Should Regina tap the brakes on minimum parking requirements for developers?

·6 min read
City of Regina staff have prepared a report into the possibility of eliminating minimum parking requirements for developers. Edmonton became the first major Canadian city to get rid of the rules in 2017.  (Daniella Ponticelli/CBC - image credit)
City of Regina staff have prepared a report into the possibility of eliminating minimum parking requirements for developers. Edmonton became the first major Canadian city to get rid of the rules in 2017. (Daniella Ponticelli/CBC - image credit)

A debate about "minimum parking requirements" is brewing at Regina city hall — and it's stirring up questions about whether the city has too many cars and parking lots.

Right now developers are typically required to add a certain number of parking stalls to their projects. For example, 50 apartment suites might require a minimum of 50 parking spots.

In Regina, the rules have been around in some form since the 1950s. But larger cities around North America, concerned about the environment and other issues, have been doing away with the mandatory requirements.

Now, the City of Regina has released a report on minimum parking, and the pros and cons of scrapping the requirements.

It comes at a time when the city is trying to encourage more active transportation — walking and biking — as well as an increase in transit use in the years ahead.

The parking report says city council can end minimum parking requirements if it wants to — but it also suggests the current minimum parking requirements are "appropriate for Regina" given the city's size and relative lack of mass transit.

"Regina has one of the lowest amount of transit service hours for a comparable city size," the report states, noting the city's proposed Transit Master Plan does call for an increase in hours.

The report has stirred up some debate at city hall. At the last Regina planning commission meeting, the discussion touched on whether Regina needs as many cars as it has and whether it should try to reduce use of motor vehicles.

City councillors are also weighing in.

Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens says he wants to fully eliminate the minimum requirements, which currently differ for various areas in the city.

"There's more registered vehicles than there are people," he said. "You could put every toddler, every adult, every senior into a vehicle and you'd still have a whole bunch sitting there without anybody."

The councillor stressed that removing the minimum would not eradicate access to parking where needed. Instead, the change would give developers flexibility, which is helpful for projects such as affordable housing.

"We're essentially putting additional costs on developers for profit and not for profit, saying that whether you like it or not, there better be a space for that vehicle," he said.

"Let's start at zero and let the market and the need of that community and the housing type dictate it ... this is super easy, and should be non-controversial, place to start."

The City of Buffalo, New York, was the first in North America to eliminate minimum parking requirements for all land-use in 2017. In Canada, Edmonton followed in 2020 and Toronto council is considering the idea after a proposal in November 2021.

Parking needs within Regina are reviewed annually through the energy and sustainability framework, which could implement parking changes in the future.

Parking 'not for people'

Paul Dechene, a self-described city hall enthusiast, lives in Regina and does not own a vehicle. He has followed civic politics closely since 2008 and believes the city is still too vehicle-centric.

"We don't even know how often parking ruins a possible project because so many times these things don't get to council or they don't even get the planning commission," he said.

Right now, developers wanting a reduction in parking minimums must go through an application process, but voluntarily oversupplying parking does not require an application.

Right now, the market and residents really still need places to put their cars and we just haven't advanced to the point where people aren't looking for parking.
- Jason Carlston, Dream Development

Dechene said that, environmental benefits aside, reducing the physical footprint of parking within the city has added benefits for urban use and overall morale.

"It's much bigger than just the surface area that the car is sitting on at any one time. There's also all those other empty lot spots that are waiting for it," he said.

"When you're going past [parking lots], they're like empty, they're desolate. There's no people there. They're not for people. And they make they make places more and more unfriendly."

Developer likes the idea of flexibility

Some people in the building industry say they would welcome an end to the mandatory parking stall requirements.

Jason Carlston, the vice-president of land development for Saskatoon-based Dream Development, which has a number of projects in Regina, is one of them.

He says removing minimum requirements would provide flexibility for projects that need it, while allowing companies like Dream to build projects to their specs.

"It's still our current reality. I don't think we'd build anything without parking because it would be very difficult to sell or to rent," Carlston said.

"Right now, the market and residents really still need places to put their cars and we just haven't advanced to the point where people aren't looking for parking."

WATCH | Toronto considers ending minimum parking for new condos:

Stu Niebergall, the president of the Regina & Region Home Builder's Association, agrees with the notion that eradicating parking minimums would not create problems.

He pointed to examples of multi-unit housing, which often create oversupply of parking as some residents opt to park for free on an adjacent street.

"Surface space is not effective for anybody. It uses up a lot of space, a lot of land, which comes at a substantial cost," he said.

"It's very much in [developer's] interest to find the right balance between providing enough parking. So that their projects can show those neighbourhoods are attractive, without oversupply."

Creating human space

Vanessa Mathews is an associate professor of geography and environmental studies at the University of Regina. One of her concentrations is urban planning.

She supports the widespread elimination of a parking minimum in Regina, adding that a "one size fits all approach to parking doesn't work."

"Parking spots take up land in a fairly unimaginative way in our city," Mathews wrote in an email to CBC News Tuesday.
"It frees up space from parked cars and allows us to plan around people instead ... this is certainly a step toward becoming a healthier, more sustainable city."

The other social advantage to making the change, Mathews noted, is housing prices. She said there is a link between the removal of these minimums and improved housing affordability.

"The burden of parking costs in new developments is typically heavier for lower income households that don't own a vehicle." she said.

"Minimum parking requirements can have an impact on rental prices as well as tenants are required to cover parking costs as part of their rent. These requirements, as a result, can create barriers to affordable housing, and affordable housing projects in general."

She also noted that eliminating the minimum requirement does not mean removing parking spaces altogether.

Mathews pointed to how the city of Edmonton included in its zoning change the ability for the ability for current developments to share existing parking with new developments nearby, allowing the oversupply of parking to be addressed.

"This is something that could directly work to add vitality to our urban spaces, creating a more walkable, denser built environment. Long term, it could mean removing our oversupply of surface parking lots," she said.

Meanwhile, Regina city council has yet to consider the report on eliminating minimum parking rules. That's scheduled to happen later this year.

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