Maybe sell your car? The no-parking future in Tacoma’s apartment scene

The historic Washington Building on Pacific Avenue was bought by Unico Properties last year. City code says the owners don’t have to provide parking, but the company plans to lease nearby lots for its residents.
The historic Washington Building on Pacific Avenue was bought by Unico Properties last year. City code says the owners don’t have to provide parking, but the company plans to lease nearby lots for its residents. Unico Properties

Could you live without parking?

Residents of two new Tacoma apartment buildings will find out after they move in, in 2018 and 2019.

The two developments are the first apartment buildings in the city to test the so-called “reduced parking area” — where developers are not required to build parking as part of their projects.

One with 104 units will open by summer 2018 near University of Washington Tacoma. The Koz Development project on Market Street will include apartments ranging in size from 250 to 400 square feet.

The second project, proposed but not permitted and by Koz, would add 152 apartments near Freighthouse Square, again without any parking. It could open in 2019.

“We have always located our projects in transit-oriented neighborhoods and near amenities with the intent of supporting an affordable, car-free, minimalist lifestyle,” said Koz Development president and CEO Cathy Reines via email.

A third — the renovation of the historic Washington Building into apartment units — is not required to have parking. Owner Unico Properties does plan to lease nearby parking spots for its tenants.

Charla Kinlow, a development specialist with the city of Tacoma, said developments without parking are the exception and not the rule in the reduced parking area.

“Usually even if they are in the reduced parking area and they don’t have to provide parking, they will still provide something,” Kinlow said.

One example of that scenario is the historic 18-story Washington Building, which is being converted from commercial space into apartments. While there is no requirement for the owners, Unico Properties, to add parking, the company has said it plans to lease space for its residents in nearby parking lots and garages.

Tacoma’s city code regards large parking areas in the downtown as “often unattractive, inefficient uses of land which disrupt cohesive urban form and pedestrian environment.”

While developments without parking are new for Tacoma, the code changed five years ago in the depths of the recession. The change allows developers to build apartments without associated parking in the downtown and Dome districts, from South Sixth Street in the north to Interstate 5, and from Yakima Avenue in the west to the shoreline and into the Tideflats in the east.

Janice McNeal, president of the Dome Business District, said the development is a perfect fit for the area — a major transportation hub that includes the Sounder train, an Amtrak stop, a bus hub and a Link Light Rail station.

“People will choose not to commute via car,” McNeal said. The development “is serving the millenial who is starting in the workplace and doesn’t want to buy a big-ticket item like a car.”

Eric Huseby, parking services manager for the city, said if they need to, residents can lease parking spots on a monthly basis throughout the downtown core and in the Dome District. Once the new apartment buildings come online, the city will monitor the areas to see whether changes should be made to parking enforcement strategies.

“We react to parking behavior,” Huseby said. He said he’s not sure what will happen because the Koz projects are the first two developments of their kind in the city.

Developers are building to attract students and people who commute to Seattle, said Chris Karnes, chairman of the Pierce Transit Community Transportation Advisory Group.

“We see this tug-of-war between constructing new residential buildings with structured parking with higher rents or apartments with less or no parking that are generally more affordable,” Karnes said.

McNeal said developers who build without parking are also looking to a future not far away, maybe four years, when driverless cars start coming into the market.

“That’s just around the corner,” she said. “How’s that going to change the need for garages as well?”

In the coming years, thousands of apartment units will open in Pierce County. Investors are seeing Tacoma as an increasingly attractive place to build apartments, according to federal mortgage lender Freddie Mac.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports