Monday, 3 September 2018

Fire Hall - letter submission regarding variances

I submitted a letter regarding the Development Variance Permit Application for the old firehall site, which will be discussed at the September 4, 2018 Special Council Meeting starting at 7 pm.

Letter in full below the jump. This was a hard one for me - as someone dedicated to transitioning to a lower carbon future with a more resilient local economic and environmental base, advocating a position that includes building more parking than proposed was uncomfortable. However, it's where the facts lead based on the data for this site and the needs of others in the community; meeting the community where it is, exercising democracy and and letting data inform our decisions is a bigger part of building a resilient community, and that is the priority for me.

To Mayor and Council,

I am not in favour of Development Variance Permit Application approval for 9821 and 9837 3rd St (aka the “Old Firehall Site”), as the project is currently proposed. Specifically, the variance for the parking requirements, should not be granted, but I also believe the Town could introduce requirements for affordable housing within the conditions for approval of the variance for increased height. While the 6 storey height is not preferred by many residents, it seems that most objecting would be accepting of it with the requested setbacks in place, and provided it was in order to obtain something else of value to them; in this case, more affordable housing units by granting the increased density.

Parking Variance: I would prefer to see the proposal meet the initial staff recommendation for full compliance, or full payment in lieu, per the August 1 Report to the Advisory Planning Commission.
The reduction in public parking provision in that area of town is inconsistent with the findings of the Downtown Parking Study (Watt Consulting Group 2016), where the stated objective of parking management is to maintain peak parking occupancy between 75 and 85 percent to achieve neither over- nor undersupply (ibid. Section 3.2, pg. 8). Lot C was found to have peak occupancy of 90% in fact, regarding long term lots, “The majority of these parking supplies are above the desired occupancy threshold of 85%, suggesting long-term parking demand is not being met.” (ibid. pg. 20). Regarding the addition of the employee parking lot at the Mary Winspear, the Downtown Parking Study suggested that, “For all parking inventories observed, it is estimated that there is an employee parking demand of approximately 109 vehicles…there is an estimated long-term parking demand of between 90 and 115 vehicles.” (ibid. pg. 21). Thus, the 167 spaces of the new lot would have met the needs to reduce the peak parking occupancy in the long term lots to within the desired threshold – but only provided that all other parking supply remained the same. Counsellor Wainwright has tabulated the effect of the new lot against the known variances for parking reductions granted in the downtown of 142 units (Peter Wainwright – Sidney Council Facebook video dated August 19,2018“Parking in Sidney”), indicating further reductions will in fact result in a shortfall of 81 units.

I would love to live in a world where the reduction of vehicle parking space could happen rapidly, and hopefully will soon enough: I don’t have a carport full of cargo bikes for nothing! However, in the interests of meeting what the data do suggest is a current need, and respecting the desires of residents with more conventional attitudes to the car, I’ll propose a radical compromise. I would wager the Town receives more letters from residents on the need for parking in Sidney than new retail or restaurant, and many go so far as to hope for a parkade downtown (presumably with a nautical motif, so as not to disrupt the quaint seaside charm). If more parking would be the most beautiful sight in Sidney to so many, let us encourage the developer to consider redesigning the ground floor commercial space in the 6 storey building as a paid parking lot, with the residences above. With some clever foresight in design, a future retrofit of that space could achieve something like the small space “incubator” retail/restaurant space originally envisioned, and the exterior walls of the lot could be designed to support art and climbing plants that connect it to the plaza space.

Height/Number of Storeys in Exchange for Affordable Housing: Affordable housing is a top priority of Sidney residents, and the current Aranza project will supply a meagre drop in the bucket of the housing required, given the extraordinary mismatch between market prices and local earning potentials. If the developer is requesting a waiver of the payment in lieu for parking citing project viability issues due to the high sale cost of the land, why not reduce the sale price - keeping the minimum price to the $7 million earmarked for the Community Safety Building - in exchange for some of the units being made affordable? This is the best possible situation to build affordable housing; where the land itself is owned by the town, so the motivation is not just profit, but getting the best value for the public good. Above the $7 million for the safety building, and the general amenities fund, what was the rest of the 2 million sale price earmarked for? Could any of that be offered as a matching fund to the $600,000 that would have gone to the affordable housing fund, but that could instead be spent right here? If CRD funds (Victoria Regional Housing First) and the matching Provincial and Federal funds have already been allocated, perhaps there are other non-profit partnerships that could be sought, for example, for a home ownership co-op, which would fit very nicely in the building slated for condos.

Thank you for your consideration of my input during your further deliberation of this proposal.

Sara Duncan