Millroy: The Downtown Parking Math

Last year the city launched a review of parking requirements throughout the municipality, the main objective being to determine where changes may be beneficial.

City planner Salvatore Marchese was quoted as saying the city wanted input from developers, merchants and the public on whether there can be reductions of 100 per cent for the downtown area as well as other zoning areas.

Well, I think they can scratch the downtown area, at least that between East and Brock Streets and Spring and March Streets, off its list.

Council’s recent approval of a parking lot lease agreement which would see 90 parking passes set aside for the Sault District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB) and Mamaweswen, the North Shore Tribal Council, would seem to take care of that.

The agreement, which was passed by a slim 5-4 vote and with apparently no consultation with stakeholders in the area, was not taken kindly by all and the Downtown Association’s parking committee called for a town hall-type public meeting, which was held on July 4.

Businesses in the area as well as one church got their say but councillors Sonny Spina (Ward 1), Lisa Vezeau-Allen (Ward 2) and Angela Caputo (Ward 3), who had voted in favour of allocating the 90 parking passes, and CAO Tom Vair and director of community services Brent Lamming, held their ground.
Kyle Darbyson of The Sault Star quoted Coun. Vezeau-Allen as saying that as a result of her personal experiences navigating the city’s downtown core she still believes that the 90 parking passes will not overly inconvenience business patrons.

“I frequent downtown, I work downtown, I live downtown and I never, in my 57 years on this planet, had difficulty trying to get parking,” said Vezeau-Allen, who took part in Thursday’s meeting remotely.
But I would suggest that since this was done before the 90 parking passes were put into play, she might have a different experience once they are.

At the council meeting at which the parking lease agreement was authorized, it was explained that the issuance of 90 parking passes did not mean that these spots are completely off limits to the public, many of them being accessible on a first-come, first-serve basis.

But I have to question the validity of that statement. The parking passes will be used by people going to work at 8 a.m. No shoppers will be there at that time as nothing will be open.

Lamming said the passes are being split, with 17 going on the Spring/March lot and 73 on the East/Brock lot. A third location on Bell Avenue to be used for overflow traffic is a red herring at best.

According to a study done by CIMA+, the East/Brock lot has an average occupancy rate of 39 per cent while the Spring/March location has an average occupancy of 54 per cent.

The East/Brock lot by my count has 120 spaces. Take 73 away and you have 47 left for businesses in the area and a couple of churches. There are 42 spaces on the Spring March lot. Take away 17 and you have 25 left for the businesses in the area.

So from having access to 162 spaces, businesses in the area from East to March Street will now be down to 72.

I think from this you can understand why the merchants are upset.

The parking between Brock and Spring Streets is controlled by the CIBC, with the exception of nine other private parking spots.

As it is obvious the CIBC no longer has the need for the more than 50 spots it controls, if indeed it ever did, I asked Vair in an email if the CIBC owned the land and if the city could possibly arrange to take over some of those spots.

He replied that it was his understanding that the CIBC owns this land and, “We can explore if CIBC were willing to sell the land or decrease the number of parking spaces they require for their business.”
It wouldn’t make up the shortfall but it would help.

All this came about because DSSAB recently moved into a new building at 548 Albert Street East and the North Shore Tribal Council is to move into the building it vacated, which is next door at 540 Albert east.
That building was initially designated to be torn down for parking but it seems the possibility of renting it out was too good to pass up.

However, it makes one wonder whatever happened to the long-held requirement for parking availability when new buildings go up, which was based on a number of factors, including the size of the development, its location, usage and zoning.

Now it can be said that DSSAB isn’t the problem, since it has about 96 parking spaces of its own already. The problem is on the renting out of its old premises, rather than tearing them down.
Whatever, the problem is there.

I am probably not alone in wondering how on one hand council is pouring money into the downtown to attract people there and on the other is possibly going to make it harder for them to find a place to park.

After all, 40 parking spaces were already lost with the construction of the downtown plaza.

I applaud the North Shore Tribal Council’s plan to bring up to 50 employees downtown with the intent of providing better primary care, mental health and addictions services in the area, but I can’t escape the feeling that in working to help solve one problem, the door has been opened for another, one for which downtown businesses will pay the price.

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