Turning parking lots into housing: London, Ont. mayor directs staff to look at options

Also announced Tuesday was a request for proposal for a mixed-use development at 185 Queens Ave. that will incorporate both on-site parking and affordable housing. Ben Harrietha/980 CFPL

London Mayor Josh Morgan has directed city staff to start looking for city-owned downtown parking lots with potential for redevelopment as high-density housing and parking.

The direction to civic administration was issued Tuesday using the mayor’s “strong mayor” powers. The plan was originally detailed at last month’s state of the city address, along with other housing initiatives.

“The redevelopment of city-owned parking lots will allow us to not only increase available on-site parking, they will also add significant residential density within new high-rise structures above the redeveloped parking facilities,” Morgan said.

Morgan adds that the long-term viability of downtown is linked to the number of people living and working in the area.

“You could try to spend all of your time convincing everybody from the suburbs to come to the downtown each and every day,” he said.

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“Or you can get thousands and thousands and thousands more people to live in the core, walk out their front door, support local businesses, engage in the entertainment, creative vibrancy in the city, eat at the restaurants, just create that atmosphere in the downtown core.”

Mixed use will be an aspect of new development, but the focus is mainly on parking and residential.

“I’m not averse to the mix of development in the building. If there’s a good case for some level of commercial in the development, that’s not something that should be automatically excluded.”

City staff will lead the process, identifying surface parking that meets development requirements such as adequate water and sewer service.

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A list of potential sites for council consideration is expected to be finalized in the coming months.

While a few potential sites have already popped out to him, Morgan says he’ll be “leaving this solely in the hands of our expert staff.”

“What I don’t want to do is speculate or get ahead of the staff assessment, because I do not know the sewer capacity, the servicing capacity at each and every one of those sites,” he said.

“I also don’t want to compromise the RFP process, so that everybody has a fair chance at considering and bidding on the sites that come up.”

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Also announced Tuesday was a request for proposal for a mixed-use development at 185 Queens Ave. that will incorporate both on-site parking and affordable housing.

In a statement, the city says it is “seeking a development that would provide both market and affordable housing units, reserved parking available to downtown businesses and offices, and daily privately operated parking available to the public.”

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“The great thing about the request for proposal process is, you’ve got the parameters that you have to follow in your proposal,” Morgan said.

“But there’s also a lot of ability to innovate and pitch ideas that perhaps we wouldn’t come up with as a city ourselves, but innovators in development community may in meeting the needs of the RFP.”

Morgan adds that the development at 185 Queens Ave. will help inform the direction of future RFPs on city-owned lots.

“We’ll get some feedback; council will have the ability to let future RFPs on city-owned parking lots and we can incorporate the learnings from this experience … into the future RFPs.”

When asked why an initiative like this hasn’t been tried in London before, Morgan said while he can’t speak on the past, he plans to deliver on his election promises.

“I can speak to the present and we’re taking action on (housing) now.”

“I think that’s appropriate, and I look forward to getting this process underway as soon as I can, respecting that staff has some work to do here to make sure that we get it right.”

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