Kelowna city council can’t reduce the six-storey maximum height allowed for new buildings in one block of its main downtown street—so it is doing the next best thing.
It’s waiving the requirement for any future developers to provide parking at their proposed new buildings, as long as the buildings are no taller than four storeys high.
The “incentive” for the block of Bernard Avenue east of Ellis Street could produce the city’s first carless mini area, say some councillors.
“It came directly as a result of the (recent) downtown plan charette,” said Coun. Angela Reid-Nagy, who voted along with the rest of her council colleagues to approve the move in a text amendment to the city’s official community plan earlier this week.
The purpose of the incentive is two-fold, said Reid-Nagy.
While the area is considered a character site by the city when it comes to the buildings already there and the type the city wants to see built in future, the elimination of parking could also prompt people who could one day live in the block where the now vacant former Bargain Store stands, to go without a vehicle and rely on public transit.
Reid-Nagy said with the location being close to both the bus rapid transit route on Highway 97 and the Queensway transit terminal, as well as being right downtown, the need for a car for some residents could be greatly reduced. And that, in turn would help the environment and help increase use of the transit system.
And now that the city has made the move downtown—albeit in one small area—Reid-Nagy said it could be used again in Rutland when the city builds a new transit terminal on Shepherd Road and the area around it is redeveloped.
Council also sees the Bernard Avenue move as another part of its bid to revitalize Bernard Avenue. The road is slated to be torn up for underground infrastructure repairs starting next year and the city is currently polling area merchants to find out if they are willing to help pay for above-ground beautification measures to improve the streetscape.
However, it remains to be seen if the loss of two floors of potential revenue-generating residential space will be offset by the relaxation of the city’s requirement for parking in the minds of potential developers.
Randy Shier, president of the local Urban Development Institute chapter, said the success of the move will depend on whether there is a market for homes without parking.
He praised the city for trying to help offer the public another form of housing but said it is too early to tell if it is what the public wants. “I hope it works but (a developer) would have to take a risk with a building like that,” he said.
For now, a potential developer would have to consider whether the parking relaxation, in return for not building to the maximum allowable height, is something that will be financially viable in today’s local “slow” property development economy.