Parking-free development aims to fill housing gap, reduce car-dependency

CHARLOTTE — According to county statistics, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area needs more than 45,000 more units of housing that are affordable to its lowest-income residents.

That’s a massive construction project, but according to Charlotte’s Unified Development Ordinance, those units would have to come with one parking spot each in much of the city, adding hundreds of acres of land and hundreds of millions of dollars to the construction costs.

Exceptions exist for projects close to transit-oriented neighborhoods, and two current projects hope to take advantage of that. By the end of the year, two more parking-free/limited-parking housing developments will open their doors to tenants in Charlotte, the second phase of the Joinery apartments, and the CYKEL apartments in Seversville.

Brian Bradley, a developer with Grubb Properties, said the spot off State and Turner, was a perfect location for CYKEL, just a few blocks from the Gold line and right on the Stewart Creek Greenway, just a short bike ride from Uptown.

“This is an opportunity to have a community that makes not having a car the first choice,” he said.

Bradley said it’s not just about making communities more walkable, it’s also about cost savings. Building surface parking takes up an estimated 10 percent of a housing development’s budget and it can be close to 25 percent for a garage or underground structure.

“Here by removing the parking from the development, we’re able to save roughly 30-60,000 per space in construction costa that we’re going to pass on directly to our residents,” Bradley said.

Due to the costs saved during construction, Bradley said half of the 104 units in CYKEL will be priced for renters making 80 percent of the area median income.

Bradley said the car-free project had to be designed responsibly. The building will include a bike-share program and e-bike rentals for residents as well as significant indoor bike storage space, vending options for toiletries and nonperishables to limit the need for last-minute trips, and ample space for deliveries.

“We’re focused on making those choices the easier choice so you don’t miss the car,” he said. “That it’s not something that you need.”

Rikki Bower made that choice about two years ago. Currently living in the Joinery apartments, he said he picked Charlotte’s first parking-free development shortly after he sold his car because it was close to the light rail and he wanted to be somewhere that made it easy to stay car-free.

“I do a bunch of different things with the Onewheel,” he said. “I use the light rail pretty much every day and I walk a bunch.”

Space Craft, the Joinery’s developers, says that’s exactly what they’re hoping to see from their residents. CEO Harrison Tucker said the 83-unit building leased up in just a few months and as long as Charlotte continues to invest in transit and cycling infrastructure, he believes other parking-free developments, or even developments that don’t meet parking minimums should see similar success.

“I think developers will find the math compelling,” Tucker said. “And I would encourage residents who are considering a car-lite lifestyle to think about living in a building where you can give up your car, your car-payment, your gas, your insurance. All that really adds up.”

When Charlotte considered eliminating parking minimums as it developed its UDO, opponents voiced concerns that so-called parking-free development would simply shift the cost of parking from the developers to the surrounding neighborhood. Not having a spot at an apartment complex doesn’t necessarily mean tenants will go car-free. Instead, they may choose to park on the street throughout the community.

Bradley said Grubb Properties is also cognizant of those concerns and promised CYKEL will work with the local neighborhood to enforce its car-free requirement.

“If somebody happens to lease here who has a car, we can enforce the ability to not renew that lease with that person and we would hope the community would come to us and let us know that our residents are abusing parking,” he said.

The Joinery has no such requirement, but instead, Tucker believes making car travel the least attractive option at the property will mean residents will usually make the choice to ditch their cars themselves. So far, that’s the conclusion Bower’s come to.

“As long as it’s fun, as long as it’s working for me, I’ve decided to stay car-free,” he said.

(WATCH: Activist fights to keep housing investors away)

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.

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