Move over, cars. Trains and bikes are the future for transit-oriented cities in Pierce County.
Sumner City Council voted Sept. 17 to reduce the minimum amount of required parking for future developments downtown as part of the city’s Town Center Plan.
The decision reflects city leaders’ vision for the future, according to council members, who voted 7-0 to approve the resolution.
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“As a single family homeowner where we do have two cars, I think it just takes time to wrap our minds around that there is a future where people really don’t want to have that many cars,” Sumner Councilwoman Barbara Bitetto said at the meeting. “I’m going to support it because I really think we need to be looking forward.”
Reducing required parking for new developments is a common strategy across the country, according to Ben Bakkenta, director of regional planning for Puget County Regional Council.
“It’s something that in the planning world, or in the policy world, is encouraged to reduce cost,” Bakkenta said. “It’s a great, innovative tool to encourage development.”
In Sumner, depending on the number of bedrooms per unit, city code requires a minimum of 1.5 parking stalls per unit for multifamily developments. The cost to developers to supply structured parking in an urban environment can be $30,000 or more, Sumner City Administrator John Galle said.
The resolution passed Monday sets the required minimum to 1.25 stalls per unit but can be lowered to 0.85 parking stalls per unit based on proximity to the Sumner Sounder Station and availability of other parking nearby.
The Town Center Plan, which accounts for downtown growth, applies to property north of Thompson Street, east of Valley Avenue, west of Wood Avenue and south of Zehnder Street, including downtown Main Street, the former Red Apple Market lot, Pierce County Library, City Hall, the train station and a portion of White River.
The resolution also allows commercial development downtown to count on-street parking as part of its required parking.
“We’re asking for this flexibility for a number of reasons,” Galle said. “First, it’s consistent with other transit-oriented development in the area, which is really the goal of this plan — to create transit-oriented development.”
Transit-oriented development is the “creation of compact, walkable, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use communities centered around high quality train systems, ” according to the Transit Oriented Development Institute.
The move might come as a surprise to Sumner commuters. Just last year, the city started providing reserved commuter spaces on the former parking lot of the Red Apple Market, citing a need for parking.
So is there a high demand for parking in Sumner? Right now, yes. But there shouldn’t be in the future, according to city officials.
One reason is the anticipated completion of the city’s new parking garage to be constructed near the Sumner Sounder Station, adding about 500 new parking spaces for commuters.
Another reason is generational. The city has long had a plan to provide more housing opportunities for millennials and seniors, and the city anticipates those folks will be driving less. Developers are welcome to build more than the minimum parking requirement, but in transit oriented areas, their market doesn’t require the space or use it.
“We have little (housing) that meets the needs of smaller families, couples, singles, those starting out or seniors retiring and downsizing,” Galle said. “Those that utilize that type of housing generally have less need for parking spaces.”
Instead, many will be walking, biking or using the train for transportation. According to a Sound Transit study released this summer, ridership at the Sumner Station has grown 30 percent since 2014, with peak periods carrying an average of 875 people. Two more stops added to the station in 2017.
Sound Transit is looking to incorporate more station locations and rapid transit lines in Pierce County, and Bakkenta said he anticipates cities like Tacoma and Fife will be looking at parking requirements in those areas.
“It’s worth noting that transit-oriented development (apartments etc.) are not for everyone’s lifestyle,” Palmer said in an email. “But, Sumner has to plan for future growth. We don’t have an option to stay at a population of 10,000. By adding more density in the Town Center, we simultaneously preserve more traditional neighborhoods around the Town Center.
“In other words, streets like Wood, Academy, Sumner, etc. will continue to look very similar, offering traditional single-family housing.”
While Sumner plans to reduce required parking, the resolution implements a parking study every five years to keep tabs on demand. City officials say it’s likely residents won’t see the impact for years.
“By no means does (the Town Center Plan) guarantee that things will change immediately or even in the near future,” Galle said. “That is dependent on a multitude of factors and generally change takes many, many years.”
City staff will be available for any questions about upcoming projects at an open house from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday (Oct. 2) at the Sumner Pierce County Library, 1116 Fryar Ave.