A tale of two cities: giving and taking at the same time
By Paul De Berardis / RESCON
As builders operating in the City of Toronto likely already know, city staff have put forth a report
recommending parking requirements for new development be revised to regulate parking maximums
rather than parking minimums.
The city is attempting to address challenges such as climate change and decreasing housing affordability through more strategic management of new parking supply.
It is believed that minimum parking requirements lead to the overbuilding of parking and support the continued growth of vehicle emissions. Introducing maximum parking permissions is intended to slow that growth in automobile use and resultant emissions.
When considering housing affordability, the cost of constructing and maintaining underground parking is significant and minimum parking requirements limits the ability of households to avoid those costs.
Some households may choose to manage their combined housing and transportation costs by living closer to their frequent destinations and skipping automobile ownership. Others may simply not be able to afford the significant cost of automobile ownership and have no need for parking.
The proportion of households in Toronto without a car has been increasing over the last several decades. Furthermore, minimum parking requirements generally result in households in multi-unit residential buildings who do not own automobiles partially subsidizing the cost of parking for other residents of the building who do.
Removing minimum parking requirements will allow households without automobiles to better avoid the direct and indirect costs of parking and can work to improve housing affordability.
In the past, the city has supported lower parking rates than those specified in zoning bylaw requirements. Considering a sample of projects approved between 2013 and 2019, more than 81 per cent (326 of 398) of the mixed-use projects (which include both residential and non-residential uses) received a planning approval with less parking than the Zoning By-law 569-2013 minimums.
Each development has unique circumstances which may be difficult to capture in standards, which is why a market-driven approach is more responsive to trends and aligned with a given project’s needs.
In terms of costs, using Altus Group’s 2021 Canadian Construction Cost Guide and an estimate for the typical area required for a parking space, including all access ramps, the estimated cost of constructing a single parking space is anywhere from $50,000-150,000.
Deep excavations, small sites, challenging soil conditions and groundwater issues all contribute to higher parking construction costs. A survey of RESCON members indicated that of the sample analyzed, about 30 per cent of parking stalls remain unsold at the time of construction.
Given the trend in many projects being left with unsold parking sports and substantial cost of constructing underground parking, RESCON generally welcomes the revised parking requirements that will be more geared to actual market demands.
Although RESCON generally views the revised parking provisions as an industry win, if adopted, that win will unfortunately feel short lived.
While City Planning Division and Transportation Services Division rethink parking requirements that can better allow developers to provide parking based on market demand, Toronto Water will be requiring foundation drainage to be managed on-site rather than discharged to city sewers.
While this is being done to preserve sewer capacity for future development growth, long-term discharge of foundation drains to the city’s sanitary sewer system will no longer be permitted after January 1, 2022.
What this really means is that any savings from reduced parking requirements and associated construction costs will be negated by the requirement to now make underground parking garages watertight, also known as bath-tubbing.
What’s ironic is that the parking requirements proposal is going to the planning and housing committee and later Toronto city council, while also receiving notable attention from mainstream media and the public for its ability to help with housing affordability.
Meanwhile, the foundation drainage policy being implemented by Toronto Water is proceeding without the need for council approval and being rushed to implementation within only months of first informing industry.
What this demonstrates to me is the city’s virtue signaling that they are trying to alleviate housing affordability issues in some small manner, yet before it can even approve the parking requirements, another city policy is being introduced that raises costs back up even further.
This all comes at a time when other city-prescribed policies seek to further increase the costs of market housing such as inclusionary zoning and the soon-to-be-increasing Toronto Green Standard requirements.
If the city truly claims to care about trying to make housing more affordable, why not remove the innovation hindering restrictions in the Official Plan policy that limits above-grade parking structures and forces most new parking to be located below grade?
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