By Doug Hallett
An end to free on-street downtown parking, a permit system for parking on nearby residential streets and a new levy on downtown property owners are among proposals in a highly ambitious parking plan under development at city hall.
Seven proposed changes to the way Guelph deals with parking in and near the city’s core could raise an additional $60 million over 20 years and allow the city’s public parking system to become financially self-sustaining, a special city council meeting last week was told.
City hall plans to consult with the public on the proposals. However, the city can’t wait for these consultations to finish before moving ahead with an urgently needed new parkade, council was told Wednesday at a meeting largely about redevelopment of the Baker Street Parking Lot.
Council voted 10-1 to back the idea of building a new 350-space parkade during 2015, either on Neeve Street near the train station or on the site of the Wilson Street Parking Lot near city hall.
Only Coun. Gloria Kovach, who isn’t running for re-election in October, voted no.
This parkade would cost about $13.4 million. Development charges would cover all but $3.7 million of the cost, says a city staff report. A new parkade needs to be built quickly for two reasons, council was told. One is to replace lost surface parking spaces when other construction projects make surface spots unavailable, especially in the Baker Street Parking Lot.
The other reason is an urgent need to prepare for the improved GO train service for this area that is promised by the provincial government.
The proposed new levy on property owners in the city’s downtown area is meant so that these owners, who would benefit from new public parking in the downtown, help pay the cost of building it, said Ian Panabaker, the city’s corporate manager of downtown renewal.
This special levy would be “a form of local improvement charge, if you like,” he told council, and it would be separate from the Business Improvement Area levy that downtown property owners already pay.
Panabaker said the proposed special levy would likely apply over a wider geographic area than the area covered by the current BIA levy.
Over the past 10 years, city hall has made, and then shelved, plans to build parkades on both the Baker Street and the Wilson Street parking lots.
The downtown has only two parkades, the East and West parkades near Old Quebec Street, which were built about three decades ago and have a total of 861 spaces.
Surface parking takes the current total number of public parking spaces in the downtown up to 1,778.
The city’s new parking plan calls for a total of 2,658 public parking spaces to be downtown by 2031, but only 147 of them would be in surface lots. The rest of the public parking would be in six multi-level parking structures, including four new ones – at Baker, Wilson, Neeve and Fountain streets, with the Baker Street parking expected to be underground.
The geographic limit of the area surrounding the downtown core that would come under a new permit system for street parking by residents and non-residents of those adjacent neighbourhoods has not yet been defined. But the outer limit of the area would have to be at least a five- or 10-minute walk from the core in order to deter drivers from parking on those streets and walking to the downtown, council was told.
Mayor Karen Farbridge campaigned in 2006 with a promise to get rid of the downtown street meters. She has defended the lost revenue from free two-hour on-street parking against council critics at budget time most years since the meters were pulled.
City staff have been working on a new downtown parking plan since the end of 2012, and a series of public meetings and input sessions have been held since then. The parking study isn’t expected to be completed until sometime next year, after more public input.
By Doug Hallett