Comment of the Day: Why There’s No ‘Parking in Back’ Requirement

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY THERE’S NO ‘PARKING IN BACK’ REQUIREMENT “The idea of requiring on-site parking to be put somewhere else beside the primary frontage along the street was considered during the Urban Corridors process (that led to the current Transit Corridor ordinance). The message from the development community was loud and clear: you cannot prohibit front-door parking within a certain area — that makes properties just outside the boundary of the restriction more valuable and attractive to a greater range of potential occupants, and therefore unfairly diminishes the value of the restricted properties. The idea of making such a restriction mandatory was thus scrapped; it is now an ‘opt-in’ feature of the ordinance in return for the ability to do a reduced setback. Only on streets in light rail corridors though — it doesn’t apply in places like Washington and Rice Village, sadly.” [Local Planner, commenting on Comment of the Day: Too Many Parking Spaces] Illustration: Lulu

26 Comment

  • What is with all the stories on parking–this is so dull–it’s like it’s a daily swamplot dose of parking issues –who cares–move on!

  • Shannon – stop trolling…it’s a very relevant topic of late, and is increasingly important as the city densifies. AND this a real estate blog, and this particular post deals with development corridors, property use restrictions, and urban planning – all 100% suitable conversation fodder.

    Don’t like it, go make your own blog – would love to see how you would react to the same people posting negative comments on it over and over and over again…

  • Because Shannon, in Houston, parking is a primary factor in what the use and form of a property is. Any real estate discussion that fails to recognize the paramount importance of parking is not an intelligent discussion. Just because it’s not an exciting and entertaining topic for a few folks doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

    Besides, I think if Houstonians ranked their favorite land uses, parking might just come out on top! That is, judging from what the average citizen seems to think about development…

  • So developers are saying that if you can’t see empty parking spaces in front of a building then you won’t patronize the shopping center’s businesses? Have they ever heard of something called a “Sign”? I dunno, like one that says “Parking in the Rear”? Why does the city have to dumb down its built environment and the streets that belong to all of it’s citizens because some developer can’t figure out how to use signage?

  • @Scott Bodenheimer, in a nutshell, YES. Studies by numerous businesses show that people are more likely to visit your place if the ample parking is visible in the front. In Houston we have an enormous amount of choice in establishments, so something as trivial as that can make or break a business.

  • Do developers have any data of any kind to back this claim up? How do they come up with this idea that parking in the front of the store increases business? I’m not suggesting it’s unlikely, I just want to understand why I can think of a gazillion places where either the city or the local developers didn’t get the memo about parking, and they’re doing just fine. No, I’m not accepting this “it won’t work in Houston” baloney. Seriously, what difference does it make, parking-wise, if you’re in the front or behind the building?

  • And the same developers come running down to the planning commission every freaking week asking for a variance from the 25′ setback requirement. Developers in Houston just want to be free to build as cheap and crappy a product as they can with as high a profit margin as possible and stick all the externalities (traffic, lack of pedestrian access, parking etc) on all the suckers in Houston. Requiring parking in back means no cheap ass strip malls. That is all.

  • Well I would hope they would allow a “reduced setback” if parking was anywhere but in front! 25-foot sidewalks are a bit much. On the other hand, I hope it is consistent along these transit corridors.

    Speaking of studies, the only one I am interested in is one that explores if allowing parking in front of the store can be extremely disruptive for a pedestrian – to the point where I can imagine it not being worthwhile to walk at all.

    Let’s hope the developers find it in their hearts to do the right thing for pedestrians and cars alike (haha) or let’s just wait for the cost of land to inevitably become expensive enough to encourage dense structures with garage parking.

  • Seems everybody has a comment on this but few want to read the urban corridors initiative and the resulting regulations or do a little research on your own.

    I guess it’s easier to bash the other side.

    Yes people, volumes of research has been done on this topic. Any developer would gladly minimize or eliminate parking if it was possible and can still provide viable development. You think developers love building parking garages and parking lots on land that could yield more money from commercial lease space? There is a reality and the data drives them to provide this parking right up front.

    It is also important to note, that several developments in the identified urban corridors are moving their parking to the back and building wide landscaped sidewalks. Also, the planning commission is wide open to reducing setbacks and providing variances on parking where good cases can be made.

  • Old School nailed it. This city allows developers to be as cheap as they want and they oblige. Save your studies, DFW and ATX don’t have any troubles.


    Keep drinking the kool-aid. There’s nothing special about Houston where it can’t live without mandatory parking requirements and setbacks. I don’t understand the fear of change.

  • Parking in the back is certainly more aesthetically pleasing, and creates a more walkable environment. It works well in other major cities.

    But Houston has already so many stores with parking in the front (and thus seemingly more accessible) that developers are scared to try parking in the back. Fearing that they’ll lose business to places with seemingly more accessible parking.

  • As much as I love urban planning and smart development. There is no way that I’d sign a commercial lease with no suburban style parking in front. Access is the most important thing to customers. I’m with the developers on this one guys.


  • More “Houston is so unique and different from the rest of the world that we have to stay rooted in the past, and can never change anything BS”. Only people who’ve never been anywhere can keep believing that localized foolishness. It’s amazing how many people buy in to this nonsense regarding parking, rail, walking, heat and humidity, and damned near every thing else.
    Newsflash: I was born, raised, educated, and still live in Houston; it and Houstonians are not so unique that nothing that works in every major city in the world can’t work here. All we get from these constant and consistent delays in creating a better planned city is further behind the curve.

  • I do this for a living. Tenants of any magnitude want that parking field in the front. Parking in the rear means liability, and the potential to thwart customers when they don’t see “rockstar” parking. they want as few trees as possible, and the landscaping/irrigation systems to be as lean as possible. they want maximum street signage and building logo signage.

    the good news is there’s a solution for all of this. land price. it dictates EVERYTHING without one bit of regulation. when land is expensive, the ability to do things with a piece of dirt becomes cost prohibitive…and the market will figure it out.

  • @JON, I’ve traveled and lived all over the country and all over the world, and I like Houston lifestyle exactly the way it is, it’s more convenient, simpler, cheaper, and more relaxed. This IS the better way to live.

  • @HTX REZ: I guess the folks developing Spring Woods Village are idiots for doing a town center development instead of a giant strip mall. I am sure that development will fail just like Woodlands Town Center, City Centre and Sugar Land Town Center have failed. All the parking in back regs were trying to do was turn certain corridors into similar mixed used developments by getting developers out of the strip mall reflex and forcing them to do individually on different lots what they are more than happy to do when they get to design from scratch in the burbs.

  • #10: I think your criticism of kjb434 is misplaced. Where was he supporting mandatory setbacks and parking requirements? Furthermore, while everyone is criticizing “developers” ultimately they are responding to their customers (their tenants) and lenders. I want a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape as much as anyone, and am personally just fine with parking in the back or on a nearby block. But it’s not likely to become widespread until there’s a wide acceptance by tenants (especially “credit tenants” = chain retailers) and lenders that business will perform just as well without a front off-street parking lot and with a sidewalk-facing entrance. Developers who would like to do the latter face a tough fight with potential tenants, can you blame them for avoiding it?

    Tenants seem more willing to accept a pedestrian-friendly model in other cities compared to Houston, from what I’ve gathered. However, it’s still a problem everywhere.

  • One more thing – it would improve our odds of getting pedestrian-friendly commercial development if we allowed on-street parking along thoroughfares, like in Los Angeles.

  • Oh give me a break with all the chain store demands about parking. West Palm Beach has a wildly successful City Place development that is almost exclusively big box retailers with no on street parking. Dallas has a similar center filled with off price retailers called The Shops at Park Lane with all garage parking. City Centre here in Houston seems quite active. The issue is a plethora of developers here who have no foresight, imagination or inclination to do anything remotely innovative. Hence, our city is filled with a sea of forgettable places and sprawl for sprawls sake.

  • Comparing a large planned complex with coordinated structured parking (like City Centre) to a smaller infill site, where financial and physical conditions may not justify a parking structure as easily, does not really help the conversation become more meaningful.

    Furthermore, even larger projects have to deal with this – BLVD Place had to put surface parking out front to get tenants even with an internal garage.

    You know that strip of Mid Lane just north of Westheimer? I once had a developer tell me, “I hate to say it, but that area would be more successful if they had put the parking lot in front,” – obviously recognizing the negative impact it would have had on the strip’s aesthetics and pedestrian-friendliness.

  • JT, exactly. Some of these people act like chain stores don’t exist in NY, SFO, or Chicago, etc. because they can’t have parking in front, and that property values suffer in those cities because strip malls don’t reign supreme. These arguments are so lame and routine, it’s become truly laughable.

  • Developers in Houston should take notes from those who developed The Domain in Austin and City Center here in Houston. Those are two highly successful developments which keep attracting more and more people and investments. And on the contrary, those two developments actually increase the value of surrounding properties. In my opinion, Houston is the best place for this sort of development. Because of the tremendous job growth, Houston is attracting a lot of young and bright talent, making its population among the youngest in the nation. In 2010, over 42% of Houston’s population was between 18 and 44 years of age. With that said, I feel it is completely safe to say that the majority of Houston residents would welcome such developments with parking in the back and more walkable, connected and aesthetically pleasing places. Developers should realize that this will only yield better results and more profit. I only hope that some of them realize this soon and jump on it, causing the rest to follow in their footsteps.

  • @#22: I can only hope that the success of the big projects like City Centre start changing the assumptions held by the tenants, lenders, and developers. The real test will be how less intensive projects on moderate-cost sites – projects that are just one or two stories and can’t justify structured parking – get done going forward. I haven’t seen much sign of change in that regard yet, although there’s a little encouragement here and there (the Waugh Drive frontage of the Whole Foods building – no parking or driveway lane, direct pedestrian access to the store – those elements probably wouldn’t have been done in the past). These are the projects that make up the bulk of the commercial environment, so in the long run they’re the most important.

  • So Local Planner it seems as if you are just content to enforce the status quo which has led to such a dismal landscape here in Houston. It is safe to compare large planned developments because the element for risk is so much greater.
    How does Catalina Coffee survive on Washington with little on street parking? Look at the Bishops Arts District or Lower Greenville in Dallas or La Cienaga or Santa Monica Blvd in L.A? Because some developer made anecdotal blather about the Shops on Mid Lane and Ed Wulfe (whose claim to fame are large SUBURBAN style centers) doesn’t have the moxie to buck “oh that’s the way we’ve always done it mantra”, everyone else has to lay down and accept front lot parking as the only way? The fact is that an empty parking lot says a lot more about a business than a full one.

  • Emphatically no, some elements of the status quo need to change. Most especially the ridiculous setback requirement on thoroughfares – a variance to do a pedestrian-friendly project is just another element of risk and cost for a developer. The City government shouldn’t be making it harder to do this stuff. Also, revisit the City’s parking requirements – ideally get rid of them, but at least lower them, let street parking offset on-site requirements, etc. Start more neighborhood public parking programs.

    Direct more infrastructure investment to sidewalks, or enforce the current code to make property owners maintain them. One pedestrian-friendly retail center is more meaningful if its sidewalk doesn’t peter out into a crumbled mess on the next-door property.

    Make public streets more retail-friendly by allowing curb parking, slowing speeds, and adding more safe pedestrian crossings.

    No doubt the large complexes are riskier, but again it’s just easier to achieve a calibrated overall environment – including carefully placed and sized parking, and walkable streets – when you’re essentially building the whole enchilada at once. In most of the existing built part of Houston – think Upper Kirby, Midtown, Washington etc. (West Ave notwithstanding) – those types of opportunities are uncommon.

  • What is the good of having front parking if the businesses put signs saying no parking here unless you’re visiting this particular dry cleaner, or hair salon, etc, and everything’s taken so you’re driving all around anyway and may as well park in back if they’ve got it. I’d rather do that than face 5 open spaces that say “parking for Blank Restaurant only or we will tow you” and nobody’s parked in their spaces! and it’s right next door to where I wanted to go. Rice Village’s so-called “ideal” front street parking drives me insane.