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Heritage activists calls on London city council to end ‘temporary’ parking lot renewals

South-facing view of 193-197 Central Avenue.
South-facing view of 193-197 Central Avenue. City of London

A battle is brewing in downtown London over surface parking lots.

The London branch of the Architectural Conservancy Ontario is calling on city council to end the practice of approving renewals of temporary parking lots in the downtown saying heritage buildings and streetscapes are under routine threat from developers.

The ACO says owners of parking lots are unwilling to sell the land, putting heritage properties at risk.

“One of the key reasons for this is that owners of the surface parking lots in the downtown core appear unwilling to sell to interested developers,” wrote Mike Bloxam President of the London branch. “In response, these developers feel that they must purchase and then demolish heritage buildings.”

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The call comes as the planning committee is set to debate next week whether or not to renew three parking lots along Richmond Row, two on Central Ave and one on Albert Street.

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Despite being labelled as “temporary,” a staff report says the three sites have functioned as parking lots for 12-25 years.

Approval for 200 Albert Street was granted in 2004 and expired in 2007. The parking lot at 192-196 Central Avenue has been around much longer, London city council first approved the lot in 1992 while the parking lot at 193-197 Central Avenue has been in service since 2005.

The three parking lots total 200 spaces.

City staff say a site doesn’t require the proposal of any new buildings or structures to qualify for renewal.

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Bloxam argues as London improves its transit system, residents should get used to transit downtown, not parking lots.

“We Londoners must become accustomed to using public transit on a more consistent basis,” he wrote.

The ACO wants the city to end its habit of extending the temporary use of the parking lots that “encourage land owners to hold on to vacant land and profit from it.”

However, a planning justification report submitted by Zelinka Priamo, a private planning firm, argues in favour of the status quo.

“They are an important resource for the existing surrounding uses,” the firm wrote. “They provide convenient parking for tenants and their guests in nearby buildings, as well as provide all-day parking for business in the area. The subject lands also provide additional parking areas to support attractions within the downtown area.”

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For now, city staff are recommending the three sites have their temporary lots renewed for another three years.

Staff say extending the temporary parking lots is consistent with provincial policy and the 1989 Official Plan.

“The extension of the surface commercial parking lots does not have a short-term negative impact on the proposed bus rapid transit routing along Clarence and Richmond Streets, although in the longer-term, the BRT system will benefit more from redevelopment that will encourage increased system ridership,” staff write in the report.

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While staff approve of the extension for now, that may not be the case in the future.

Staff are in the midst of completing a downtown parking strategy that will look at transitioning away from temporary surface parking lots in the downtown.

A preliminary recommendation of the strategy is to consider a gradual transition away from temporary surface parking lots as the downtown develops.

Staff say the strategy will be completed in the “near future.”

The issue will be debated at the planning and environment committee on Monday.