When Tina Wang set out to open a coffeeshop along Jasper Ave., she didn’t expect to have to provide 30 parking spaces. “It’s a small area,” says the owner of Bru Coffee + Beerhouse, with almost as many seats as the city required car stalls. “Most of my staff come to work by biking. My target client is the neighbours, not the south and west-end drivers.”
The prior business zoning was for a convenience store, but when Wang changed it, and thus the business license, to a restaurant, a city bylaw required an unrealistic amount of parking for a main-street eatery. She applied for a variance—a leniency on the required minimum car stalls. Lawyer fees and maintenance costs compounded while Bru’s opening was delayed for two months, she says. Her variance was finally approved and Bru opened in September with nine spaces.
Currently businesses must provide one parking space for every 3.6 square meters of public restaurant space—one of the highest rates of any major Canadian city. Bru is just one example of Oliver and 124 St. businesses tangled in strict parking standards, but a City pilot project drafted to lower requirements for restaurants in the areas, as well as in Old Strathcona, could change that.
The goal is to find an acceptable balance between parking supply and business needs, says Colton Kirsop, a senior planner with the City. His department, Sustainable Development, is forming the pilot along with Transportation, which began assessing current parking patterns in Oliver last year.
“The existing parking requirements are a huge hindrance to businesses setting up.” —Lisa Brown, OCL president
The pilot is the first update to the 1953 bylaw in 14 years. In 2001, the bylaw was amended to reduce parking requirements in Chinatown, Whyte Ave. and Little Italy by 25 per cent. Kirsop points to the downtown’s wall-to-wall retail and repurposing of warehouses on 104 St. as successfully reduced parking requirements. “Without variances,” he says, “it’s hard to build a sense of community and a vibrant commercial scene.”
The high cost of excessive parking requirements doesn’t just discourage new neighbourhood businesses; the bylaws discourage walkability, density and transit use, and are antithetical to the City’s own attempts to promote these principles. The OCL would like to see its business areas earn similarly reduced requirements.
“The existing parking requirements are a huge hindrance to businesses setting up,” says president Lisa Brown, who filed a letter of support on behalf of Bru last February.
Jeff McLaren, executive director with the 124 Street Business Association, says the businesses he represents have thrived due to parking variances like Bru’s, because they’ve allowed restaurants and bars to set up. McLaren commends the pilot project, adding that the data on parking would be welcome as a lot of feedback is anecdotal right now. “Something needs to change,” says McLaren of the City. “It’s just figuring out the exact details now.”
Those who support minimum parking requirements worry that without them visiting customers will park on residential streets. “You can’t ban parking without a major backlash,” says Coun. Scott McKeen, who finds the current rules restrictive.
The councillor urges investments in public transportation, cycling infrastructure and late-night transit, which could help ease this car-dependency. A report is expected back to city council’s executive committee with recommended changes as early as February 2016.