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Parking requirements

Today I presented two motions dealing with parking requirements in the City. The first was to give Council the discretionary authority to grant parking relief in the downtown when appropriate.

In the downtown there are currently limits on Council’s ability to apply discretionary powers to waiving parking requirements when appropriate. This motion means Council will be able to grant parking relief in the downtown should it choose to do so, bringing it in line with the discretionary authority in the rest of the city. 

“Except in the area which is subject to the Downtown Parking Standard, as described on Map D, Section 3, Council may relieve an applicant of all or part of the parking required under Section 9.1.1, provided that the applicant is able to show that because of the particular characteristics of the Development that the actual parking requirements within the foreseeable future are expected to be lower than those required by the City standard.”

We currently have a stock of under-used parking garages and further building of parking spaces is not always going to be necessary at this time. Council is looking at this and other measures to stimulate growth in the downtown during precarious economic times. 

The second motion directs staff to look at our parking minimums city-wide, looking at current best practices and bring forward a report of recommended changes by no later than February 2020. 

Parking requirements can cause developers to build more parking spaces than they otherwise would based on what the market, prospective tenants or buyers, dictates.  Accurate parking requirements would be helpful to encourage development and redevelopment in many neighbourhoods in St. John’s, particularly near transit corridors, and would add certainty and consistency to the development application process.

You can find current parking requirements in section 9 of the development regulations:

Here are a couple of examples of what this re-evaluation might look like. A restaurant, for example, currently requires 1 parking space for every 5m2 of seating area. Maybe this is too much for a restaurant in a walkable area, but maybe it’s needed in other areas. Also, relaxing parking requirements around some affordable developments on transit corridors could be a good way to make housing more affordable. 

Council can currently grant parking relief if it should choose on a case-by-case basis now, but my goal is to adjust the minimums to reflect what is needed neighbourhood by neighbourhood so it is obvious upfront to an applicant what is necessary before they get through the development stage. 

Many experts think all parking minimums should be eliminated. A good short summary of the reasons why can be found in the Fraser Institute’s 2018 post, “It’s time for Canadian cities to eliminate minimum parking requirements” and a longer book-length treatment can be found in Donald Shoup’s 2005 book The High Cost of Free Parking. A City Lab piece about the ongoing process of reducing parking minimums in America is also interesting. 

In addition to the sustainability implications of avoiding the over-building of parking resources, which often utilizes valuable land resources, higher than necessary parking minimums can add significant cost to developments which can make it less possible to invest in a new commercial project. The potential delay and uncertainty of not having up-to-date parking minimums (eg the process required to seek Council discretion every time is time-consuming) is something I hope this review will deal with. 

I look forward to the results of this review, and to the continued conversation about parking and other development related issues.

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