Less parking in urban areas may help affordable housing aims in Kamloops | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Less parking in urban areas may help affordable housing aims in Kamloops

A development proposal for an apartment complex at 501 Tranquille Road could be one step to redevelop a less car-centric North Shore.

A supporter of a would-be North Shore apartment complex in Kamloops says the city's parking requirements have hindered meaningful development

Mitch Forgie is a proponent for an affordable housing project at 501 Tranquille Road which was recently permitted by city council to proceed with the development application with just 16 parking spaces. It should have been required to host 41.

The project would have commercial space on the ground floor, with 35 affordable housing suites and five for social housing.

Forgie's philosophy is that parking requirements have hindered meaningful development on the North Shore for years. In an urban neighbourhood that is relatively flat, compared to most of Kamloops, he has invested himself in making the North Shore a walkable urban centre.

"When I moved to Kamloops in 2008, everyone was saying the North Shore was going to be the next up-and-coming neighbourhood. They created tax exemptions (for developers) and none of them are making a difference, and it's because of the parking minimums. My pitch is to let developers build as much parking as they need," he said.

READ MORE: Kamloops approved a 40-unit apartment building with just 16 parking spaces

While he does not have a direct hand in this development, he has been behind other projects on the North Shore focused on infill development and more densely populating the area, in an effort to offer more affordable homes.

He's inspired by development and architecture projects in other continents, where there are more densely populated neighbourhoods that are less car-dependent.

"The situation we have now with parking requirements in North America is that parking is the biggest constraint," Forgie said. "It has to be a rectangle and has to be big... That embedded upfront cost is so large that you can never overcome it. You have to have a huge lot, tear down everything on it, and replace it with a large rectangle."

Forgie is also co-owner of Red Beard Café and Bright Eye Brewing, both on Tranquille Road. Even at his businesses, he would have no problem getting rid of parking lots if it meant walkability, bike-ability and transit routes could easily move prospective customers through the area.

He's found that keeping employees at his restaurants has been difficult, a struggle not uncommon in the service industry in recent months. Even in January of this year, he lost some of his employees after they were displaced by an apartment fire on Cherry Avenue in January 2021.

READ MORE: Kelowna highrise sells out within 48 hours of going on sale

Eight staff left his restaurants after the fire because they could no longer walk to work, he said.

Seeing the potential benefit to bring a local workforce and customer base to North Shore businesses, there were letters of support for the development project from the North Shore Business Improvement Association, neighbourhood associations and nearby business owners.

"On the North Shore, the trade-off is you're taking a boarded-up building that's nothing but a security problem... and you're making that a building with businesses below, where 35 people live," Forgie said. "Every person you see responding is talking about, 'How am I going to take my kids to Costco?' I think the problem is that the disconnect is when they frame the conversation as someone who lives as a suburban person, and they are 100 per cent correct, but no one would build an apartment with no parking in suburban neighbourhoods because the market doesn't allow it. I'm not saying it's unanimous, but the trade is very different."

Kamloops-based developer Joshua Knaak shares Forgie's sentiment that market pressures can determine where and if more parking is needed, but he also said blaming a lack of affordable development in the neighbourhood on strictly parking regulations would be painting with a "broad brush."

"I hate to see an empty parking lot — it's wasted space. What we've learned is we can anticipate a certain demographic that may have a lesser need (for parking)," Knaak said to iNFOnews.ca. "I think it's positive that the City allowed the development to first go to a public hearing. Then it'll go to a scenario where the market will sort it out."

While Knaak, of ARPA Investments, currently has no ongoing projects through his company with similar parking limitations, he said avoiding large parking lots is ideal when developers are looking to keep costs to a minimum, which can then be transferred to the tenant.

READ MORE: Multi-family housing projects on a tear in Penticton

The second concern for a developer, however, is whether tenants will move into a building that has no parking spaces to offer. For Knaak, this is a gamble in a city that is traditionally vehicle-centric.

"Mitch is a bit more radical in his thoughts on that than I am, but I'm very conscious of the sale-ability, so I don't want to take too much of a gamble," he said.

When the application for the 501 Tranquille Road development came to city council asking for an exception to current parking regulations, city staff recommended that council deny the application.

Mayor Ken Christian expressed concerns at the July 20 council meeting that a development approved with 25 fewer parking spaces than would normally be required would simply cause spillover into surrounding neighbourhoods.

With its ultimate approval, there was sentiment from councillors like Dennis Walsh and Kathy Sinclair that the City should be more radical in development approvals, as vacancy rates remain low and housing prices are high.

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"Vancouver is just a foreshadowing of what's to come in all of B.C.," Forgie said.

When asked whether a development that diverges from vehicle-centric norms is out of place before more walker and cyclist-friendly infrastructure is in place, he sees development and infrastructure as needing to be "in tandem."

"We can put bike lanes all over the place and everyone's gonna say that it's a monumental waste of money if there's no storefronts or accommodations that make room for cyclists. It needs to happen in tandem. The North Shore already has the flat land and it's great for biking and walking," Forgie said. "Will parking become scarce? Yes. But the only thing worse than congestion is having no congestion at all."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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