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Our Opinion: Don't drive out parking for micro units

With the Great Recession fading into the background, Portland’s renewed popularity as a place to live is reigniting neighborhood conflicts about density, parking and housing.

Portland continues to pack more people into a finite space, reviving old questions that planners have grappled with for years.

Where will these newcomers live, and will they drive cars or use public transportation? Is there enough existing housing to accommodate them? Should population density be increased, or should people be encouraged to spread out?

These questions all contribute to the dilemma about parking — and when it comes to that topic, the city of Portland needs to face reality.

The parking issue has reared its head again with the recent proliferation of micro apartments in Portland. These apartment complexes are intended to attract younger people who rely on public transportation, rather than a vehicle, for their primary mode of transportation.

The reality, however, is that public transportation doesn’t serve everyone’s needs all the time. A recent survey of eastside apartment buildings — ones that have no parking — showed that 72 percent of the occupants still owned vehicles.

So, the plain fact is that apartment dwellers are highly likely to own a car, even if they live in a building that’s built expressly for the non-automotive types. When apartments are built without parking and residents drive cars anyway, the result is predictable: more competition for on-street parking, less available parking for businesses and increased conflicts among neighbors.

While Portland may be the bicycle capital of the United States and boast about its eco-friendliness and public-transportation credentials, no one should blame the city’s newest residents for wanting to own a vehicle. People may move here to live and work in Portland proper, but they also want to take advantage of Mount Hood, the Oregon Coast and the Columbia River Gorge — all of which require some sort of personal transportation.

It is imperative that the city recognize this reality sooner rather than later. In some neighborhoods — Northwest Portland, Gateway and downtown — the gates are wide open for developers to build apartments without parking. We would encourage the city to standardize its requirements for residential developments throughout Portland. Any new apartment development on commercial streets should require off-street parking for at least one-fourth of its residents — and in most cases, more than that.

Beyond insisting that parking spaces be included in new developments, the city has other tools available to manage the parking problem. It is implementing its Northwest Portland parking plan, requiring neighborhood residents who park on the street to purchase a $60 annual permit. One micro-apartment developer, Cathy Reines, has said she would support a cap on the number of those permits that could be allocated to a particular apartment building. That’s a concept worth pursuing, but it is untested.

Despite the fact that micro apartment developers are marketing their units to people who want to live with a smaller footprint, there is no way they can require people to go without a car. The majority of people — even young, green-motivated apartment residents — cannot rely on mass transit 100 percent of the time.

The truth is that Portland needs more parking. The city should continue to encourage use of public transportation, but it also should protect neighborhoods and small businesses by acknowledging the unavoidable existence of automobiles.