Prairie Dog Vault

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Parking As Predicted

Will a demolished apartment be replaced with a car lot?

by Paul Dechene

Back in December of 2011, city staff issued a demolition permit for the apartment building at 1755 Hamilton Street, thus driving 46 low-income households out into the worst rental market in the country. And when it was revealed the permit was issued even though the property owner had no plans for the site, we predicted that it was going to wind up as a surface parking lot.

Well, guess what? City administration is considering an application to turn the now-vacant Hamilton site into surface parking.

Oh sure, the application is for a temporary surface parking lot. But that’s a parking lot nonetheless.

And that’s a problem because according to the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan, surface parking lots are prohibited within the downtown, temporary or otherwise. And now that the DNP has finally been passed as a bylaw, such prohibitions are supposed mean something.

According to Fred Searle, Manager of the Development Review Branch, “What the property owner has applied for is what’s called contract zoning.”

In other words, the owner wants to rezone that piece of land on Hamilton into a slice of not-downtown right in the heart of downtown — kind of like an embassy from Boxstore Hell, where pretty much anything goes parking-wise.

But Searle notes that with contract zoning, time limits can be set on what the site is used for.

“What they’re proposing in their application is a three-year term for the site while they go back and develop plans for the redevelopment for the site,” says Searle.

Before this can go ahead, Searle says city staff will have to do a technical analysis which will involve consulting with the surrounding property owners and the Downtown BID.

And if it gets approval, it will be another disturbing precedent for the fledgling DNP. The plan’s prohibition against surface parking is in part supposed to provide a disincentive for property owners thinking about demolishing housing or buildings with heritage potential. If an option to seek contract zoning is available — even on a temporary basis — that disincentive evaporates.

“Any property owner can make an application under the provisions of the zoning bylaw, so they can lawfully do that,” says Searle. “And as you’ve indicated, a key aspect of the vision of the new Downtown Plan is to create vibrant streetscapes and to overall improve the design condition at street level. And that was certainly the impetus behind the prohibition on future surface parking lots. So all of these factors we’ll have to take into consideration when we’re doing our analysis of the proposal and making our recommendations.”

Searle says the earliest his department will be making a recommendation to council will be December. And that will give interested parties plenty of time to contribute to the administration’s study of the property.

For a full background on the Black Building demolition visit and search for “1755 Hamilton”. We recommend the Feb. 9, 2012 article “Learned Helplessness”, which describes several options city council could have explored to save the building.