Fewer cars, more 'walkability' envisioned in proposed changes to parking requirements

By Dominic Abassi
April 2, 2018 - 5:35pm

If a new bylaw is approved, there will be less parking spaces at most new developments in many areas of Nanaimo in the future.Ian Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — Are Nanaimo commuters ready to leave their cars behind, choosing to walk, ride their bikes or take the bus to get around?

That hugely debatable question is being thrust into the spotlight as the City nears completion of a multi-year review of its parking bylaws. The proposed changes would, for the majority of developments in most areas of the city, reduce the number of parking spaces required in an effort to incentivize alternative modes of transportation.

City of Nanaimo planner David Stewart said they're trying to strike a balance between making sure the parking required is adequate and steering people away from their cars.

"Walkability is important, it's one of the goals of our community and excessive parking is something that hinders that goal. It's a bit of a chicken and egg. In order to get there we need to develop communities that aren't dominated by parking."

The parking review has been ongoing for nearly three years and began at the direction of Council. Stewart said the goal is to bring the parking regulations into line with the official community and transportation master plans. Those two overarching documents envision a future where people use their cars less and take transit, walk or cycle as their main modes of transportation.

"We're looking at a parking rate that's realistic and reflects the reality of where we are at in Nanaimo but also allows room to develop and room for us to develop as a city with less vehicle reliance."

Currently the City's bylaw requires 1.66 parking spaces per unit in multi-family developments, unless Council allows a reduction. Stewart said that one-size-fits-all approach isn't working for most areas, noting research showed many developments, particularly purpose-built rental buildings, simply had too many parking spaces.

The new proposed bylaw breaks the city up into five zones, with different criteria for parking applied to each zone. The number of spaces required would be determined by what zone the project was in and how many bedrooms, as opposed to units, there would be.

 

Stewart said of the four zones outside of the downtown core, three of them would see a reduction in the number of parking spaces required for most developments because of the proximity to services. The other zone, mainly covering the north end and areas not near transportation or stores, would actually require more parking under the new regulations.

 

The proposed bylaw would also allow for smaller parking spots, insist on more room for driving aisles around them, lower the requirements at shopping centres and require short and long term bike storage.

Stewart said improving transit service is an "essential" piece of the overall plan.

There has been no shortage of debate over the right number of parking spaces at the Council table lately. An increasing number of development permits are seeking variances to allow for less parking and while councillors often belabour the issue, few requests for reduction are denied.

Coun. Diane Brennan said a lot of public consultation went into creating the official community and transportation plans, which clearly state the goal of accommodating vehicles less.

She said it's important for the City and Council to be consistent with what they're trying to achieve.

"We tell (developers) we want this through our policies and then our Council never looks at them again and continues to use the old style of accommodating cars first. We have to move away from that."

Brennan conceded not using a car is not realistic in some areas of the city, so the reduction needs to focus on urban nodes where transit and services are accessible. "That's where we want to concentrate the parking variances on. Where we can accommodate it and the infrastructure does exist."

Coun. Ian Thorpe said the number of requests for reduced parking coming before Council is concerning.

He said he understands the concept of diverting people away from cars but "the reality is people are still using cars and we need to find a place for them. When you build a development and you say 'I want a variance in parking so people will be forced to use other means of transportation,' I can't always buy that.

"Another aspect of the challenge is the shape of our city. We're a long, narrow city and it's a challenge to get from one end to the other without a vehicle," Thorpe said.

The City hosts an open house on the parking review on April 3 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Beban Park social centre. More details and a survey are available here. The bylaw is expected to be introduced to Council in May and a public hearing could happen in June.

 

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On Twitter: @domabassi

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