An ex-hole achieves its surface parking destiny

City Hall by Paul Dechene

Remember way back in 2010 when we heard the Plains Hotel was going to be demolished to make way for a new hotel/condominium complex called Capital Pointe? Even as then-mayor Pat Fiacco ceremonially took a sledgehammer to the side of the Plains, a little part of me knew that lot was going to end up as surface parking.

Well, a decade has passed and our new, Sandra Masters-led city council finally made that parking dream a parking reality.

On Dec. 2, Council gathered for their first official meeting at which they voted six to five in favour of a bylaw* to rezone the former Capital Pointe lot at Victoria and Albert so that it can be turned into a surface parking lot for one year.**

The points listed in the pro column for this decision seem pretty clear cut. A company, Magnetic Capital, wants to buy the lot. They say they have a plan to develop the site (though they haven’t shared that plan with the city). But a condition of the sale is that they be allowed a temporary parking lot on the site.

If that sale goes through, Magnetic will have to pay the city the $2.8 million in property taxes and fees owing on that property.

If the sale doesn’t go through, the city is left waiting for that cash.

Those were the points upon which all of the Yes votes seemed to have turned.

Thing is, nothing with the Capital Pointe lot is ever so simple. And only the power of a listicle can get us through some of the problems with council’s decision.

Prairie Dog’s long-lost Top 6 column: ACTIVATE!

Top 6 Capital Pointe Parking Problems

1. THERE IS NO BUSINESS CASE FOR SURFACE PARKING Magnetic’s plan is for 85 parking spots which, assuming parking rates of between $135 and $210 a month, will generate something like $176,000 over the year they’re asking for. Sounds like a lot but once you subtract the cost of resurfacing, preparing and operating the parking lot, Magnetic will be left with a pittance compared to the millions (or tens of millions) required to develop that corner.

On top of that, owners of other downtown parking lots have pointed out that, thanks to COVID, fewer people are working downtown and their parking lots are sitting 80 per cent empty.

Hardly seems worth putting all that effort into building a parking lot during a pandemic when mass vaccination is still months away.

And, beyond that, what kind of operation hinges a multi-million dollar, prestige development upon the approval of a temporary surface parking lot when…

2. SURFACE PARKING IS FORBIDDEN IN REGINA’S DOWNTOWN It’s written right in the Design Regina: Official Community Plan bylaw for any potential developer to see: new surface parking lots are not allowed downtown. The idea (and the truth) is, surface parking is ugly and it breaks up what’s supposed to be a vibrant and interesting streetscape.

Of course, surface parking can be very profitable as property taxes on undeveloped land are extremely low. That gives developers a financial incentive to replace buildings with parking. The idea behind the prohibition, then, is to tie council’s hands so they have a reason to resist the demands of developers hoping to make easy money by demolishing buildings.

Unfortunately, despite this being enshrined in law, council hasn’t felt terribly tied.

3. THIS PARKING APPROVAL CONTINUES A DESTRUCTIVE PRECEDENT Despite this prohibition being on the books for many years, council has approved two other temporary surface parking lots downtown: one on Lorne Street and one on Hamilton. Both were supposed to be stop-gaps on the way to exciting new developments. Both have stalled out and remain empty — save for cars and litter.

But surely, this Victoria and Albert lot will succeed where others have failed because of the “Third Time’s A Charm” Law of Physics.

And if it doesn’t…

4. TEMPORARY LOTS CAN ALWAYS GET EXTENSIONS The Lorne surface parking lot has already asked for and been granted an extension on its original three-year zoning. And Magnetic confessed that if their development plans don’t move as quickly as hoped, they will consider asking for more time on their lot as well.

And when they do, the context around temporary surface parking may have changed in Regina…

5. A TEMPORARY SURFACE PARKING POLICY IS COMING IN 2021 The last council requested administration prepare a Downtown Temporary Surface Parking Policy that would lay out guidelines on how developers can get approvals for downtown lots for up to five years. This policy is expected early in 2021. If passed, it means Magnetic will be able to say at the end of their one year, “If we had applied under this policy we would have been entitled to five years! You owe us four more years of temporary surface parking!”

And when that’s done, see point four.

6. REGINA IS BECOMING A LAUGHINGSTOCK The downtown landscape south of Victoria Avenue, between Smith and Hamilton, is dominated by surface parking lots. The land along Rose Street between 12th Ave and Saskatchewan Drive has similarly been overrun by car parking. In fact, more than 20 per cent of our downtown is already surface parking.

“Saskatoon is known as the City of Bridges. I don’t want Regina to be known as the City of Parking Lots,” said new councillor Cheryl Stadnichuk, who voted against the Victoria and Albert rezoning.

Too late.

Just Like Old Times

Our new council had a chance to break with the past and halt the parking expansion in our city’s core. But they didn’t.

To be fair, six of the 11 people on council are about as new to this job as you can get. And they were coming to this file at the very last possible second and hadn’t been involved in all the deliberations that led to this rezoning bylaw being written. So I can still hold out hope that in future this new council will demonstrate that they respect the vision of our Official Community Plan.

But, based on that Dec. 2 vote, I won’t hold out a lot of hope.

* The vote on Dec. 2 was on the bylaw’s third reading. The recommendation to rezone the lot as a Contract Zone (on which a temporary parking lot is allowed) came before council earlier this year. The bylaw received majority approval on its first and second reading in October. But, because council did not vote unanimously to proceed to third reading at that time, they had to wait for third reading until after the election. 

** The five votes against the rezoning were from councillors Andrew Stevens (Ward 3), Bob Hawkins (Ward 2), Cheryl Stadnichuk (Ward 1), Shanon Zachidniak (Ward 8) and Daniel LeBlanc (Ward 6). The six votes in favour of surface parking came from councillors Landon Mohl (Ward 10), Jason Mancinelli (Ward 9), Terina Shaw (Ward 7), John Findura (Ward 5), Lori Bresciani (Ward 4) and new mayor Sandra Masters. Of note, Councillor Findura voted against the rezoning back in October. But he switched his vote to a Yes on Dec. 2, saying we should have some trust that this development will happen. Mancinelli, meanwhile, originally voted in favour of the rezoning in October but announced during the Dec. 2 meeting that he would be voting against the rezoning because Magnetic hadn’t offered enough information to make this violation of the OCP worthwhile. But when the vote was called, he reverted to his original Yes vote.