Proposed changes to downtown parking regulations in St. John’s received plenty of criticism at a public meeting Tuesday evening at city hall.
The proposed amendments come from a study that was prepared for the city by consulting firm IBI Group in 2009.
Sharon Horan of the St. John’s Board of Trade wondered why the city failed to follow through on several recommendations made by IBI in its study.
A park-and-ride system to transport workers to the downtown area was one such recommendation she suggested the city should look into, along with incentives for city staff to use public transit.
“If the city were able to lead by example, this could be translated fairly easily into the private sector with the right supports,” said Horan, first vice-chairwoman of the board.
Making a similar point on setting a good example, Downtown Development Commission chairwoman Susan LeDrew wondered why the site for the proposed expansion of the new St. John’s Convention Centre will not be subject to the new parking standards.
“That’s sort of a do as I say, but not as I do mentality, from our point of view, and frankly it’s not good parking planning. The current convention centre puts great stress upon the parking situation in downtown St. John’s, and the proposed expansion will only add to that.”
A regulation for off-street parking would require retail, office, commercial, institutional and other non-residential spaces to offer one off-street parking space per 60 squares metres of net floor area. New parking standards would not affect developments approved under a prior parking standard.
Horan mentioned IBI’s suggestion of one off-street parking space per 90 square metres of net gross floor area.
LeDrew suggested a halfway figure of one space per 75 square metres of net floor area would be preferable. She also suggested a one-size-fits-all approach is the wrong way to proceed.
“It’s got to be recognized that all types of commercial developments do not have the same parking requirements. The one-for-60 proposed, while it may be in the grasp of the larger developments, will be very onerous upon the small and mid-range developments.”
Horan noted as well that the study suggests parking minimums be used only to regulate retail and office space, while the city is looking to expand those regulations to include homes, restaurants and hotels.
Across Canada, Horan pointed out, St. John’s ranks fourth in new car ownership, while provincially there are more cars registered — 633,000 — than people.
“As well, our current municipal plan stresses the importance of attempting to reduce the number of car trips,” she said. “The parking regulations may suggest, then, regulations that specifically provide for parking and encourage car use can be sending taxpayers, developers and drivers mixed messages.”
Fred Winsor, conservation chairman for the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Canada chapter, said increasing the number of available parking spaces will only increase demand for parking in downtown St. John’s. He advocated for improvement to public transit.
“I know parking is a pain. When you go downtown and you can’t find a parking spot, you literally can’t get out of your car. You’ve got to go home or someplace else. So we have to come up with other alternatives to deal with that because we only have so much space downtown, and the major (alternative) in most parts of the world is public transit.”
Terry Chaffey, vice-president of real estate for Fortis Properties, said many of the amendments suggested are positive ones, including a relaxation of regulations to provide all parking on site. He also prefers determining parking spaces based on net floor area, which entails excluding features like elevator shafts, washrooms and utility rooms from the calculations.
However, he agreed with LeDrew that offering one off-street parking space per 60 squares metres of net floor area should be increased to 75 square metres.
He is also concerned about the displacement regulation concerning new developments that eliminate parking spaces previously established. As he understands it, the regulation would require developers to replace those spaces while also complying with providing parking spaces as required under the formula.
“This will place significant additional cost pressure on certain new developments to provide a quantity of parking that, in essence, exceeds what would otherwise be required for a similar-sized development without existing on-site parking.”
Coun. Debbie Hanlon, who chaired the public meeting, said a report will be prepared and presented to council for discussion. She expects that discussion will take place within the next month.