This Week At City Hall: Convenient Parking, Well Aren’t You Feeling Real Dirty

agricultureplace

This Week at City HallYou can musically augment this post by opening this link in another tab. Let it run while you read. It’s this week’s city hall jam.

Phase Two of Agriculture Place goes before council tonight. It’s an 11-storey office tower Harvard Development wants to build on Hamilton Street. It looks like a pretty desirable addition to the downtown and yet there are some people out there who will find something to grouse about even when they’re basically being handed dozens of units worth of Class A office space.

Ingrates.

Seems some of the businesses downtown had grown tired of how all the workers employed in the construction of Hill Tower III were taking up all the nearby on-street parking. And the thought of the problem carrying on as Agriculture Place Phase II is being built is just too much for them.

Well, good thing we recently demolished 46 units of affordable housing then, eh?

Yep. The application to turn the lot at 1755 Hamilton Street into surface parking is also going before council tonight.  That lot was the site of those 46 units of affordable rental housing up until city hall issued a demolition permit to the owners in Dec of 2011. And as it just so happens, Harvard has entered into an agreement with those same owners of 1755 Hamilton to provide parking over the course of the Agriculture Place construction.

From the submission by Harvard’s Vice President of Leasing, Rosanne Hill Blaisdell,

In response to concerns voiced about contractor parking on Hamilton Street during the course of construction of Agriculture Place, we have contacted the owner of 1755 Hamilton Street, and have agreed to enter into a contractual arrangement to use their parking stalls for the purpose of the contractor and sub trade parking. Please see the attached letter.

Wow. You know, the application to turn 1755 Hamilton into a parking lot passed through executive committee early last month so I was surprised it wasn’t on the agenda for the February council meeting. A conspiratorially minded fellow might think it was coupled with the Agriculture Place application on this month’s council agenda to make the case for a parking lot stronger.

And why would they need to make the case for parking at 1755 Hamilton stronger?

Well, surface parking is not allowed under the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan (DNP). Staff’s report admits as much:

Animation of the public realm and streets is a strong focus of the Downtown Plan. As such, surface parking lots are not permitted in the downtown as a principle use.

To get around this annoyance, the developers have applied for “contract zoning” for the site, which means basically that everybody will get to just pretend 1755 Hamilton is not actually in the downtown where there are irritants like “plans” and “standards” and “guidelines.”

Now to be fair, this parking lot is only going to be allowed for three years. According to staff’s report, this is to allow the land owner time to come up with a development plan. But this precedent basically kills any pretense that the Downtown Plan has the teeth to protect heritage or housing. Don’t like your building and don’t want to fix it up per the DNP’s suggestions? Apply for contract zoning and bulldoze to your heart’s content.

They got to do it on 1755 Hamilton, why can’t you?

See, the Downtown Plan isn’t supposed to provide just aspirational notions about what the city would like downtown to look like in their fuzzy-wuzziest of dreams. It’s also supposed to set out disincentives to keep landowners from engaging in the kinds of irresponsible behaviour that’s been demonstrated here. (And, yes, I do believe it’s irresponsible to let an apartment building deteriorate to the point where you’d rather just kick 46 households into the streets and knock it down than fix it up.) But if you reward the owners of 1755 Hamilton by letting them have the parking lot they were after — no matter how temporarily — you’ve basically said that anything goes downtown.

If council let’s this go through tonight, they risk creating a big honking loophole right in the middle of their plans for downtown. But somehow I can’t see them saying no. They have a habit of just letting whateverthefuck happen at 1755 Hamilton. As evidence, here’s that list of Prairie Dog stories again about the site that covers much of the tale — it’s a sad and pathetic tale of political impotence:

Renters Lose Again (Jan 26, 2012)
Learned Helplessness (Feb 09, 2012)
It’s Not Quite Dead Yet (Feb 23, 2012)
People Used To Live Here (April 1, 2012)
More Ranting About How The City Has Failed Renters (June 18, 2012)
Parking As Predicted (Oct 04, 2012)
Westland Tries To Buy Time With Fancy Drawings (Nov 1, 2012)

Of course, the big argument in staff’s report in favour this parking lot is that it will help relieve some of the parking pressure in the downtown. The Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (RDBID) even comes out in support of it for that reason.

(Might be time to press replay on that city hall jam now.)

As you should probably know, I don’t accept the received wisdom that there is any problem with parking downtown. If you’re willing to walk a couple blocks and pay for a spot — you know, the way it works in every other city in the world — there is ample parking in and around our downtown.

But if you do believe that downtown parking is a problem, there is more on tonight’s agenda that should be cause for concern.

Agriculture Place Phase II for instance.

Seems that it will include underground parking. And that’s a good thing. It’s one of the things that the Downtown Plan recommends be included in any development.

Unfortunately, the underground parking isn’t going to be big enough to fulfill the DNP’s guidelines.

No problem for Harvard, though. They’re just going to set aside some off-site parking at one of their nearby parking garages — the one of Rose St in this case.

(Parking set aside at an off-site lot is called, “caveated parking.” That’s a bit of irritating jargon that will become important in a second here.)

According to the downtown bylaw requirements, a building of this size must provide 137 parking spots. However, the Agriculture Place underground lot will only provide 62. The remaining 75 will be provided at the Rose St garage.

And that means there’ll be 75 fewer spots available to the general, car-driving public downtown.

Sucks to be you, general public. Too bad you’re not part of the Harvard family. Maybe you should consider taking a bus? They all go downtown, you know.

Funny thing, the RDBID is coming out tonight to speak in support of the Agriculture Place development despite the negative impact it will have on parking. And their stance on this development is at odds with comments they made at council last year.

Here’s Judith Veresuk, Executive Director of the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District, speaking at the August 20 council meeting. (Clarification: The first voice you hear in this clip is Councillor O’Donnell. Then Judity Veresuk.)

RDBID on Caveated Parking by Paul Dechene

So, if you believe parking is a problem downtown, caveated parking is one of the big reasons for that. And the RDBID knows this. Clearly, they understand that we were too eager to say yes to development in the past and didn’t plan appropriately for the parking pressure that would lead to. But here we are, a Downtown Neighbourhood Plan in hand that’s supposed to have thought out things like parking pressures, and yet we’re going to turn a blind eye to the parking requirements it outlines and once again allow a developer to rely on caveated parking, the impact that will have on the general public be damned.

But hey, that’s the price of progress. And as is so often the case in Regina, “progress” means convenient parking.

Well, for some, anyway.

Okay, that’s all I have time to get to this morning.

Shit, but there is a housing development proposed for the north of the city that I should write something about quickly. Apparently, everybody — apart from the developer and city admin that is — thinks this development might not be such a good idea because it’s to be built right next to a heavy industrial site. Have to say, I’m inclined to agree that might not be the best idea. I like the idea of mixed-use neighbourhoods. But I don’t think our approach should be a return to what we saw in the Industrial Revolution. That’s crazy talk.

You can read the full agenda and all the reports for tonight’s city hall meeting on the city’s website. I recommend clicking on where it says “Packet” to the right of “City Hall Meeting.” That’ll download the entire packet of council reports in one handy file.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

20 thoughts on “This Week At City Hall: Convenient Parking, Well Aren’t You Feeling Real Dirty”

  1. If council lets this go through

    I’d be interested in how the use of the word “caveated” evolved. In Latin, “caveat” means “beware”.

  2. I’ll be surprised if either the Agriculture Place parking arrangement or the 1755 Hamilton parking lot plan even get so much as a challenging question, let alone get held up by this council.

  3. When was the last time a Regina council said no to developers, other than the condo conversion moratorium? Honest question.

  4. pc: Pretty recently, actually. At their February 25 meeting, council refused to sell a portion of a laneway to the Dairy Queen on Elphinstone and Sask Dr which would have made it possible for DQ to expand their parking lot. I can’t remember the reasoning behind that denial because it was a pretty minor report and it came up during the same meeting as the waste water treatment plant P3.

    You’re right in thinking that council saying no to developer requests is a pretty rare thing, though. And when they do, it’s over something small like the DQ parking lot.

    If I had to guess I’d say that I’ve seen maybe six or seven outright denials over the five years I’ve been going to city hall meetings. And one of those was overturned at a later meeting.

    During the period where condo conversions were being considered, a lot of those reports were sent back to the administration to be reexamined. All but one of those eventually got the go ahead from council.

    To be fair, applications from developers have to go through a pretty rigorous process with city admin and at committee, so it’s likely that a lot of stuff council could say “no” to gets turned away before it ever gets out in the public.

  5. I’d be interested to know more about the parking policies in the city and if they are pushing for shared spots (i.e. spots that during the day are used by people who work downtown and on the weekends/night are used by people coming to shop/for entertainment). This is a common practice to avoid over-provision of parking that will sit dormant. Anyone know if the City actively encourages this/promotes it now?

  6. Laura: As far as I know, they don’t in any systematic way.

    The city hall parking lot is open to the public for parking after business hours. But I’ve only heard mention of that at council. They don’t seem to be promoting the fact very enthusiastically.

    As for other places in the city, I don’t know of any city-wide initiative to promote spot sharing. And you’d think that’d be the kind of thing they’d advertise proudly if they were doing it.

    There is a comprehensive parking study underway right now though so I wouldn’t be surprised to see shared spots on the list of recommendations. If that’s within the scope of the study, that is.

  7. I think you hit the nail right on the head in this article, Paul. And, not just for this issue, but for the entire downtown clusterf*ck that it has become. I know many in this City think you are the devil if you dare mention the Hills and backscratching in the same sentence, but come on people, let’s call a spade a spade here.

    This is part of many developments in Regina recently that WREAKS of backscratching and paying back favours over and over again. I hate to continually be called the conspiracy theorist, but every time something happens in this City, chances are there is some tie to the Hill family, which many, many people are very well aware of, but are afraid to say publicly, for fear that they may offend said family and be excluded from participating in these “favours” in the future.

    Well, I’ve pissed off enough of the “old school elite” in this City, and anyone that owes them favours/they owe favours to, that I’m not afraid to put my neck on the line and state my views publicly. This constant and obvious patronage needs to stop. I am disgusted that one or two families and literally own this entire City, and pull the strings of Council at will.

    There are two sentences, in particular that I reference from your article:
    “you’ve basically said that anything goes downtown.”
    – goes hand in hand with:
    “Too bad you’re not part of the Harvard family.”
    MEANING: If you’re involved with Harvard, or owe them “favours”, then anything goes in Regina. Not involved with them? Pissed them off? Sorry, go suck an egg.

    Examples of the City not bending for “non” Hill Family construction? One glaring one is the patio construction at O’Hanlons. Another was when Beer Bros & Willow on Wascana business owner/partner addressed serious issues about the Stadium and RRI.

    When will someone finally stand up and DO something about this? I’ve only been here a decade, so I am not privy to all the goings on that happened before my time, but from the sounds of it, this issue has been well known in Regina for many, many years, and I for one think it’s time for someone to make something public of it. Why do we stand idly by when one or two families benefit at the detriment of the underprivledged? Are we not a community that cares about one another? Ignorance is not an answer, and turning a blind eye is certainly not acceptable anymore.

    END RANT

  8. Speaking of parking, anybody notice that people have started to park on the City Square Plaza? I walked through Victoria Park yesterday at 5:00 p.m. and there were 3 cars angle parked across from what used to be the Novia.

  9. I’ve noticed that too. I keep meaning to get some pics but never seem to have my camera with me when there are cars parked there.

    Cars were also weaving through the planters so they could drive straight through the plaza instead of sticking to that ridiculous “one-way half-way” nonsense. But then the city piled up snow over the spot where they were getting through. Of course, they also blocked off the pedestrian walkway so the cars and pedestrians had to share the roadway portion of the plaza.

    Thing’s a schlmozzle.

  10. Paul, I have pics from Friday night – Carle and I were cutting through City Square (heading towards a real parking lot) when we happened upon a fleet of cars all parked close to the perimeter of Vic Park. I thought it was a perfect (if not forced) metaphor for the city.

  11. People have been posting plaza parking pics on the City of Regina Facebook page for some time now.

  12. Facebook? Who cares. I’m not even convinced Facebook is real.

    Until something is posted here, it doesn’t exist.

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