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Calgary to examine removal of parking minimums on commercial uses

Calgary businesses may soon be free of mandated parking minimums, something one councillor said has been discussed for nearly a decade.

City of Calgary administration is bringing forth a proposal to Wednesday’s Planning and Urban Development committee meeting, that would lead to the removal of the minimum parking requirement for commercial locations.

Their report said that it supports businesses during COVID-19, but also create future flexibility. The report also said it allows for more flexibile design to address changing mobility uses in Calgary.

“Minimum parking requirements are one of the most frequently cited concerns heard from developers, communities and council over the past ten years,” the administration report reads.

Currently, there are rules in place for commercial uses that ensure that a minimum number of parking spaces are available for that business. Administration said parking is raised as a primary concern through the land use redesignation process.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek, chair of the city’s planning and urban development committee, and former member of the Calgary planning commission, said her first experience with parking minimums was back in 2012.

She said there’s a formula for parking based on the space required for the development and the use. A little bit of math, too.

“What stood out to me in particular, as the years went by, was the parking formula we created was rooted in research done in probably 2005 or 2006,” Coun. Gondek said.

“I mean, it serves a certain purpose, but there’s no qualitative methodology to go along with it.”

Gondek said developers repeatedly come forward with business cases that are treated secondary to the city’s formula.

“What we should be doing is looking at what type of parking is appropriate given the context of the development, and not a single hammer that says it’s so much parking,” she said.

Changes in Edmonton earlier this year

In late June, Edmonton city council approved a city-wide elimination of parking minimums. It went into effect July 2.

“I am really proud of the fact that our city council and our community is the first Canadian city to substantially cut red tape by removing parking minimums from our zoning bylaw,” Mayor Don Iveson said in a Global Edmonton piece.

The Edmonton report said on-site parking cited costs of between $7,000 and $60,000 per stall. There was no cost per stall indicated in the City of Calgary administration report.

The Calgary report said making this change opens up a broader range of reuse options for commercial locations.

Coun. Gondek gave the example of a dentist wanting to open up shop in a Calgary office building. That’s not necessarily a permitted use. To obtain a permit, that dental office must meet certain parking minimums to occupy that space.

“Well, how are you going to put more parking stalls in an office building? You can’t. So those users were getting turned down,” Gondek said.

This was addressed in Calgary’s Centre City enterprise district to aid in the opening of businesses in the core.

The market should dictate the need for parking: Consultant

David White, principal with CivicWorks, an urban design and planning consultancy in Calgary, said parking comes with a huge cost. He said it can make a project more or less competitive.

“Depending on the project type, more or less parking is market required,” White said via text message.

White said by eliminating the minimum parking requirements, it takes away red tape and reduces burdensome cost for businesses.

“Let the developer and market decide. It’s their risk,” he said.

Coun. Gondek also overlaid the impact of COVID-19 on Calgary businesses. She said more businesses are coming up with innovative ways of delivering their service that don’t require citizens to drive their cars to a fixed location.

“Sometimes what happens is, when their business model changes and the outputs that they’re creating change, they may be considered a different type of business or operator. That is a different classification of use, which requires different things,” said Gondek.

“And if parking is one of the things that comes along with it, we won’t allow that type of innovation to happen. And we can’t do that.”

There are two options being presented to the committee Wednesday. The first is a review, with a report back in early 2021 – along with the Guidebook for Great Communities.

The second option limits the consultation to August, and report back on the feedback. Depending on the depth of those, it could delay a further decision, the city said.

Multi-residential and residential parking will be addressed at a later date, the city said.