Proposed legislation could make getting around more of a challenge

Most of us who live with disabilities don’t spend a lot of time worrying about zoning and land use issues. […]

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Most of us who live with disabilities don’t spend a lot of time worrying about zoning and land use issues. But we should. 

The 2024 Minnesota Legislature is considering bills to eliminate what are called “parking minimums” for new developments. This has already been done in more than 50 cities, including Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Developers can build up to a maximum number of parking spaces allowed under a specific zoning type. Variances can be sought if more parking beyond a maximum limit or cap is needed. But this type of regulation allows developers to not provide a minimum number of parking spots if space is tight or if there are other considerations. A new apartment building might have fewer residents who rely on personal vehicles, for example. 

A similar move is afoot in Congress. 

This kind of parking requirement doesn’t affect existing buildings. But the change means developers can erect new buildings without providing any off-street parking at all. While this is seen as modernizing zoning codes and providing what is defined as “best practices” for land use and climate change, it raises red flags for some of us with disabilities who must drive to get around. 

At a recent news conference, Sen. Omar Fateh (DFL-Minneapolis) claimed that regulations governing parking are arbitrary and capricious. He used examples in Twin Cities suburbs to back his argument, citing the amount of how much parking is required for bowling alleys in different cities. That and other parking regulations vary, city to city. 

Fateh’s bill is called the People Over Parking Act. He and his allies, including several progressive groups, argue that mandates force developers to build more parking than is needed. Building parking facilities and creating lots is seen as making housing more expensive, at a time when more affordable housing is desperately needed. Parking lots, garages and ramps are increasingly expensive, with parking ramp costs cited at $40,000 or more per stall. 

The act would take away local zoning authority and would instead have a statewide law that gives developers and property owners the right to decide for themselves how much off-street parking is needed. 

Groups that represent cities across Minnesota have already expressed opposition to the act. One issue, of course, is local control. 

Another issue is the ability to finance new development. We have also heard some developers state quite plainly that if they cannot include some amount of off-street parking in a development, it is more difficult to obtain financing. 

If you live with a disability or disabilities, and rely on a motor vehicle as primary transportation, not having an accessible parking space is a huge problem. So here is our familiar message: Please don’t forget us. 

We agree that housing is increasingly more expensive for everyone. Many of us who live with disabilities don’t worry about granite countertops or rooftop patios or the latest fancy refrigerator. We just need safe, affordable places to live, with door widths and counter heights that work for us. We need to safely be able to get in and out of a bath or shower. 

Please consider that not all of us can easily walk or bike or take transit to our destinations. Many of remember our days of bike commuting, of walking a few miles to an office, or hauling groceries on the bus or light rail. For many of us with disabilities, those are no longer things we can do. 

Some of us still need to drive. We cannot travel for many blocks on scooters or in motorized wheelchairs, let alone with a walker or cane. 

While not all of us with disabilities have blue parking placards, we still have to drive to get around. 

The debate over parking brings to mind the Minneapolis ban on new drive-through services from a few years ago. Existing drive-through services can stay in place but new ones aren’t allowed. 

We understand the need to reduce reliance on motor vehicles and the seriousness of emissions and climate change. We understand the need to reduce dangers to pedestrians who have to be wary at drive-through entrances and exits. But drive-throughs are how many of us get our medications, do our banking and pick up our food. 

And drive-through services are also a zoning issue. 

Our plea is for balance. Consider that none of us choose to be disabled, yet one in four of us becomes disabled in the course of a lifetime. Not all of us want to have to drive to our destinations. But we sometimes have no choice. 

Putting disabled people in a position of having to compete for on-street parking, and possibly traveling a few blocks with a disability to get to and from a parked vehicle, creates difficult situations. It could deny us potential housing options when we want to stay in our home communities. 

Our elected officials should consider a parking minimum that has a set number of disability-signed spots for residents and for business patrons. That would be a reasonable compromise. 

Please don’t forget us. 

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Mental Wellness