The District of Kent is considering changes to its parking requirements, which would allow business owners to offer less parking if they were opening a new business that didn’t have quite enough. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Kent reconsiders parking requirements for downtown

Parking reductions for developments and no need to increase parking for new uses are on the table

It may be harder to find a parking spot in downtown Agassiz in the future, as the District of Kent considers reducing parking requirements for new businesses to help them thrive in the townsite.

At council Monday (May 27), director of development services Darcey Kohuch brought forward a potential bylaw amendment that would reduce the amount of parking new businesses need to provide when opening up shop in downtown Agassiz.

“Staff looked at what other municipalities are doing with their parking requirements in their downtown area,” Kohuch said. “Staff has taken some of those ideas and tried to incorporate them into something to help address some of the concerns that has come into the business community … in the downtown.”

Businesses owners in Agassiz face a number of challenges when setting up shop in the townsite.

Although there is little commercial competition within the district, small businesses in Agassiz are often competing with places like Chilliwack. People who do come into Agassiz are usually driving, and providing enough parking is key to retaining those visitors.

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To help businesses deal with some of these challenges, the district is considering three main changes to its parking requirements.

Currently, a commercial building that undergoes a “change of use” (like a retail store that is turned into a restaurant) is required to bring in more parking so it conforms to the district’s zoning bylaw.

This can be problematic for businesses, Kohuch said, as it can limit a business’s ability to operate a full capacity. (Restaurants with fewer parking spaces can have fewer seats, for example.)

In the bylaw amendment presented to council, Kohuch suggested that changes of use in commercial buildings should not require the business owner to add new parking spaces.

This is the same exemption that’s in place for the Abbotsford downtown area; Chilliwack and Hope do not require businesses to provide any parking spaces in their downtown areas.

“We recognize that starting a business is difficult, and a lot of times risky, and not all businesses are successful the first time,” Kohuch explained. This would “encourage people to try to start up businesses and see if they could make a go of it if they could get a lease in a good area downtown.”

The bylaw amendment also included other potential parking changes, including changing the way the district decides how many real parking spaces are needed and offering a parking reduction incentive for new developments.

Currently, if a business is required to have 4.1 parking spaces, the district would round the actual number of parking spaces up to five. In the proposed changes — which mirror the bylaws in Hope, Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Mission — a requirement for 4.1 spaces would round down to four, while a requirement for 4.7 spaces would round up to five.

Reducing parking requirements for new commercial properties is another change the district is considering. This change would allow new developments to reduce their parking by 35 per cent for all commercial uses except hotel, motel, service station and vehicle sales.

“That could give more commercial space, and less parking would encourage a more pedestrian-friendly community,” Kohuch said. “This is especially important since we have such small lots, it’s really difficult to squeeze the number of parking stalls that are currently required.”

RELATED: New developments bring density questions to Agassiz

For both the rounding change and the parking reduction change, the district could see a potential revenue loss from payments in lieu of parking spaces, but Kohuch said the potential benefit to businesses would be significant.

Howver, for councillor Stan Watchorn, some of these potential changes were worrisome, particularly when it came to restaurants.

“If somebody puts a commercial business in, and just for argument’s sake it requires three parking spaces, and then two years later, they want to try and put in a 50-seat restaurant … I think that’s problematic,” he said.

“We have parking issues,” he continued. “I appreciate the downtown core and the other municipalities making adjustments to that, and I support that. It’s just the one situation where we already have parking issues, and if somebody potentially is changing a business … I think that’s a problem.”

Kohuch did say that it was possible businesses could pay a monthly or annual fee that would allow them to “rent” space in an extra parking lot. That fee would have to be paid as long as they are operating a business that requires more parking than the building provides.

“From a business owner’s perspective, the less money when starting up a business the better, but if that would make council more comfortable with that component of the bylaw, we could bring something in the business licence bylaw,” he said.

On the whole, most of council was in favour of revisiting the district’s parking requirements for downtown Agassiz.

“We’re a municipality that hasn’t developed outside of the downtown,” Pranger said. “Businesses have a hard time making a go of it, and any way we can find to support them … I would be in favour of.”

“I know that it’s not common, because lots of people live outside (of Agassiz),” she continued, “but encouraging more walking and cycling in the downtown will also make it a friendlier community.”

SEE ALSO: Editorial: Divert traffic altogether

Councillor Susan Spaeti also noted that some business owners are already talking about this problem, with restaurants wanting to add more seats, but not having enough parking to make it happen.

“It is something that is on businesses’ minds,” she said.

“If we can help businesses in a way, it’s a good thing. And if we can look at increasing some parking lots, that’s something we’re going to have to look at anyways.”

Kohuch had said the same thing earlier in his presentation to council. Regardless of whether council decides to make these parking changes, the district needs to look at its own options for off- and on-street parking.

“I think a discussion for an additional future public parking should be considered to help provide other parking options for the public and for business owners,” he said.

There are plans to reconfigure Cheam Avenue to provide angled on-street parking. This has been identified as a project that could be completed with funds from DCCs (development cost charges). Depending on the amount of growth in downtown, this project could be moved up the timeline.

“There are some opportunities to provide more parking in our downtown area, in addition to what the property owners would need to provide,” Kohuch said.

Council voted to give the zoning bylaw amendment first and second reading Monday.

The public will have a chance to comment on the proposed changes at a public hearing on June 24, at 6 p.m. in the council chambers.

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