How 23 parking spots are getting in the way of new affordable housing in Kamloops

·4 min read
Developer Daryl Smeeton says he's unable to build affordable housing in Kamloops, B.C., because the city's requirement to building parking spots alongside it drive the price too high. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC - image credit)
Developer Daryl Smeeton says he's unable to build affordable housing in Kamloops, B.C., because the city's requirement to building parking spots alongside it drive the price too high. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC - image credit)

Daryl Smeeton wants to build 39 new affordable housing units in the North Shore neighbourhood of Kamloops, B.C.

But the city wants him to build 51 parking spots to go with them — 23 more than he's already planned for, and something he says would drive up the price of the overall project and make it unaffordable for the people he hopes will live there.

It's one more example of minimum parking requirements impeding new construction in cities across North America, an issue that's come under scrutiny in recent years.

In Kamloops, it's caused the city to re-examine how much it should prioritize extra parking spots if it means developers are unable to build much needed housing.

Smeeton's vision is to construct the 39-unit building on Tranquille Road, the main thoroughfare through the North Shore, close to locally owned shops and backed by a mixed neighbourhood of apartments and single-family homes.

The building would be a hybrid of market and supportive housing, with five units for young people transitioning out of government care and the rest aimed at people working at nearby businesses.

It's something the neighbourhood badly needs, according to restaurateur Mitchell Forgie.

Forgie owns two nearby businesses and said it's hard to attract employees because of the lack of affordable housing options in the neighbourhood.

"We have people who ride the bus an hour-and-a-half each way to work and those people generally keep looking for work until they find something close to their house," he said, estimating that only 18 of his roughly 120 employees own their own vehicle.

Jenifer Norwell/CBC
Jenifer Norwell/CBC

Smeeton wants to cater to that market, with proposed rents ranging from $763 for studio apartments to $1,092 for two bedrooms.

He says he doesn't see the need for additional parking as the building is in a walkable neighbourhood and the people he is hoping will move in are unlikely to own private vehicles.

LISTEN | Smeeton and Forgie explain their frustration with Kamloops' minimum parking rules:

Smeeton's plans already include 28 parking stalls. But that falls short of what's required, according to the city's bylaws, which require a certain number of parking spaces per type and size of unit, plus an extra 15 per cent for visitor parking.

City staff told Smeeton his building would need 51 spaces, he said. At an estimated $50,000 per parking spot, the costs to provide the extra stalls are just not viable for what is supposed to be housing aimed at people working in the service industry, he added.

"Sure, we can build a parking garage, but then it destroys the whole goal of the building," Smeeton said.

Smeeton also said he had originally been told he would be able to get a reduced number of stalls because of the social housing component of his proposal, but that is no longer the case.

Parking rules driving developers away

Forgie says this isn't the first time a housing development in the neighbourhood has stalled for similar reasons, and that he knows of more than a dozen other projects that were cancelled because of the city's parking lot rules.

That's a troubling topic for Coun. Kathy Sinclair, who has asked the city to consider reducing the minimum parking rules in select neighbourhoods, including downtown and waterfront.

"What's the highest and best use of land? Is it parking or is it housing?" she asked. " And if parking requirements are preventing things like duplexes and fourplexes… well, maybe it's time to look at that."

Kamloops is not the only city grappling with the cost of providing a minimum amount of parking.

In Vancouver, Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung has pushed for the elimination of parking requirements for new buildings in the city, arguing it is needlessly driving up the cost of development.

Edmonton recently became the first major Canadian city to remove minimum parking rules in the hopes of making the city more walkable and more affordable to residents. In the United States, cities including Buffalo, New York and Minneapolis have followed suit.

But not everyone is on board with a complete elimination of the minimum parking rules.

Jeremy Heighton is head of the North Shore Business Improvement Association and says he'd rather the city look at requests on a case-by-case basis.

"I think a blanket reduction could be problematic because it sort of sets the standard and opens the door for others, so it's all about balance," he said.

A review of Kamloops zoning bylaws including parking rules should be completed later this year.