — and proposes a possible fix.

“Where a reduced parking supply associated with new development does create a public nuisance for adjacent properties, neighbors and businesses can utilize management strategies…such as resident-only parking permits, metering…and others,” staff’s report said.

The Dallas City Council discussed parking minimums during a September briefing last year. During the meeting, District 12 Council Member Cara Mendelsohn pointed to a need for more off-street parking in her district — and warned against a blanket approach to changing the code.

“There’s actually, I think, zero parking lots in District 12 that are literally just a spot where you pay to park,” Mendelsohn said. “We have very, very different issues, a very different life.”

City staff’s report notes that “most of the development code provisions regarding calculating required parking, reductions, exceptions…remain intact with minor revisions in order to apply to [Planned Developments]” — and the city is covered in them.

And the change could drastically reduce the amount of free parking there is in the city — and leave property owners the option to charge money for use of their garages.

Pro-reformers and some city officials say a mix of city-led remedies and the “invisible hand of the economy” will ensure future projects are built with adequate parking.

What’s next

The Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposed code amendment during their Tuesday meeting.

Although the issue has been discussed for years, it has only been discussed by the full city council only once.

“This has been four years in the making. This is one of the biggest issues in the city,” Council Member West said during the September 2023 briefing. “I hope [City Plan Commission] and staff sees the importance of expediting their review, since it’s been sitting there since August 2019.”

Depending on what the advisory committee decides – the proposed amendment could be in front of the City Plan Commission in a few months. Ultimately the full city council will decide on whether to amend the decades-old development code.

City staff told the council last year that the proposed amendment would bring incremental changes to new developments and redevelopments.

Editor’s note: Lucilo Peña is an executive at the Billingsley Company. Lucy Billingsley is a partner with the company and a member of the KERA Board of Directors.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

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Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.