How to plan parking for a new development

December 12, 2023
Eric Carlson
Urban Planner


At first glance, building parking might seem simple. All you have to do is pave the area, mark the allotted number of spaces that local regulations require, and move on to the next part of your development project. Right?

Any developers who must plan parking for new developments know that it’s never that easy.

First of all, parking typically has to be designed before the building footprint and architecture can be figured out. This makes it vital that you figure out the total space your parking area will take up before moving forward with the development.

Unfortunately, local regulations often complicate this process. Though some cities are beginning to abolish parking minimums, most still require a certain amount of parking spots to be provided in a new development. If the developer doesn’t meet these requirements, the project won’t be able to move forward. And in the case that a parking garage will have to be built above or below ground on your development site, your project will be burdened with much higher costs.

For these reasons, it’s critical that you pinpoint the appropriate amount of parking for your development that will not only meet local requirements and fit into the overall design of the space, but also serve the needs of the space itself.

Step 1: Identify the purpose of your parking

Every development serves a purpose. Whether it’s a residential apartment building, a commercial complex, or a mixed-use development, the amount of parking you plan for will be inextricably tied to the needs of that development.

A residential parking area, for example, serves a very different purpose than an office park or commercial development. The amount of parking that you build will reflect that purpose, changing depending on how many cars will be using your lot, and at what times. 

The purpose of a mixed-use development is usually a bit different because of its unique blend of residential, commercial, and, in some cases, office uses. Although this makes planning its parking a little more of a challenge, it also creates a lot of opportunities for creative parking solutions.

Mixed-use developments might be encouraged to reduce the parking they make available. This can often be because of the development’s location within a dense area, or because of its proximity to transit. Typically, these allowances for reduced parking requirements will be made clear in the code of your local jurisdiction, which will help you determine the development’s purpose and start allocating the appropriate number of parking spots.

Step 2: Calculate the adequate number of parking spaces

The appropriate amount of parking spots for a development is typically determined by a combination of factors. These factors will likely include the local parking regulations, the requirements of your lender, and the specific needs of your development.

After you have fulfilled all the local regulations, you are free to determine what amount of parking is right for your development. Some developers might want to merely fulfill the local regulations, while others might want to fine tune their parking to their specific needs. 

Adhere to Local Regulations: Many local regulations require spots to be allocated on specific ratios tied to the type of use. For example, residential uses might require 1 or 2 parking spots per unit. Commercial uses might require 1 spot per 1000 sq. ft of space. In some cases, the code will specify special areas where parking requirements are lessened, allowing denser developments to be built.

If you have any questions about the parking spots your development has to provide, you can reach out to the local jurisdiction during the approval process. If any of your calculations are wrong, they will let you know as the process moves along.

Consult Your Lender: In many cases, you have to get your parking plans approved by the lender for your development, since they may have requirements or limitations on what type and amount of parking you will provide at your development.

Before you finalize any parking amounts or design elements, your lender will want to make sure that it makes sense for the development, and that they won’t end up losing money on the loan.

At this point, you’ll want to build a strong case for your parking plan, especially making sure you highlight its financial feasibility. With a strong argument for the practicality of your approach, you can likely get your lender behind your parking plan.

Look at Similar Developments: At this stage, it can be helpful to take a look at the parking layouts of similar developments. These would be developments of similar size, use, and location to your development. From there, you’ll be able to determine if the amount of parking they provide is appropriate for their use, and if the same amount of parking will work for your development.

Parking layouts for similar developments provide a valuable insight into the realities of parking use, allowing you to move forward more confidently with your project. 

One parking strategy that will dramatically change your parking plan is unbundled parking. In the next section, we’ll talk about the types of solutions that unbundled parking offer for your development, and what type of tools you can use to implement and manage it.

Step 3: Consider unbundled parking

Oftentimes, charging for parking is the solution for parking at a new development. This strategy separates the cost of a unit from the cost of parking space. It’s quickly gaining popularity around the country, and is increasingly recommended by policy makers and utilized by developers. And California recently introduced a bill that would require unbundled parking in residential buildings larger than 16 units, starting in 2025.

Not only does it lessen the burden of building free parking spaces, but it allows your development to more efficiently use its space. In the case of residential buildings, unbundled parking allows residents to rent parking separately and by doing so, they use fewer parking stalls, and building owners can quote lower prices for apartments or condos when advertising them. For example, instead of renting a 1-bedroom with parking for $1,200/mo, the unit could be rented for $1,100/mo and parking rented separately for $100. 

Unbundled parking is also more equitable and can reduce the total amount of parking required for the building. Residents who don’t really need parking can decide to utilize fewer (or no) parking spots, while other residents who want extra parking can rent extra spots. 

The main issue with unbundled parking is that it must be managed. Without efficient management, you won’t be able to keep track of who is using spaces, collect money, and get the most out of your parking. Many factors, such as location, competition and quality of amenities can influence the price of unbundled parking.

Parkade is one solution that allows buildings to effectively manage and benefit from unbundled parking without having to constantly update spreadsheets. You can also manage parking sharing between office and residential uses, leading to a more efficient parking area for everyone. Parkade is also effective at determining how much you should charge for parking, helping you get the most out of your spots.

Step 4: Determine the cost of parking

One of the most important reasons for fine-tuning your development’s parking spots is cost. Building and maintaining parking costs a lot of money. According to architect Elaine Uang, who does parking design for residential development in California, parking can cost “Up to $25,000 per spot for a surface lot, and up to $50,000 for a parking space for a garage.”

These costs may vary depending on where your development is located, though garages and below grade parking always raise construction costs.

You can then add your parking to your pro forma, determining the total cost of building your parking spots. Having the costs in front of you will help you fine tune the amount of spots ideal for your budget. You can also factor into your pro forma the sort of revenues your unbundled parking can bring in (A detail Parkade can also help you work out), leading you to the most accurate cost for your development’s parking plan.

After you’ve determined the amount of parking you will provide and how much it will cost, you can move on to the design phase. At this point, it’s best not to change the parking plan so that you don’t disrupt the design process.

A few other parking concerns

As with any development project, there are always more concerns to take into account than can be summed up in an article.

One thing to avoid is tipping points. For example, if a parking lot with 60 spots works well for the design and the layout of the lot, but you think that 61 spots is better, it’s probably better to go with the 60 spots. This is especially true for parking garages, where another floor can mean adding hundreds of thousands in more cost to your development project.

Oftentimes, parking can be a geometry problem. The equations of how many spots you need (and are required to build) have to fit into a certain area inside your lot, balancing its layout with the footprint of the building. Coordinating the parking and building design as soon as possible will allow you the freedom to construct the development you want, instead of being backed into a corner (design-wise).

Although planning parking can seem simple, it is often a fairly complex process of balancing different factors in service of a larger goal. With creativity, consideration of local regulations and financial factors, and design needs, you’ll be able to build parking that contributes to a successful development project.

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