For a City of the Future, Mississauga’s Parking Spot Policy is Stuck in the Past

Mississauga parking suburbs
City of Mississauga/Facebook

Mississauga currently requires condos to have one parking spot per studio unit; more for larger units. But as the city moves to a more transit-friendly, urban place, is it appropriate to keep up that ratio?

In fact, some condo developers say many owners in the downtown already don’t want a parking space. Actually, developers and city managers and consultants all agree there needs to be less parking, though they may disagree over how much and how fast those spots should disappear.

“Clients I am representing now are all looking for (parking) reductions,” says Ed Sajecki, Partner and Co-founder of Sajecki Planning and the former commissioner of planning and building for Mississauga.

The city expects to release a parking requirements study in about a year says Jamie Brown, manager of municipal parking for Mississauga.

Parking and the new Mississauga

What does less parking have to do with a more urban Mississauga?

As the downtown gets denser, with more apartments and condominiums going up, more commercial development – meaning jobs and shopping and entertainment being within walking, biking or transit distance from homes – and better transit options meaning less need for cars, fewer people want to pay for a parking spot they don’t need.

“Parking is a fertility drug for cars,” says Sajecki, quoting a city councillor during a debate on the issue.

And the city wants to see less car use, as congestion grows alongside the city’s growth.

“One of the goals of the city’s strategic plan is to become a transit-oriented city” with less reliance on single-occupancy vehicles, says Brown. The Hurontario light rail transit, expected to be completed in four to five years, is a key factor fuelling the urbanization of Mississauga.

“The parking master plan was approved by council last June,” he says. “The approach is, in most cases, looking to reduce the requirements for parking for developers but through a precinct approach,” says Brown, referring to the idea that requirements for parking would be dependent on what different areas of the city offer in terms of factors like transit and walkability.

“The planning department is doing a follow-up study to review and revise parking developments based on that,” says Brown. The follow-up study is expected to take about a year.

Some Ideas

One idea the city is considering is to create parking that is not tied to one user.

“We look at mixed-use situations where parking can be used by different uses at different times. For example, a mall site may share spaces between office and retail since they have different peaks,” says Jason Bevan, director of city planning strategies. This can also apply to visitor parking, he adds.

“The precinct approach is based on what’s in the area,” says Brown. Precinct 1 areas, like downtown or Port Credit have more options and “will have lower parking requirements. Precinct 4 areas, like Meadowvale, would require more car use and parking.”

The parking master plan recommends looking at other factors, like “curbside management strategy,” where the city looks ahead to parking demands from other vehicles, like car share services such as Uber and Lyft, increasing deliveries through online shopping, and even autonomous cars in the future.

Affordability

The parking issue is not just one of congestion. There is also the cost to the developer, which affects how easy it is for the city to attract commercial developers to the downtown.

“The cost of constructing office space below grade is expensive… which gets factored into lease rates,” says Sajecki. The core is “competing with office parks,” where there is a lot of free surface parking. And with condos, since parking is expensive to build, and adds a cost to buyers, one way to make housing more affordable is to reduce parking, says Brown.

“Mississauga is starting to worry … the price (of housing) keeps getting higher,” says Ralph Bond, executive chairman at BA Consulting Group Ltd., a parking and transportation expert who has condo developer clients. “If we can reduce the cost of that housing, it would be beneficial.”

“If you want to price condos so lab technicians and cleaning staff can be close (to work places), you want to keep prices of units lower, and not force them to tack on the cost of parking spaces,” says Bond.

In fact, some developers are selling units separately from parking spots, says Sajecki.

Speed of Change

“There has been a gradual reduction in rates in some parts of the city,” says Bevan, director of city planning strategies.

“There is justification for varying parking rates in different areas,” says Bevan, adding the city is looking at breaking down how many parking spots there should be in different “precincts,” based on how much transit is available, and how much urbanization.

While conducting its own study, the city also allows for developers to do case studies, often in similar, nearby buildings, to determine on a case-by-case basis whether a building can be built with fewer spots than the city requires.

“If a developer wants to request a reduction in parking spots … we will consider it.”

“Sometimes developers will ask for lower numbers (of parking) than surveys or the city recommends,” based on what prospective buyers tell them in the sales trailer, Bevan says. “But we have to be careful.” The city has to plan ahead, he explains, and plan for parking for the long term.

“A young couple may not have a car but in two to three years, they may require a car to take a child to daycare.” Also, if there are not enough spaces, people may start to park elsewhere, clogging streets and even parking illegally, he adds. This would transfer the burden of parking from the builder to the city and residents.

“Once a building is built, you can’t easily add spaces.”

Pandemic problems

A big wrench in the works may be the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis.

“Going forward, there will be incredibly challenging times after we hopefully get out of the COVID-19 situation,” says Sajecki.

At the best of times, the city needs funds to run its public transit system, even if higher levels of government help pay to build it.

The city’s sources of revenue to run transit largely come from property taxes, business taxes, user fees and its share of the gas tax. All of these will be under pressure because of the economic consequences of the pandemic, Sajecki says.

As for whether working from home will become an entrenched habit after enforced lockdowns end, “It’s too early to see any long-term impacts of work-at-home,” says Bevan. “The city does an employment survey each summer – this year’s survey will likely not happen due to COVID-19 – so we should start to see any residual impacts on where people are working in 2021 data and beyond.”

Sometimes the market is ahead of the city’s thinking, says Sajecki. “Mississauga was developed around the automobile” and developers pushed for more parking spots. “Going forward, that market is going to shift,” as developers, at least in the downtown, want to see less requirements for parking.

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