Edmonton set to revamp parking rules that date back to the 1970s

Parking in Edmonton could become an open market if city council agrees to change bylaws that date back to the 1970s.

After a two-year parking review, administration will present three options for city councillors to consider on Tuesday: minimum parking requirements, open-option parking and maximum parking requirements.

Currently, the city requires businesses and developers to provide a specific number of spaces depending on the size and nature of the building.

The minimum approach would guarantee that some parking is provided, the maximum would put a cap on the number of stalls, and an open market would leave it up to businesses and homeowners.

Coun. Andrew Knack said the city should take a laissez-faire approach.

“In the case of parking — the free market should absolutely decide that — there’s no reason for us to be involved in that conversation at all,” he said Monday.

Knack said business owners should be able to control how much parking they have. If homeowners want to build three-car garages, they should be allowed to.  

“We get so into the weeds to determine should you have 13 stalls or 15 stalls. Why are we doing that?” Knack asked. “Remove it from the zoning bylaw and again let the market sort itself out.”

Piecemeal process

Anne Stevenson, a senior planner with the city, said the city has amended parking regulations several times. A piecemeal approach prompted her team to question existing bylaws. 

“If this many parking regulations are causing this many problems, maybe we need to look at this more comprehensively as a package.”

Zoning bylaws used to require one parking spot for every 3.6 metres of public space — meaning, for example, that parking lots had to be four times the size of the restaurant itself, she said.

In 2016, the city relaxed rules for restaurants, pubs and cafes in the key entertainment areas of Whyte Avenue, 124th Street and Jasper Avenue.

In 2017, the city lowered the requirements in other areas by 70 per cent, including for residential developments in mature neighbourhoods and religious buildings.

Before those changes, Stevenson said many businesses had to apply for exceptions.

The suggested changes in the review aim to make it more efficient for businesses and homeowners. 

1970s laws

Coun. Ben Henderson noted that imposing a minimum number of parking spots has created a surplus in certain areas, such as shopping malls and parkades in the city core.

“That’s really wasteful of land and space and expense,” he said.

Edmonton introduced minimum parking requirements in 1964.

In 1973, the population was 451,635 and the area of the city was roughly half its current size.

“Regulations were generally designed to ensure that each property could accommodate their highest parking need and avoid any parking spillover on adjacent properties,” the review noted.

Henderson said the regulations are outdated.

“We had an expectation that they had enough space for all the cars on the busiest day of the year, which is Christmas shopping, the rest of the time they’re half empty.” 

Ashley Salvador with YEGardenSuites thinks the city should let business owners and homeowners decide how many parking spots they have. (Ashley Salvador)

Ashley Salvador, president and chair of the non-profit group YEGardenSuites, advocates for the open approach.

“It should be a choice,” she told CBC News. “We don’t think that the city should really force people and homeowners to build parking if they don’t need it.”

She said the city’s parking policies should reflect the goal of creating more walkable, active city and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

“It has to do with people’s lifestyles. Some people — we aren’t so much about ownership and car ownership.”

Knack acknowledged that a large percentage of people will continue to drive, as reflected in surveys done through the review.

On-street parking

The city recognizes that on-street parking will be an issue, that fewer designated parking spots could mean more drivers looking to park on the street.

Stevenson said the city will use a variety of methods to curb the impacts, such as time restrictions, E-Park and residential parking programs.

Henderson thinks there will be “friction points” when it comes to on-street parking in residential areas.

“How we deal with that is going to be an ongoing question.”

Stevenson estimates the bylaws could be changed by early 2020.

The urban planning committee is expected to discuss the three approaches on Tuesday.

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