You 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.
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.)
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.