Proposed regulations for downtown require projects to include parking
Cars are parked in the underground garage at the St. John's Convention Centre. Parking in the downtown area has been a contentious issue in past years but St. John's city council is trying to address what has become a growing problem. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Second part in a three-part series
Proposed changes to St. John’s development regulations would ensure that future projects in the downtown core provide adequate parking.
The new standards, adopted in principle by the city’s planning committee last week, would require all new non-residential developments in the downtown core to provide one parking spot for every 75 square metres of gross floor space.
There would also be a requirement to create one off-street parking space per new residential unit.
There are, however, exceptions to the rules, including:
• Infill developments on lots of 350 square metres or less along Duckworth and Water streets will be exempt from the new regulations.
• There is a parking exemption for single residential units added to new or existing buildings along Duckworth and Water streets, if built on the upper floors and where the frontage of the building is seven metres or less. Additional residential units may also be exempt at a rate of one for every additional seven metres of frontage.
• The rules won’t apply to developments that have already been approved by city council.
• If an existing non-residential building is converted to another use — say a restaurant replaced by a different restaurant or a book store — that redevelopment will also be exempt.
• Renovated buildings that add gross floor area will only have to provide parking — at the standard rate — for the additional floor space.
• The proposed expansion to the St. John’s Convention Centre will be exempt.
If a developer can’t provide the mandated number of spaces on site, it can try to find alternative off-site parking nearby. But if parking can’t be found, developers would then be required to pay cash in lieu — $18,340 plus HST — for each space not created.
That money will be added to a city parking fund designed specifically to address parking and traffic issues, but not necessarily to create new parking spaces.
However, city manager Bob Smart said the city wants the parking spaces, not the money.
Coun. Tom Hann, chairman of the city’s planning committee, outlined what developers can expect if the new rules are adopted.
“If you’re putting up a building (and) you need 40 parking spaces, you have to provide 40 parking spaces. If you can’t do it, you’re going to have to find an alternative. And if you can’t find an alternative, then you’re going to have to pay cash in lieu,” he said.
Council will vote on the regulations in January, and they would then have to be approved by the province and reviewed by an independent commissioner.
Adopted in advance
But Hann points out a number of large developments recently approved for the downtown had their parking requirement adjudicated using the proposed formula, and there was no backlash.
Still, some of the regulation changes are not sitting well with business groups, including the St. John’s Board of Trade and the Downtown Development Commission, which helped fund the 2009 parking study.
And updating development regulations is only one component in addressing the parking squeeze.
Another is reducing the number of cars downtown by boosting Metrobus service.
The city’s traffic engineer, Robin King, told last week’s meeting a study found that 45 per cent of the cars parked downtown were from areas not serviced by Metrobus.
He said the study randomly selected 6,000 licence plates downtown and then traced the owners’ postal codes.
Hann said that raises another issue: who would pay to expand the Metrobus service, or for park-and-ride lots where people can leave their cars before catching a bus downtown?
He said because neighbouring municipalities have suggested they’re not interested in building park-and-rides, it would fall to the taxpayers of St. John’s, a notion that councillors at the planning meeting strongly opposed.
Hann said the solution is a regional transit system, something the province and Ottawa would have to help pay for.
The city has conducted a transit study which is expected to be released this week.
But Coun. Sandy Hickman remarked at last week’s committee meeting that Newfoundlanders love there cars, so a cultural change has to occur and that won’t happen overnight.
Hann noted the main criticism of Metrobus is one of efficiency, how long it takes to get from point A to point B.
Tuesday: Challenging the rules