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Development, Business Expansion Could Follow New Hartford Parking Regulations

The city will no longer require developers and businesses across the city to provide a minimum number of parking spaces, a dramatic move intended to make Hartford more “walkable” and spur development.

“We want to send the message that Hartford is a town focused on people and bicyclists and is not a town that is just focused on housing cars that sit idle for 90 percent of the day,” said Sara C. Bronin, chair of Hartford’s planning and zoning commission.

The commission approved the change last week, and it became effective Friday. It builds on a similar move two years ago that eliminated minimum parking requirements for the entire downtown and for retail and service uses citywide.

Bronin said lifting the minimum requirements will make development more attractive throughout the city. Creating parking typically adds significant costs to a development and can be a deal-breaker when inflexible minimums must be met, she said.

In addition, businesses considering a move into the city will have more freedom in determining the number of spaces for their employees.

Bronin, a professor of law at UConn, said most areas of the city already have enough parking to accommodate new development.

“So now, what we’re saying, we’d like the market to decide within certain parameters,” said Bronin, the spouse of Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. The change also is balanced with limits on maximum number of spaces, she said.

Experts say Hartford is only the second major city in the country to eliminate minimum parking regulations.

Smaller towns and cities, such as Fayetteville, Ark., have repealed the minimum requirements, but earlier this year, those municipalities were joined by the mucn larger Buffalo, N.Y., said Norman W. Garrick, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

“There is a growing movement to change this paradigm,” Garrick said in an email from the Institute of Transportation Planning and Systems in Zurich, Switzerland, where Garrick is on sabbatical as a visiting professor.

Hartford has struggled with parking for years in a state long tied to transportation by automobile and slow to adopt mass transit. Throughout the city — especially in downtown — there are wide swaths of parking lots at key locations, many of them created when buildings were torn down for redevelopment projects that were never built.

A year ago, a proposal to tax parking lots around Bushnell Park at a higher rate to spur development came up against opposition from lot owners and went nowhere.

Garrick, who has studied parking in Hartford extensively, said 25 percent of the land downtown is occupied either by parking lots or garages, not counting those under buildings.

Since 1960, the number of parking spaces in Hartford — mostly downtown — have tripled, from 16,000 to 48,000, even though population, jobs and retail have all declined in number, Garrick said.

It seems obvious, but the more parking there is, the more cars will be drawn to the city and the more people tend to ignore transportation alternatives, Garrick said.

Cities that are admired today for their “pedestrian friendly” environment — Cambridge, Mass., Seattle, Portland, Ore., and others — took steps in the 1980s and 1990s to get away from the focus on cars. The focus had its roots in the 1950s when cities sought to compete with suburbs as the number of cars soared and parking was needed, Garrick said.

“In a sense, this is kind of cutting-edge stuff,” said Michael W. Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, which is at the forefront of redevelopment downtown and is now venturing into the city’s neighborhoods.

Freimuth said the biggest effect will likely be on “mixed-use” developments that blend housing and commercial uses, such as retail and office space. Parking can easily be shared, with more commercial during the day and residential in the evenings.

In all likelihood, some projects will need to add some amount of parking, such as the conversion of the vacant buildings at 101 and 111 Pearl St. downtown into 250 apartments, Freimuth said. There simply isn’t enough on-street and other parking options nearby to reasonable accommodate tenant needs, he said.

But at the same time, the parking needs of residential tenants are rapidly changing in an age of ride-sharing apps, increased bus routes and the expansion of high-speed rail, Freimuth said.

And, Freimuth notes, the CRDA-led conversion of smaller buildings at 179 Allyn and 201 Ann Uccello into rentals came without parking directly associated with the project.

Still, Freimuth said, the affect of lifting parking minimums will likely need to be assessed every six months or so, especially in areas of the city where there could be a potential “squeeze” on parking.

Bronin said that emphasizing alternatives to the car is “really a big part of what is going to make Hartford a livable city in the long-term.”

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