Why build parking lot years in advance of the building?

I’ve been curious about something for awhile, and was wondering if any reader knew the answer.

In the Fresno and Clovis area, you come upon many lots which are zoned for commerce (and in one example, a park). The very first thing built in these lots is a parking lot. The whole deal, asphalt, lights, lines, even the handicap signs. And then it sits there.

Sometimes for years. And years. Some locations have parking lots that were built 5+ years ago, with no building to go with it.

And I just don’t get it.

Parking lots aren’t free. The rule of thumb for a surface lot is $8,000 per space, not including land cost. So why would a developer come in, plop down up to half a million dollars worth of asphalt, so that an empty parking lot can sit?

Now, I understand because of the recession, certain properties were all ready to go, and at the last minute construction was called off, because the market fell. That explains some of the lots, but not all of them. As I said, they’re not uncommon.

Further, even that explanation doesn’t fully make sense. A parking lot can easily be the last thing built. The construction workers can park on dirt, and in fact, the heavy machinery is probably just going to ruin the asphalt.

And remember, I’m talking about a city where all suburban parking is free, so it’s not like the developers are making 5 years worth of sales on parking spots. They just sit there, unused.

So why not start the building first, and THEN do the parking lot, which can be finished relatively quickly.

Why build parking lot years in advance of the building?

Here are some examples:

This is an odd one, each lot is in a separate state of construction, from fully complete, to just dirt.

Why lay down the paint?

This is an unfortunate example. This one was built by the city, for a park and a pet adoption center. Why is that unfortunate? It was built years before the adoption center was approved, inf act, the center is still going through the NIMBY process right now. So why lay down a parking lot for something that may not get approved?

This one will be a Fresh and Easy. Even the little stroller icon and painted in the spaces. That stop bar makes absolutely no sense.

This is another Fresh and Easy. The company hasn’t made a single cent in profit, so how can they be so sure of their expansion plans that they create a parking lot years before they might possibly build their store? Won’t the lines be faded once the customers arrive?


So much parking, so few people.

And finally, this one is sort of the opposite. It’s creepy actually. It was built last year, and the satellite shows it full. But why? There’s no building nearby! Look north, that building has an enormous parking lot that is usually empty, and there’s a fence blocking access. West, there’s a highway, and beyond that a shopping area with too many spaces of their own. East? Empty lot and then some offices with plenty of empty spaces. South? nothing.

So weird.


7 Replies to “Why build parking lot years in advance of the building?”

  1. Parking lots also have negative affects on the surrounding environment. They can increase local temperatures; they contribute to stormwater runoff and collection, possibly overloading sewers.

    Thanks for pointing this out.

  2. That last photo looks like the lot is being used for a park and ride. There appears to be a freeway in the bottom left corner. Am not sure about the entrance/exit.

  3. Yea, the last one looks like it is being uses as an ad-hoc Park and Ride. Though why are the handicapped spaces on the north side of the parking lot, far from any potential buildings?

  4. I don't think it's a park and ride lot. No buses stop there, and Fresno does not have a carpool culture. There are no car-pool lanes to take advantage of, and then there's no congestion to speak of. Further, the highway on ramps are on the next street up, half a mile away.

    I do want to note that there is a trail that passes by, as you can see above the lot, by the handicap spaces. I use the trail frequently, but there's no where near the kind of use that would warrant any kind of parking lot, never mind such a large one. The trail crosses many streets with ample street parking.

    Here is the location if you folks would like to explore the area.


    Note the 2 floor structured parking lot south-west of the surface lot. That serves the mall/movie theater and doesn't fill up, so this new lot can't be an overflow lot for the shopping area.

    And yes, Steven is right, these surface lots create heat islands and block water from running into the ground.

  5. I'm enjoying your blog so much, I thought we were bad in Australia, this is just awful. Development plans over here specify that parking is not to be constructed until the development is operable or close to finishing; in conjunction with this – why so many damned parks? We have maximum parking over here – depending on the business, say, a supermarket – the development plan specifies how many car parks are needed – not the business.

  6. Thanks for commenting Dan. That seems like a great idea, the parking lot really should be the last thing built, only exception obviously being the underground type.

    We dont have maximum's here, not at all….just minimums. Forced minimums. I'll do a blog post at some of the most ludicrous examples.

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