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Plans for the infill development at 17 Boothroyd Ave. in Toronto.Craig Race Architecture

Urban thinkers have hailed recent moves by the City of Toronto to eliminate bylaw requirements that forced developers to provide a parking space for most of the new homes they build, which could reshape the kind of homes that can get built in the city.

However, some say the politics of parking are far from dead.

“This decision means that developers will no longer be required to build parking spaces that home buyers don’t want, making it easier for residents who live without a car to purchase a home,” Mayor John Tory said when the policy was announced in December.

A key nuance in the new policy is that council may still vote to require some parking in a new project. “We’ve gotten rid of parking minimums, not gotten rid of parking,” said former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, who did some of the early work on relaxing parking minimums more than eight years ago. In part, the changes finally harmonize the patchwork of parking policies from the six separate municipalities that were welded together in 1998 to form the Toronto boundaries we know today. “The amount of parking you need in North York – the transit infrastructure, the needs of people living in those homes and the density – is different than in downtown, and yet we had one minimum parking standard for the whole city.”

The policy change isn’t simply about who gets a parking spot; it could change the math on what makes financial sense to construct in the city’s neighbourhoods. “In many sites in the city the parking minimum made it very difficult for a project to be viable,” said Ms. Keesmaat. In the past, projects such as a “missing-middle” six-plex might need to have a lot size big enough for six or more parking spaces.

But even though council has voted to break the iron link between new planning and parking, local councillors still have some tools available to them to force parking where they decide it’s needed.

A small infill project owned by Alex Sharpe, CEO of Spire Capital, was on the receiving end of one the tactics that has been increasingly applied to everything from mid-size to large-scale projects. Mr. Sharpe is adding three apartments to an existing three-apartment building on Boothroyd Avenue – which has five existing parking spots. If not for a variance obtained under the old regime he might have needed to add three new spots plus some visitor spaces. Under the new policy, he could have avoided adding any parking spots.

However, on Oct. 14, 2021, the Toronto and East York Community Council adopted a motion to ban residents of his building from applying for monthly on-street parking permits in the local street parking area.

In a report to the community council, Transportation Department staff said that in April it received a request from Ward 14 councillor Paula Fletcher, “on behalf of local residents,” asking to “realign Permit Parking Area 8B, to exclude the development located at 17 Boothroyd Avenue.” The report stated that while Area 8B has 2,367 parking spaces and only 1,814 permits, and the demand for on-street parking has never outstripped the supply of permits, it was nevertheless a good idea to block Mr. Sharpe’s future tenants from on-street parking in the area.

“I live in the ward, I invest in this area … why am I fighting?” Mr. Sharpe asked. He said he was furious about the impact the street parking permit ban could have on future residents and the viability of his project. He suggested that it might have been easier – and more profitable – to simply follow the usual pattern of infill builders. “This has become a less desirable product,” he said. “What I could have done is sever the thing in two, and stuffed in two McMansions – that would make me more money than what I’m doing. But why would I blow up a perfectly good cinder block triplex?”

The local councillor has pushed to ban new residents from applying for on-street parking permits at 17 Boothroyd Ave.Craig Race Architecture

Urban planning experts such as UCLA professor Donald Shoup have urged municipalities to get smarter about parking policies, and have noted the old parking minimums were often an extension of exclusionary zoning rules aimed at deterring new development in existing neighbourhoods. Banning new residents from street parking could be another way to deter building applications.

“I’m often asked to do it by people in the community and I don’t … I don’t want to create two classes of Torontonians,” said Ward 4 councillor Gord Perks, who has not applied a parking ban in his ward but has voted with other councillors to enforce bans in theirs. In recent years though, the tactic has been adopted by several other downtown councillors and new parking bans have been proposed and won with increasing frequency. Mr. Perks said he trusts his colleagues have done the work to ensure those bans are necessary, but he’d like to see the bans become less permanent. “Where I’d like to land is a where the city evolves some mechanism where the exclusion is time limited,” Mr. Perks said.

“I think that’s a shameful practice,” said former Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, now a private housing developer and planning consultant. “When I see those types of behaviours, I ask, what’s the bigger problem? It’s that we haven’t properly priced parking,” she said. “Inexpensive parking has a terrible costs in urban environments.”

There are almost 40,000 monthly permitted parking spaces in Toronto, and the annual fee for on-street parking (first vehicle, with no private spot available) is about $233 (that includes HST) or about 63 cents a day. A second parking spot is pricier, closer to $724, which equates to just under $2 a day.

Some say those rates are so low that they effectively act as a public subsidy for private car ownership.

“It’s far too low,” Mr. Perks said, but he said there’s little support on council to raise the rates closer to the actual value created by handing over a piece of public land for private use.

A combination of lowered parking requirements and a more hostile street-parking environment could lead to flashpoints, but Ms. Keesmaat is confident that private parking spaces will still be built in new developments where they make sense. “If you’re in a very car-oriented culture or environment they don’t want to build no parking; they won’t be able to sell those condos,” she said. “I sort of trust the market – they are inherently, incredibly conservative.”

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