CHICAGO-If developers build fewer parking spaces, will fewer cars come to the Downtown area? City planners and some developers think so; local politicians doubt it.

The debate raged again when amended plans for a multifamily rental tower at Des Plaines Avenue and Kinzie Street were endorsed by the plan commission, calling for an increase in units to 350 while the number of parking spaces was trimmed by nearly one-third to 287. Those numbers work, according to the Department of Planning and Development, because its “forensic evidence” suggests rental units require less parking than condominiums. And even some condominium projects can work with less than the 0.8 parking spaces per unit in Fifield Cos.’ latest proposal, endorsed by the plan commission but with a rare dissenting vote.

If the committee that rewrote the city’s antiquated zoning code had its way, parking requirements would have been greater than 1-for-1, in the Downtown area where public transportation is more plentiful, as well as the outlying neighborhoods, says 50th Ward Alderman Bernard Stone. “Our demand for parking would’ve been 1.5 instead of 1.0,” says Stone, who voted against recommending the Fifield Cos. project even though he represents West Rogers Park on the far North Side. “Even if gasoline goes to $10 a gallon, we still will have people demanding parking.”

Planning and Development officials argue the need for parking in the Downtown area will decrease in the future as rapid transit systems are expanded. “We respectfully agree to disagree, and rely on the history of sales and rentals and the demand for parking spots,” says Planning and Development commissioner Lori T. Healey.

Burton Natarus relies on anecdotal evidence. “Why do I continuously get visits from condo board presidents, saying we don’t have enough parking,” says Natarus, the 42nd Ward alderman who has long sparred with Healey and her predecessors. “The planning people have blinders on. They’re just plain wrong. We need parking garages and parking spaces. We’ve argued this to death.”

Plan commission member George W. Migala suggests the answer is zoning decisions becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. “The market is forced to accept the situation, rather than willing to accept the situation,” he says. “We can’t expect it to cure itself.”

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