Detroit may soon get a residential permit parking ...

Detroit may soon get a residential permit parking zone near Little Caesars Arena

Permits could ease parking frustrations for residents who live near high-traffic areas by blocking visitors from parking on certain streets, but do they solve the underlying problem?

Residents of a Detroit neighborhood where finding a parking spot is a frequent frustration may soon get a little relief: a residential parking permit zone, newly allowed under a 2019 city ordinance. But the person advocating for adding restrictions to the area around Little Caesars Arena, Francis Grunow, still has mixed feelings about its use.

In 2019, Detroit City Council voted to amend city code to allow neighborhoods to create residential parking permit zones. The change was designed to give residents control of street parking in areas that get a lot of visitors. Those without a permit who park in these zones will be ticketed at certain times of day. 

Brush Park CDC, for example, is currently working to create one, because the neighborhood is a popular parking area for fans attending games at Comerica Park. 

The potential Little Caesars Arena zone, which would be on 2nd Avenue next to Cass Park, was recently the subject of a public hearing held by Keith Hutchings, the city’s director of the Municipal Parking Department. The meeting was a preliminary step before the proposed zone goes before City Council.

Grunow, a main advocate for the zone, is a policy and engagement consultant and the former chair of the Neighborhood Advisory Committee for the Little Caesars Arena District. The NAC, which met from 2014 to 2019, was tasked with negotiating with developer Olympia, owned by the Ilitch family, to determine potential benefits Olympia could offer residents to account for the changes they were bringing to the neighborhood. 

A point of contention throughout the negotiations was parking. The influx of visitors on a regular basis has been a major disruption for residents

Grunow at first saw an obvious solution. Olympia has been criticized for using public funds to build surface parking lots instead of buildings that contribute more to the city — why not let residents of several apartment buildings in the area park in those lots for free? After all, they sit empty most days of the week. 

“We thought residents deserved some degree of parking security and the Ilitches could afford it,” Grunow said. “Of course, they declined.”

So once the city ordinance allowing parking permits was passed, Grunow pursued that option. The public hearing was delayed for months because of the coronavirus pandemic, but could be approved by City Council soon.

Other nearby cities like Royal Oak and Ferndale offer residential parking permits near business districts with lots of traffic, as do other large cities nationally

What residential parking zones can’t solve

While Grunow is glad that residents could soon have some additional parking security, he’s ambivalent overall.

“I want it to go forward. There’s the public good of helping out this neighborhood in this way,” he said. “But this should really be a small part of an overall strategy to manage parking in the city.”

Grunow wears another hat as a founding member of Detroiters for Parking Reform, a grassroots group that advocates for policy changes around parking. “Surface parking is the second worst land use besides vacancy,” he said. 

He believes the city should reduce surface parking as much as possible by eliminating parking minimums, offering greater transit options and implementing dynamic pricing, which adjusts the street-parking rates to meet demand. Residential parking permits will solve a problem for a handful of residents, but don’t address larger issues around parking or reduce the number of spaces at all. 

Ironically, Olympia, which owns one of the apartment buildings in the area, is a petitioner on the proposal to create the zone on 2nd Avenue. And why wouldn’t they be? If patrons of Little Caesars Arena have fewer places to park on the street, they’ll be more likely to pay for parking in one of their lots. The residents are the ones who have to pay a fee to get a permit for their vehicle.

“We subsidized the Ilitches to pay for parking that they control,” Grunow said. “So this doubles down on our public investment because it forces the residents to pay the city a nominal amount to have a sticker on their car.”

He added: “Once you start unwinding this stuff you realize how many decisions have been made for cars and not people.”

This story includes reporting from Detroit Documenter Amanda Absher. Detroit Documenters is a partnership between Detour, Outlier Media, WDET, City Bureau, CitizenDetroit and the Detroit Free Press that pays residents to attend public meetings and help citizens and news outlets learn more about their city government. Upcoming trainings can be found here; the next one will be held July 20. 

Aaron Mondry is the editor of The Dig and a reporter who covers development, housing, architecture, real estate and land use in Detroit. He was previously the editor of Curbed Detroit.