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Downtown parking lot renewal hits road block at London city hall

North facing view of 2 Albert Street.
North facing view of 2 Albert Street. City of London

The lack of a downtown parking strategy was lamented by London’s planning committee Monday night.

The planning and environment committee was set to debate whether to approval the renewal of three temporary surface parking lots in downtown London but some city politicians felt hamstrung by the absence of the parking plan.

A preliminary recommendation of the so-called Downtown Parking Strategy Study is to consider a gradual transition away from temporary surface parking lots as the downtown develops.

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

However, the strategy, which has been in the works for two years, isn’t done. City staff say the strategy will be completed in the “near future.”

Councillor Tanya Park urged city staff to complete the plan.

“We’re having to make these decisions over and over again without a real plan going forward. Since the beginning of our term we’ve got a rapid transit plan, unfortunately we don’t have a parking strategy. Pitter patter, let’s go,” said Park.

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The absence of the plan was felt as the committee considered the request from Farhi Holdings Corp to renew three parking lots along Richmond Row, two on Central Ave and one on Albert Street.

The three parking lots total 200 spaces.

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

READ MORE: London city councillor to take on private parking lots

City staff recommended the three sites have their temporary lots renewed for another three years however the committee voted 4-2 in favour of renewing two of the three lots. If the recommendation is approved by city council next week, planning staff will work with Shmuel Farhi to decide which of the lots will be renewed.

Mayor Matt Brown and councillors Maureen Cassidy, Anna Hopkins and Stephen Turner voted in favour of the motion, councillors Park and Jesse Helmer voted against it.

Helmer, who has consistently voted against extending the temporary surface parking lots, said drivers will adjust.

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“The parking spots people want, generally speaking, are the ones closest to where they’re going. Once those spots aren’t available they will find the one that’s the next closest and they will park there. They may have to walk an extra 75 or 100 metres but they will adapt,” he said.

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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.

Aerial picture of three surface parking lots up for renewal.
Aerial picture of three surface parking lots up for renewal. City of London

The staff report recommending the extension said renewing the temporary parking lots is consistent with provincial policy and the 1989 Official Plan.

READ MORE: Some heritage activists concerned about proposed high-rise in downtown London

The London branch of the Architectural Conservancy Ontario had called for all the renewal of all three lots to be denied arguing they were a threat to heritage buildings.

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

“I don’t think anyone in this room is talking about eliminating parking, we’re talking about a higher and better use of that land,” said Sandra Miller from the London branch of the ACO.

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While Brown supported the motion to renew two of the three parking lots, the mayor also issued a word of caution for the owners of downtown lots.

“All indications should be interpreted as pointing towards the days of these extensions are numbered. The days of these exemptions are numbered and this is the direction we’re going in as a community,” he said.