Kingston, Ont. planners propose scaling-back parking spaces in new developments

Kingston has a parking problem.

That’s been a familiar complaint among downtown area merchants, customers and employees over the years, especially during pre-pandemic times.

Read more: COVID-19: Some front-line hospital workers say parking remains an issue in Kingston

But a new report suggests the real problem is with “excessive” over-supply of vehicle spaces built by the private sector, especially around large residential buildings, offices and malls, and that municipal zoning rules should be changed to curb it in the future.

“We have significantly over-built parking in the city,” says Brent Toderian, a Vancouver-based urban design consultant.

The City of Kingston’s planning department worked with Toderian to produce a “call to action,”  a radical re-think of how many future parking spaces should be created.

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In short, a lot less of it.

A planning report suggests developers be given much more flexibility to decide how many parking spaces to build to help the city with its goals of promoting public transit and addressing a climate emergency. CKWS TV

Their solution, which could prove controversial when it’s presented to the public and local politicians, is to back away from car-oriented development.

The report acknowledges the city has been its own biggest enemy in the past by demanding developers provide more parking than is needed.

City planners showed this aerial view of the Kingston Centre shopping mall as an example of parking over-supply. City of Kingston

The key solution being touted by planners is to change municipal rules and give developers the flexibility to significantly reduce the number of parking spaces they want to provide owners, customers or tenants, while making sure they don’t provide an over-supply of spaces for new-build apartments and condominiums.

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Currently, the city requires a minimum number of spaces to be built for new commercial and residential projects.

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The general rule of thumb is that a builder must construct one parking spot for every unit in an apartment or condominium, unless concessions are negotiated and approved by city council such as providing cash-in-lieu of parking.

But in the new discussion paper, titled ‘The Power of Parking – A New Parking Paradigm for Kingston?’ city planners are proposing to sharply reduce the minimum parking supply standards, and to even impose new maximum standards to avoid too many paved spaces around or beneath multi-unit residential buildings.

The policy would also eliminate any parking requirements for all new affordable and heritage housing projects.

Community services commissioner Paige Agnew calls this one of the most “exciting and transformative” strategies ever produced by planning staff.

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She acknowledges that reversing the long-held status quo of putting cars first could be a tough sell among drivers in a city where the car is still the preferred mode of transportation among at least two-thirds of regular commuters. It’s not uncommon to see two, three or four vehicles parked in suburban house driveways.

When questioned about whether the proposed guidelines would spur developers to reduce on-site parking to the point where a spillover of vehicles may occur on nearby streets, she says that could be managed through parking enforcement.

Kingston’s community services commissioner says any parking spillover onto streets can be managed through enforcement. CKWS TV

While the discussion paper makes no formal recommendations, Agnew says their hope is to roll some, if not all, of these proposals into a comprehensive new city-wide zoning bylaw.

City planners say they’re also looking at the new bylaw, guiding future development rules, to make other major changes when it comes to allowing commercial uses in churches, creating more tiny homes and shipping container housing, and additional green ribbon environmental protections.

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Read more: Kingston to allow places of worship to sublet

Parking is the latest component of the bylaw to go under the microscope.

“We’ve been significantly underestimating the complex costs and consequences of how we address parking,” Agnew explains.

As a zoning regulator of private parking developments, Agnew says it’s time for the city to deregulate a bit and allow developers to decide how much parking is right for their sites.

She says the past drive to create more parking has actually made it a lot harder for Kingston to achieve some of its stated public goals such as improving affordability and mitigating climate change.

Scaling back parking requirements will demonstrate leadership in climate action, support housing affordability, promote active transportation and transit, achieve urban health and social equity and streamline the often-confusing parking-build requirements, according to the 152-page Agnew-Toderian report.

The parking flexibility suggested for developers could also encourage them to create more short and long-term bicycle storage spaces and electric vehicle charging stations, said planners.

Toderian, who’s been hired by the city to help draft a re-think of its planning policies, says the more parking lots you build, the more people are tempted to drive and buy vehicles, which goes against the city’s own climate emergency declaration.

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Read more: Kingston becomes first Ontario city to declare climate emergency

He suggested that forcing developers to build a pre-set minimum amount of parking has driven up urban housing costs by 12.5 per cent to 25 per cent, partly because of the vast amounts of concrete or steel materials needed for parking lots and structures, and in the building design process itself.

The report estimates the cost to construct one parking space ranges from $6,000 for a paved surface to $45,000 for an underground space, and given Kingston’s geographical nature as a ‘limestone’ city developers tend to build parking structures above-ground, which can make it even more expensive.

Toderian says the hidden costs of parking over-supply are not only reflected in higher development costs, but they also trickle down to higher rents, lower wages and more greenhouse gas emissions for the parking structure materials.

He estimates 36 per cent of Kingston’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector.

A parking discussion paper says the Kingston transportation sector accounts for 36 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. CKWS TV

“It’s a lot more than just money when we’re talking about costs and consequences.”

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Planners stressed the drive to reduce vehicle parking requirements in certain types of new developments will not impact the current or future supply of accessible parking, nor will it undo previous zoning approvals that allowed for large-scale parking lots, such as those around commercial and retail malls.

Planners say they want public input on the discussion paper before any changes are written into the new zoning bylaw.

“We are not presenting recommendations and our minds are not made up,” says Laura Flaherty, a project manager in the planning department.

The discussion paper will be the focus of a virtual public meeting of the planning committee on June 23.

The revamped, harmonized and simplified Kingston-wide zoning bylaw is due to be complete and ready for council approval by early next year.

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