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Island community moving ahead with fundamental shift in parking regulation

Under proposed Saanich plan, houses would need 1 spot, large buildings would need less than 1.5
Saanich council taking steps to remove and change parking minimums for new developments. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

Saanich council is moving ahead with the proposal of two councillors to fundamentally alter the parking requirements for new developments in the district, and has directed staff to begin drafting bylaw changes.

The idea to change what are called ‘parking minimums’ is not new. Many jurisdictions in Canada and elsewhere have altered rules aimed at ensuring a certain number of parking spaces are included with each new house, apartment or garden suite built.

In their proposal, councillors Zac de Vries and Teale Phelps Bondaroff argue that requiring a certain number of parking spaces per unit stifles development, makes housing more expensive, and is bad for the environment.

De Vries and Phelps Bondaroff have proposed to decrease the minimums on buildings with less than 12 units down to one parking space per unit. Currently, single-family and attached homes must have two spaces, apartments must have 1.5 per unit, and garden suites need to have a single spot.

For buildings over 12 units, the councillors have proposed a more radical change, one they say would be the first-of-its-kind in Saanich — they want to turn the minimum number of spots into the maximum, meaning a building could have no more than 1.5 spots per unit.

Though staff have been directed to draft the bylaw changes, how the process will unfold in terms of public consultation is still unclear. This road map should be available by sometime this summer, with a bylaw change before council for approval in a year to year-and-a-half time frame, according to Saanich engineering director Harley Machielse.

The planned changes were given a generally positive reception by most councillors, with the exception being Coun. Nathalie Chambers, who said she feared decreased parking on home sites would increase parking on streets and create a hazard. She also said said the proposal ignores Saanich’s car-focused reality.

“A lot of people in Saanich are still driving their cars,” Chambers said. “And that’s not going to change.”

Others, like Coun. Karen Harper called it a “modest proposal,” saying the council already tends to grant parking minimum exceptions to many new developments on a case-by-case basis.

She also said many of those developments end up with half-empty parking garages despite decreased minimums.

“I don’t think it does go far enough,” she said of the proposed bylaw changes.

READ MORE: Saanich council duo teaming up to try to revolutionize parking minimums