Over a year ago, I wrote a piece in our wonderful community newspaper emeritus, the Carrboro Citizen, supporting the Shelton Station project which will come before the Board of Aldermen Thursday night.
Some key benefits of the project include:
- The presence of another 125 to 170 residents so close to downtown will boost local business activity, in addition to generating construction jobs in the short term.
- Shelton Station and the residents of its 96 apartments will create a considerably smaller carbon footprint than if those same units were built on the edge of town. Why? Carrboro – and particularly downtown – is built to encourage the most environmentally friendly travel behavior in the state.
- If Carrboro does not want to become a town where only the wealthy can afford to live, then the town must approve more housing. That housing should be developed on Carrboro’s terms, in accordance with Carrboro’s values and priorities. As Shelton Station developer Ken Reiter has proposed pursuing green features in the building design, providing covered bicycle parking and renting 10 percent of the units to be affordable to workers at 60 percent of the median income, there is evidence that Reiter has thought carefully about ways to reflect Carrboro values in Shelton Station’s design.
All of the fundamental dynamics that led me to write that op-ed remain in place today, and I would encourage everyone to read it again here.
But prior to saying “Yes,” I hope that the Aldermen can ask the applicant to take one specific action that will introduce more transparency in their rental pricing, encourage more environmentally friendly travel onsite by residents, and direct parking towards turnover spaces that support local business instead of long-term vehicle storage: require the UNBUNDLING of Shelton Station’s parking.
What Is Parking Unbundling?
Unbundling of parking means that a household at Shelton Station, instead of renting an apartment and automatically getting assigned a certain number of parking spaces for their use, rents an apartment at one price, and a number of parking spaces of their choosing at a separate price. For example, imagine a scenario where all parking spaces for residents at Shelton Station rented for $40/month. This means that if the building owner would charge a $740/month rent with 1-bedroom apartment rent and parking rent bundled, then the Unbundled pricing approach would rent the same apartment for $700 and then, IF the renter wanted to park their car onsite, they would pay another $40/month specifically for the opportunity to do so.
Now, you may be thinking, “what’s the point? Most people renting apartments own a car and will desire to park it on site, so why go through this extra step to charge them the exact same price?”
This is a good and relevant question. And the answer is that if you live in a place with very high levels of access, and price residential parking, the evidence indicates that two-car households will “shed cars” and become one-car households, and while less common, some one-car households will also shed cars and become ZERO-car households, particularly if car-sharing is available.
Let’s continue our example: we’ve established that the monthly rental per space is $40 at our hypothetical building. Now a couple decides to move in, and receives the pricing schema for their two-bedroom apartment and two parking spaces. They start paying $1130/month to the landlord, but after only 1 month there, they realize that one of them commutes to work by transit, the other drives to work, and at night or on weekends, they walk everywhere or drive together in one car. They further realize that they are basically paying $500/year for one of their two cars to gather dust. They decide to sell it, which puts some money in their pocket, which they use to get a carshare membership to give them more flexibility. Their monthly rent drops from $1130 to $1090 the next month, and they are now a one-car household. The purple circle in the figure below shows the outcome of this move.
What Are the Benefits of Unbundling Parking?
First, Shelton Station has expressed an interest in bringing Car-Sharing to Carrboro at their site, and unbundling parking helps make car-sharing more successful, which should benefit the developer by lowering the amount of monthly subsidy that may be needed to get car-sharing started onsite. Having a successful pilot experience with carsharing in Carrboro would be a great outcome for both Shelton Station residents and the town. Transportation Planning consultants Nelson/Nygaard conducted a study of buildings with both carsharing and parking unbundling and found the following:
Unbundling parking can help create demand for carsharing, while carsharing can help compensate for having to pay for parking in residents’ minds. In contrast, free and abundant parking reduces the demand for carsharing. As the findings show, households with both unbundled parking and carsharing available in the building have significantly lower vehicle ownership rates compared to households in buildings with neither (0.76 vehicles per household and 1.03 vehicles per household, respectively). Households in buildings with both unbundled parking and carsharing are also more likely to be carshare members than those with neither. Statistically significant differences were also found between carshare members and non-carshare members.
The average vehicle ownership for households with carshare memberships is 0.47 vehicles per household compared to 1.22 vehicles per non-carshare member household. Carshare members are also more likely to take non-auto modes to work and use transit; 83% of survey respondents with carshare memberships use non-auto modes to commute to work compared to 70% of persons without carshare memberships, and 43% of carshare members take transit compared to 23% for respondents without carshare memberships.
Second, it allows people to be rewarded for doing the right thing. There are two-driver, one-car households throughout Carrboro, and every apartment complex they rent from puts the price of two parking spaces in their rent, even though they would not use that amount of resources. An unbundled parking situation at Shelton Station would attract households like this who would jump at the chance to get a slightly lower rent than they would otherwise for only having one car instead of two. The $40 extra per month in their pocket is likely to be re-circulated at businesses they could walk to from the building.
If a development with unbundled parking is successful at getting residents to shed cars, then that allows room in their lot for them to have more spaces available for business patrons onsite, or perhaps even to develop their site further in the future if additional land for development exists.
One other key to success is that the developer should be free to rent parking spaces to non-residents if the unbundling creates spare parking capacity for them. How would this work for Shelton Station? A quick visit to Carr Mill Mall’s shopping center will find the “No Park and Ride/No Park and Bike/No Park and Walk” signs. It is likely that some people would pay by the day, week, or month to park and ride the F bus to campus. This is not as compelling a use as a parking space turning over several times during daylight hours for a business, but a mostly daylight park-and-rider is still going to occupy much less time in a parking space than a resident who never uses their car because everything is a short walk away.
Giving the developer an opening to earn revenue because they have adopted a progressive parking policy is also another way to help them support their fledgling carshare initiative, which I expect neighbors of Shelton Station would also be able to take advantage of as a neighborhood amenity.
In Closing: Purchase of 201 S Greensboro Lot and Future Steps on Downtown Parking
There’s a lot to like about the Shelton Station project. There may be some arguing about whether or not the developer and the staff have agreed to the “right” number of parking spaces. This is largely a red herring because parking generation standards are usually a pseudoscience at best unless you are working with detailed, local datasets. The town ordinance rightly gives parking reductions for certain uses in downtown areas, and has reduced the proposed parking for the Shelton Station site from somewhere around 220 to something closer to 170 spaces. I still think this is too much parking, but I think getting the policy implementation of carsharing and unbundling on the same site is too big an opportunity for us to miss if it can be achieved, and is more important than shrinking the 170 spaces at Shelton Station further at this time.
News this week broke that the town purchased the parking lot it has been leasing across from Glass Half Full, just south of Open Eye Cafe, gaining control of 90-odd parking spaces. I was encouraged to hear that members of the board think this could be even a future location for a library as well as other uses and public parking.
Still, it is critical that everyone understand that there is no strategy based on providing more and more free parking in downtown Carrboro in perpetuity that does not end in the town destroying the pedestrian-first atmosphere of downtown, create nightmare traffic jams that choke downtown business and put an upper lid on our prosperity, or lead to aggressive towing that nobody wants to deal with. This does not even address the fiscal cost of buying and maintaining the parking spaces.
Eventually, we’re going to need market-priced parking in downtown to sustain vibrancy, and it will ideally be managed via some system where individual spaces that are not reserved for any one establishment can rent themselves to a broader pool of users via a smartphone app or streetside kiosk. We’re not there yet, but we will be there sooner than many people think.
Unbundling parking removes the least productive type of parking (long-term residential storage) from downtown and helps support local business by providing more turnover spaces for their customers. It will help keep parking pricing for everyone else at bay further off, and will allow us to introduce a new tool in the access-to-downtown toolbox.
Let’s look into getting an unbundled parking condition on this project, and then move it forward for approval Thursday night.