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Richmond City Council eliminates parking minimums

wide-angle of councilmembers standing for the national anthem next to a projected Zoom window on the wall tv
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Richmond City Council stands before meeting on Monday, April 24, 2023 at City Hall.

Officials also pushed forward agreements on housing and redevelopment. 

The Richmond City Council voted at its Monday meeting to eliminate parking minimums for new developments. The change came amid a docket of varied market-oriented policies aimed at addressing the housing crisis the council declared earlier this month.

Richmond’s parking minimums — as in, a minimum number of parking spaces — vary by zoning and building type. For example, until Monday, a freestanding single-family home needed to provide one off-street parking space. Multifamily units or apartment buildings had to provide more per unit. And retail establishments needed to provide parking spaces according to their square footage.

“It's probably always good strategy to be working on multiple approaches and multiple avenues,” said Ben Teresa, an urban studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “For what it's worth, expanding market-rate housing can be one strategy. It's going to be fairly limited in terms of who it helps, but that's part of the puzzle.”

Market-rate housing refers to housing units whose prices are not influenced by direct subsidies. City Council also approved a market-rate housing development in Southside, voted to redevelop public housing at Creighton Court and introduced legislation for a $2.4 billion mixed-use development it agreed to last year.

The variety of tactics while maintaining a market-oriented strategy underline how City Council and Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration are mostly approaching housing through a market lens — when it’s something seen as a basic need.

“Almost all housing, including affordable housing, is treated as a market’s product and something that is investable,” said Teresa of policy approaches in Virginia.

According to Stoney, there is a 23,320-unit shortage in the metropolitan Richmond region.

Parking minimums

The resolution on parking regulations eliminated dozens of pages of parking requirements and passed 7–0. Fifth District Councilmember Stephanie Lynch and Sixth District Councilmember Ellen Robertson were not present.

In theory, having less land taken up by parking should lower the cost of a development and provide more land for housing units. Teresa said whether those savings are passed on in the form of lower or more stable rents depends on the market context.

“While this is not a panacea to look at answering everything that is contained within the [city’s master plan], this is a major step forward into helping to address those crises and our city,” Planning director Kevin Vonck told council on Monday. “It's going to stop requiring impervious surfaces that degrade environmental quality and human health."

Vonck and First District Councilmember Andreas Addison pointed to the ordinance creating flexibility in parking that is already built.

“I do believe that as parking is built, it now becomes an asset of investment,” said Addison, who represents the West End. He argued that overbuilt parking could now be rented or shared with other businesses.

Vonck told VPM News that housing developments that were built through by-right zoning, which automatically allowed for multifamily apartment buildings, would be able to remove parking. Those built with special use permits, which represent a significant amount of new housing in the city, would need permission from City Council to change their parking infrastructure — as they would have before. Current regulations around landscaping or setbacks for previously created parking remain in place.

Creighton Court

Council also approved an agreement between the city and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority to redevelop Creighton Court, an East End neighborhood with some of the city’s public housing.

The multi-phase, $21 million project seeks to create over 700 “mixed-income single- and multi-family residential units.” The project agreement said it will be financed with a grant that could be supported with city bonds.

Creighton Court originally had 504 units, but portions of the public housing community fronting Nine Mile Road were demolished last year for the redevelopment project. The project’s first phase includes 68 affordable housing units. 

It is near Armstrong Renaissance, where some of the Creighton Court residents relocated.

The agreement says that each public housing unit will be replaced by a new affordable housing unit, known as one-for-one replacement. But it also restricts how much of the new complex can be composed of low-income residents.

No more than 60% of the units can be rented to those making less than 60% of the area median income, and no more than 25% of the units could be made affordable for those earning 30% of AMI.

Al-Qadaffi standing in front of the Legal Aid Justice Center logo. He's wearing a shirt with the phrase "war on injustice"
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Omari Al-Qadaffi spoke at City Council on Monday in Richmond. He said that the Creighton Court redevelopment raises questions about the feasibility of its one-for-one replacement plan.

Omari Al-Qadaffi, a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center, said that raises questions about the feasibility of the one-for-one replacement plan.

“People will say, ‘Oh, it's affordable housing,’” Al-Qadaffi told VPM News. “But affordable to whom?”

A Richmond family of four wanting to rent affordable units at 30% of AMI would have to have an income of $30,200 or less. One adult earning the minimum wage in Virginia working full time would earn $24,960.

“What they are proposing to do is to convert public housing into affordable housing, which basically just means income restricted housing at this point,” he said. “There are still market influences at play. … When you're in a profit-driven paradigm, you're going to choose the highest rate that you can charge to the consumer.”

In an interview Tuesday, RRHA CEO Steven Nesmith said those levels will be negotiated at a later time with developers, since the rents taken from market-rate apartments in the development would subsidize the affordable units.

The agreement says replacement of those units could consist of on-site and off-site housing options, such as the use of housing vouchers, as part of policymakers’ goals to “deconcentrate” poverty.

“Whenever they move to a new development, you want to have mixed income. Why? Because you want you know, those folks that were in public housing to see what they can aspire to, you want to build developments where you can't tell there's a public housing person there,” said Nesmith.

Diamond District

The ‘deconcentration’ of poverty is seen in other mixed-use, mixed income developments such as the Diamond District. On Monday night, city officials announced that an the city and Diamond Partners LLC had reached an agreement on the terms of the 62-acre project, after City Council introduced legislation to approve it.

The plan’s housing portion included setting aside 20% of rental units for those earning between 30% and 60% of AMI, and 100 of those units would include vouchers for public housing residents. Homeownership units would also have 20% reserved for households making 30% to 60% of AMI.

“With this partnership, Richmond is one step closer to bringing a high-quality baseball stadium, good-paying jobs, affordable housing, new small businesses, billions in investment and green space to the Diamond District, which will benefit our entire city,” Stoney said in the press release.

The replacement of the Diamond, which is the keystone of the Diamond District project, will not be ready for the Richmond Flying Squirrels until 2026 — one year beyond a deadline set by Major League Baseball, city officials have said.

MLB has not yet indicated whether it will accept the delay or relocate the Flying Squirrels, a Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.