The Ins and Outs of Public Parking Garages in the Manhattan Core

Land Use

All of us take for granted the availability of garage parking in Manhattan. Yet, the New York City Zoning Resolution regulates public parking garages under a very complex set of provisions. In commercial and manufacturing zoning districts, public parking garages are permitted as-of-right or by special permit, depending on the specific district and the size of the garage. However, within the Manhattan Core, which is defined as Manhattan south of 96th Street on the East Side and south of 110th Street on the West Side, public parking garages are governed by a separate set of regulations.

The Manhattan Core parking regulations, originally established in 1982, were enacted in response to the Federal Clean Air Act to discourage vehicular trips to and from the Manhattan Core. Among other things, these regulations removed the minimum required number of parking spaces for accessory garages serving a particular development, placed a cap on the number of parking spaces permitted for accessory garages, and required that all public parking garages of any size and in any district within the Core obtain a special permit from the City Planning Commission. This special permit, which still exists today for some public parking garages outside of the Manhattan Core, focuses more on the impact of the parking facility on the surrounding area, including the effects on traffic safety and congestion.

In 2013, the Manhattan Core parking regulations were amended to, among other things, eliminate the distinction between public and accessory parking garages within the Manhattan Core, and to establish a new special permit. Under these amendments, new accessory parking garages up to a certain maximum number of spaces and existing accessory garages of any size that operate under a Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) license (existing prior to January 1, 2012) are permitted to operate as public parking garages. This change allowed a significant number of older accessory garages that had been operating illegally as public parking garages to become legal, subject to the rights of tenants to take back spaces. Moreover, the parking spaces in new accessory garages could be utilized by the public, reflecting the need for all parking facilities, public and accessory, to serve the local neighborhood.

Furthermore, the 2013 amendments included a new special permit for all public parking garages (and accessory parking garages where the number of accessory parking spaces exceed the maximum permitted) in the Manhattan Core. Unlike the prior special permit for public parking garages in the Manhattan Core, the findings required under the new special permit focus on whether the number of spaces proposed is appropriate. In other words, applicants must establish the need for the parking spaces in the surrounding community. As a result, special permits for public parking garages in the Manhattan Core are more difficult to obtain than special permits for public parking garages outside of the Manhattan Core, where a showing of need is not required. There have only been a handful of applications under this new special permit. Most have been granted on the basis of the need to meet residential growth in the neighborhood. In granting these special permits, City Planning found that the number of proposed parking spaces is reasonable and not excessive in relation to recent trends in proximity to the proposed parking facility with regard to the increase in the number of dwelling units and the number of off-street parking spaces. The applicants in these cases analyzed residential developments and current and future parking facilities in the one-third-mile radius of the project over a period of several years to support this finding.

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