The parking pad: An oasis in the urban desert

Written by on July 31, 2013 in Featured - No comments

Photo by Erik Zygmont

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There’s nothing like coming home from a week’s vacation on Sunday evening, the car packed tight as the Griswold’s station wagon, and then backing into a spot in front of your house. Home sweet home.

Except that never happens. You might drive your “parking route” around the block or several for 10 minutes. Then you give up and put on your flashers, and double park. Your significant other sits with the car while you lug all the stuff inside.

Then, your partner goes in the house, and you drive for about 20 minutes until you find a spot to park the car, usually a few blocks away. You walk back to your house in the dark, paying close attention to your surroundings and thinking about the Guide’s police blotter.

Home sweet home.

Parking difficulties are an aspect of city life that some accept and others dread. Some take matters into their own hands, giving up the backyard or part of the backyard to accommodate an off-street parking pad.

For Lisa Doehnert, who renovated and moved into a previously-condemned Upper Fells Point row house with her husband in March 2011, it was an easy decision.

“I definitely feel like a weight is lifted,” said Doehnert, who lived in both Federal Hill and Little Italy without the luxury of off-street parking.

“I remember how we would say no to plans because of the problems we knew they would cause with parking. We  had to coordinate our weekends in order to be home at a certain time,” she said. “Now, we don’t have those problems. We can do what we want.”

Darla Luke of the 200 block of S. Collington St. reports a similar change.

“We made excuses to not drive anywhere after a certain hour, she said. If somebody wanted us to come out to the suburbs, it was ‘Well, come pick us up, because we have a parking place and we don’t want to lose it.’”

Things are different now.

“If I have some friends come in from out of town, they have a place to park,” said Luke. “I think it’s the best thing I ever did, especially considering the little effort it took to do it,” she added. “I think I would’ve been foolish to not take advantage of the fact that I’m on an alley.”

The Guide spoke to several people who added parking pads to their properties. None reported problems in obtaining a permit to do so.

“The permit issue wasn’t an issue,” said Doehnert.

“[The city] sent a guy out,” said Luke, who added her pad in 2006. “He inspected, and I told him what I wanted to do and why. He didn’t have a problem with it.”

It is unclear at this point whether the city’s focus on stormwater and impervious surface will affect parking pad permitting. In many cases, the pads would be replacing brick patios or similarly impervious surfaces anyway.

One consideration when deciding on whether to add a pad is neighbors. In Baltimore’s tight alleys, a neighbor’s cinder block wall butting the edge of your property might leave too little clearance to make the turn onto the pad.

This was the case with Caitrin Huntzinger, who purchased a Clinton St. home six years ago that was advertised as having “parking pad potential.”

“A parking pad and a rooftop deck were important to me when we bought it,” said Huntzinger.”

Unfortunately, due to cinder block walls on the other side of the alley, there isn’t room to make the turn onto the pad, even with their Mazda 3.

“We love being in the city and being able to walk everywhere, but [not having off-street parking] is a huge problem,” she said. “Our car would be safer if it was behind our house.”

If “parking pad potential” factored into the Huntzingers’ decision to buy a home, then an actual parking pad must affect a home’s desirability.

“Parking definitely adds value,” said Mario Valone, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker.

Valone says that a parking pad not only increases the sales price of home, it makes a home easier to sell in general.

“Often, clients will tell me that they want to look only at houses that have parking,” he said. “If your house doesn’t have parking, then I’m not going to show it to that client.”

Valone estimates that off-street parking could add up to $10,000 to the value of a house, and maybe more if it’s covered parking.

Not bad for an improvement that could be made with a trip to City Hall, a sledgehammer and some sweat equity.

by Erik Zygmont

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