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Marcus Gee

Car-free condo in step with green-friendly habits of downtown dwellers Add to ...

The developer of a new downtown condominium building is making headlines with plans to go "car free." Apart from nine spaces for auto-sharing rental cars, there will be no permanent parking spots for motor vehicles in the building.

Tut-tut, says the city. Zoning rules require developers to supply parking spots for their residents, even in the heart of downtown. A report from planning functionaries says that giving the project an exemption would undermine the "integrity" of the parking rules and create "a negative precedent" for others.

They have got it exactly backward. The development is setting a great precedent for green, convenient, car-free downtown living.

The 42-storey condo will stand on University Avenue near Dundas at the current site of the Royal Canadian Military Institute (which will get new, bigger digs on the premises). It is a few steps from the St. Patrick subway station and minutes from restaurants, banks, galleries, theatres and shopping plazas. "There's no better place in the city to market a building with no parking," says Stephen Deveaux, a vice-president of developer Tribute Communities.

The company plans to do just that, telling prospective residents "unapologetically" that the building has no parking because, living there, they won't need it. As Mr. Deveaux puts it, "It really is geared to the person who works, lives and plays in the city of Toronto and is not likely to want a car."

Those who really feel they need one - for weekend trips, supermarket shopping or whatever - can rent one of the auto-sharing cars or keep their own car in one of the many parking lots in the area on monthly lease. But the whole focus of the place will be on walkable - and bikeable - city living. The building will have no less than 315 parking spots for bicycles.

The building will be mostly bachelor and one-bedroom suites designed for singles and couples with no need to drive children around town. Building without parking spots will make the condos cheaper; spots can add $30,000 or more to the cost of each unit.

It all makes great good sense in a city that is trying to get people out of their cars whenever possible, promoting walking, biking and transit use as a green alternative. The city's parking-place requirements are out of step with the trend in downtown and other high-density areas for residents to do without an automobile.

"What we are finding is that when young professionals buy condos downtown close to work they often don't have or want cars," says Adam Vaughan, councillor for the area. "Empty nesters coming back into the core often sell one or two cars after they flee the suburbs for a more urban life." In one waterfront condo complex, CityPlace, developers expected half the residents to drive to work. In fact, says Mr. Vaughan, only a quarter do.

In a small way, those high-density parts of the city are becoming more like New York or Tokyo, where people don't think of owning a car. That quality is part of what makes life in those cities so great: you can walk or take transit anywhere and driving is just a pain. We are a still long way from that level of urban intensity, but projects like this one are at least helping put us on the right path.

Mr. Deveaux's company is taking a risk by going car-free with the University building. Skeptics say the pitch could turn off buyers who are still devoted to their cars and consider parking a birthright. "In fact," says Mr. Vaughan, "without a parking lot to maintain with common fees, with a more competitive price for units and with lower property taxes as an end result, the bold step is looking smarter and smarter."

Now all that is required is some smart and flexible thinking from the city. The Toronto-East York community council looked at the project this week and wisely overruled city staff on the parking issue. The project now goes up the line to city council. It deserves an enthusiastic yes.

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