Laura Burkhalter loves her street — except when there’s no place to park.
In Kansas City’s Southmoreland neighborhood, generally between Main Street and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Burkhalter says that parking woes are distracting from the area’s livability. Residents fear it will get worse when a proposed apartment building opens.
“The ‘legacy’ apartments in the area already don’t have parking,” Burkhalter said. “Then the newer developments are relying on street parking in addition to what they say they’re going to provide.”
The Artisan Apartments, approved to be built just north of the Community Christian Church’s education building, will include some parking spaces for tenants, but experience throughout midtown shows that many renters park on city streets.
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In parts of the city’s core — Hyde Park, West Plaza, Plaza Westport, Volker, Southmoreland and River Market, to name a few — some residential streets are lined with cars belonging to apartment tenants who don’t have provided parking or who don’t want to pay extra to use the spaces available to them.
A big complaint from neighbors, who this summer unsuccessfully opposed a 256-unit apartment building planned for Westport Road and Broadway, was that it will make crowded Westport Streets more crowded, despite a proposed 275-space attached garage. There, critics said, the predicted spillover will affect access to stores and restaurants as well as private homes.
In the Hyde Park neighborhood, adjacent to a series of apartment redevelopments along East Armour Boulevard, resident Fred Holtz said the on-street parking crunch builds up daily after about 9 p.m.
“It’s along 36th Street, Locust, Cherry, Holmes,” Holtz said of what he sees when he walks his dogs each night. “People park on both sides of narrow streets. They park partly blocking people’s driveways. It’s bumper-to-bumper in front of single-family homes and duplexes.”
In the Plaza Westport area, Erik Heitman said large developments like 46Penn and 45Madison have included parking spaces in their developments, but cars belonging to tenants and their guests nonetheless jam Jefferson, Summit and 46th Street.
But it’s not just apartment overflow that packs the streets.
“A lot of these urban neighborhoods and the streets were designed for lower density, and many of the older homes don’t have off-street parking because they pre-dated the car culture. So they need the streets, too,” said Heitman, an architect who calls out an “unforeseen consequence” of new urban designs for apartment complexes.
“There’s a push to have first-floor units with their doors out to the street, to make them feel more like townhomes,” Heitman said. “So it’s more convenient for those tenants to park on the street in front of their doors instead of spaces that might be available to them in the apartment garage.”
Kansas City Councilwoman Katheryn Shields is paying attention to neighborhood complaints. She’s started asking two questions whenever apartment developers bring new plans to City Hall:
How many parking spaces are you providing per unit? And is the cost of parking included in your base rent?
Shields says she has no new parking ordinance in mind. But she’s reading neighborhood discontent.
At a recent City Hall meeting, Shields’ two questions were answered by Opus Development about the Westport and Broadway apartment plans. Spokesmen said Opus more than satisfies city parking requirements for tenants. And they said their practice is to charge extra for tenant parking.
Those answers tend to be the norm in Kansas City.
Indeed, why shouldn’t parking be an add-on to base rent, asked another big midtown apartment developer, Peter Cassel. Cassel’s company, MAC Properties, has reinvigorated multiple apartment buildings along Armour, a long-term boon to midtown development that nonetheless affected parking.
“We go on the principle that you should pay for what you use,” Cassel said. “Some renters have no cars, some have one, some have two.”
Several of MAC’s renovations were of apartment buildings that were built before cars were a big thing. City regulations didn’t require MAC to create new parking spots in “grandfathered” circumstances.
Broadly, city codes require multifamily building developers to provide one parking space per residential unit, said the city’s permit supervisor Syrus Kalantar. But he emphasized that many exceptions are possible based on the project’s location in a designated urban renewal district, its historic or landmark status, its presence near transit lines, or its inclusion in a multiuse development.
“And then the zoning adjustment board can grant variances,” Kalantar said. “There’s legal nonconforming use all over the midtown.”
No matter what the rules say about providing spaces for apartment tenants — and personal budgeting being what it is — some tenants choose to save money and park on the street even when parking spots are available to them.
Apartment developers say they’re taking note, and not just because a city councilwoman is asking questions or because some homeowners want to park in front of their own houses.
“The development community is certainly paying attention,” said Dana Gibson, an early residential redeveloper in the River Market area. “Here, it’s an issue with on-street parking being taken up by people in apartments who don’t want to pay for a parking space. As a result of that and other things, the city is now having to control the parking on streets and control the time people can park their vehicles.”
Similarly, on some streets leading off the popular West 39th Street commercial spine near the University of Kansas Hospital, special residential permit parking signs have been installed to discourage nonresident parking during some hours.
Most apartment developers are trying to walk the line between being sensitive to neighborhood concerns and providing parking spaces at a cost that makes sense to their project budgets.
“It’s hard to figure out how to spend $25,000 to $30,000 a parking space when you don’t even know if they’re going to be needed,” said Cassel. “We think about parking a lot. It’s a big expense in a development that can add another fifth of the cost.”
Judging how much parking to include in new urban apartment developments means considering the exact location, market-rate pricing, and generational change, several developers said.
When Scott Richardson and his partner built a new apartment building at 1914 Main, immediately in front of the new streetcar line, they figured that some tenants wouldn’t use parking spaces. Their development has 44 apartment units and 27 on-site parking spaces, each billed at $130 a month above the base rent. All are used, but he said there isn’t a waiting list.
At their second development, going in on the 1700 block of Walnut, they’re aiming for 24 parking spaces for 38 apartments, and Richardson said he expects a similar “parking equilibrium.”
“It’s about location,” Richardson said. “The Crossroads doesn’t present the same issues as when a big new apartment development is next to a neighborhood of single-family homes.”
Some developers are banking on the prediction that more millennials and younger generations will eschew automobiles, especially if they live and work along the streetcar line.
“But that’s a difficult question for all of us in urban centers,” said Gibson, who has charted changes in his River Market rentals. “Ten years ago, with 100 apartments, I needed 130 spaces. Today, I maybe need 90 because some people, at least in the River Market, are determined not to have cars. They’re using Zipcar, Uber, bicycles, the streetcar, their feet. It’s a point of pride for a subset of the population to not have a car.”
Still, Gibson and others said they’d be nervous developing properties without providing parking that meets city regulations as well lenders’ concerns about project viability.
“We haven’t reached a tipping point where parking won’t be a concern,” Gibson said. “But the marketplace will respond to what’s demanded. Historic Kansas City is changing.”
True enough, said Carol Thane, who lives in a condominium north of the Country Club Plaza. “But I haven’t seen it yet where people don’t have cars in this neighborhood. This is still a car-driven city, and the streetcar won’t change that in the short term.”
Thane appreciates that a council member is grilling developers at City Hall.
“When you start with high rents and add more for parking on top, it’s automatic,” Thane said. “A lot of people will decide to park on the street.”