Proposed development amendments concern business groups
Cars parked on Duckworth Street. 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
Third in a three-part series
The St. John’s Downtown Development Commission (DDC) is concerned about proposed changes to development regulations which mandate how much parking has to be included when building in the downtown core.
The amendments are based on a 2009 downtown parking study paid for by the city and the DDC.
The commission’s chairman told The Telegram last week it feels the city hasn’t consulted the business community enough on the process since the report was completed.
“We are a partner in this,” said John McCarthy.
“We want to make the parking issues in the downtown better and we all have to work together on that.”
DDC executive director Scott Cluney said the consultant who wrote the parking study recommended consultations be done before any changes were adopted.
While the DDC, the St. John’s Board of Trade and others have expressed concern, Cluney and McCarthy think the city has ignored that input and is relying too much on city staff recommendations.
The most controversial part of the plan is the formula used to determine how many parking spaces are required per building.
The city has accepted, in principle, a ratio of one parking space per 75 square metres of a building’s gross floor space. But the board and the commission agree the number should be one for 75 metres of net space.
Here’s the difference: gross floor space is a simple measure of the building’s overall area. Net space subtracts all common areas — lobbies, halls, elevator shafts, washrooms and boiler rooms, for example — from the gross amount.
The argument is, why does an elevator shaft need a parking space?
“We’ve spoken with a number of our stakeholders here in the downtown, and these are some of the smaller to medium-size developers … and it’s of great concern to them,” said Cluney.
“Using this formula will create quite an onerous burden on (developers),” agrees Nancy Healey, CEO of the Board of Trade.
Healey said the simple solution is for the city to base parking spaces on net floor area.
According to the city, gross measure is used to make it easier for developers to calculate how much parking they must include in their design. While the dimensions of a building are known early on, floor plans come later — and can often change — making net space a bit of a moving target. However, both sides agree that net floor space is typically 80 per cent of gross.
The chairman of the city’s planning committee, Coun. Tom Hann, pointed out a number of major developments already approved for downtown were given parking requirements based on gross floor space and there’s been no backlash.
“They had no problem with it because they’re used to doing business in other cities,” said Hann.
“And they know if they are going to put a highrise in the downtown core, they’ve got to find parking for it.”
In fact, the Fortis development on the former Horwood Lumber property added more parking than was required.
But the Board of Trade says those developments are on large lots — an exception to the norm downtown.
“The only (developers) who would be able to afford it are your bigger developments with the deep pockets,” Healey said.
She added that height restrictions downtown mean developers have no room for parking garages on lower levels.
The DDC, meanwhile, wants to know why the city exempted the expansion of the St. John’s Convention Centre from the new regulations, saying it is unfair to other developers and was a missed opportunity to add more public parking downtown.
Hann justifies the exemption two ways. First, he said, if the convention centre has an event on during the day, most of the delegates are staying at nearby hotels and likely don’t require parking. In the evening, parking isn’t as bad downtown, Hann said.
The second reason is one of economics. An impending deal with two private developers to create 462 parking spaces — for two already approved projects — will cost the city’s taxpayers $8.5 million. Hann said it would cost twice that if the city were to go it alone.
“Why should we go through the cost of building a parking garage when were doing deals with developers that cost us a hell of a lot less than it would for us to build the structure?” he said.
Both the board and the commission are also concerned about the proposed cash-in-lieu program — where developers would have to pay the city $18,340 plus HST for each parking space they should, but don’t, create.
The board wants the rules to apply only to office and retail space, with a different formula for other businesses such as hotels or medical clinics.
Healey suggests the city should complete its new municipal develop plan first, which would also include a plan for future public transit, before proceeding with the new regulations.
“Maybe we’re putting the cart before the horse here,” she said. “We’d kind of like to see a bit more strategically developed.”
Hann said the issue is ongoing and won’t satisfy everyone.
“It will always be a challenge,” he said. “(But) we’re going to have to find a way to do it,”
He agrees the review of municipal plan will play a role in refining the rules as the city continues to grow.