By James Tubb on April 4, 2023.
The city will relax some parking requirements for new residential and multi-family housing projects, but depending on the project, and in some cases, leaving the size of the stalls up to commercial developers.
Annual updates to the landuse bylaw were passed Monday, and bring the city’s major development rules up to date with building codes, but also provides new leeway to permit projects that don’t conform to current requirements.
“It’s not a major departure, but mostly minor adjustments,” said Robert Sissons, manager of the city’s planning and development services.
The land-use bylaw is typically updated annually with recommendations with staff, while larger reworking is done every five years or so, and the next review due late this year, or early 2024.
That comes as the city is exploring parking and road requirements as part of the “Strong Towns” process that typically points to relaxing parking requirements.
The department is also tasked with council’s strategic priority of easing the process for brownfield development and higher use, such as house to duplex or duplex to small apartment.
But such land in mature neighbourhoods or business districts can also have physical parking limitations.
Sissons said that since 2021, the department has dealt with more multi-family housing permits than single-family home applications
“This will accelerate substantially in the coming years.”
Going forward planners would have more flexibility to raise or lower required parking spots of new developments with a “context sensitive approach” that involves site visits.
The previous standard considered the square footage of a building as a factor of potential customer visits, but going forward, planners could allow a development with fewer stalls based on employee parking, bicycle racks, EV charging spaces, seating in the business and other factors, like pickup and drop-off areas, or proximity to a bus stop.
Staff would also be able to lower the number of stalls required in large lots, if the stalls are larger than standard.
At the municipal planning commission two weeks ago, planners said North American standards are based on average size of vehicles, but in Medicine Hat, anecdotal evidence points to a larger percentage of large vehicles, like trucks.
“It closes some loopholes,” said Coun. Darren Hirsch, the planning commission chair, who also noted reserved handicapped stalls would also be larger in all permits.
“It’s called site context, but really it’s common sense, and that we’re using it in our planning decisions should be applauded.”
“Parking swings a little bit back and forth, and it makes sense to have discretion, but we open up to pressure to relax standards,” said Coun. Robert Dumanowski, who supported the changes citing department’s consultation with the development community.
New bylaw changes also change the allowable height in low-density residential zones.
Single-family homes are defined as no more than three storeys, but would now also have a measured height limit of 12 metres.
The maximum allowable height of a garage would increase to 5.5 metres, from 5.0 metres, to better allow sloped roofs on double and triple garage units.
In another change, the number of car-lengths of lane for drive-thru would be tied to the number of ordering boards. Restaurants now employ a split lane system of two or more ordering spots. Restaurants would be required to have five spots in the drive-thru lane per call box.
Newly available are specified penalties when a developer or construction company is noncompliant, where previously a court appearance and fines of up to $10,000 was required.