November 29th, 2020

Businesses seeking land-use bylaw amendment for open-option parking

By Jensen, Randy on October 27, 2020.

Parked cars line the streets Monday afternoon downtown, as some city business owners are hoping council will amend land-use bylaws to allow open option parking instead of minimum requirement parking based on square footage. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald

Theoretically Brewing Company owner Kelti Baird is advocating that city council amend current land-use bylaws in the city to allow for an open-option parking policy instead of minimum requirement parking for Lethbridge businesses.

Baird made her presentation to city council’s Community Issues Committee on Monday. Baird said she is thinking of expanding her business in the next five years by constructing an extension into her current parking area, but under the City’s current minimum requirement parking bylaws she would need a special waiver to do so.

Baird said she knows of other business owners who also found the current bylaw detrimental to their expansion plans because they have to retain the parking that is already on site when they take over an existing building, or have to meet an an “antiquated” minimum parking requirement based on the square footage of the building when they construct new.

“We are asking them to pursue an open-option parking policy instead of the minimum requirement parking policy that has existed in Lethbridge since about 1960,” she explained to reporters after her CIC presentation. “Open-option parking allows business owners and developers to pretty much decide how much parking is necessary for their business rather than the City deciding how much parking is necessary based on an antiquated formula. The current formula is based on square footage in a building and doesn’t necessarily take into account the use of the building or anything like that.”

Baird said the current formula is essentially a City-imposed public parking subsidy on small businesses.

“It creates this unequal balance between parking demand and parking availability,” she explained, “and what happens is essentially small-business owners like myself, and others, in the community wind up subsidizing the driving habits of Lethbridge citizens because we have to provide so much free parking on our sites.”

Baird also pointed out the formula isn’t applied equally across all businesses in the community. Businesses in the downtown do not have these parking-per-square-footage requirements in many instances because they predate the current 1960s bylaw, she said.

The City is expected to open several aspects of the current land-use bylaw in consultation with downtown business owners in November, including parking policies, but Baird hoped the City would include business owners outside of the downtown core in those consultations and potential bylaw changes.

City of Lethbridge manager of Planning and Development Maureen Gaehring said the Chamber of Commerce would be included in the consultations, and she encouraged business owners outside of the downtown to work through the chamber to represent their point of view on the open-option parking issue, but she also stated based on her staff’s research into the current model in use in Edmonton meant likely any pilot project on the open option would take place in the downtown first.

Gaehring added there was more nuance to the current minimum requirement parking bylaw than maybe some local business owners would imagine at first glance.

“Businesses can come and go in terms of a particular district or a particular building,” she explained. “And so when a building is developed it may have a certain amount of onsite parking, but the businesses in that building may change. So in a strip mall, for instance, you may find somebody with a really heavy use such as a restaurant or a medical office, and then maybe it transitions to a different use, then you have parking leftover. But the point is you can transition back to those other uses at any time. So that’s another thing you have to keep in mind: that the business that is there today may not be the business that’s there in the future.”

Mayor Chris Spearman said if minimum requirement parking was holding certain businesses like Theoretically Brewing Company back from expanding, it certainly should be on the table for discussion.

“This reminds me a little bit about what the provincial government is trying to do, and that is eliminate red tape,” he stated. “As we develop areas, we create barriers to investment. Is there any reason, Mr. City manager, why we wouldn’t want to explore this in detail and get rid of what appears to be a red-tape requirement?”

In response, City manager Craig Dalton confirmed his staff were deeply interested in exploring the idea of open-option parking in detail.

Gaehring also confirmed her staff would likely be bringing a bylaw forward for council’s consideration on this, and other land-use bylaw amendments related to business, by the second quarter of next year.

Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

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