Smithers Council heard from two members of the public at a public hearing regarding their proposed changes to the parking bylaw at the regular council meeting last Tuesday.
Bob Mitchell presented concerns about the paving requirements for both private parking spots and alleys. One concern was regarding drainage of rainwater. He questioned whether more storm water would now end up in the storm sewer system, and be dumped directly into the Bulkley River.
Although he didn’t reply during the meeting, Smithers Mayor Cress Farrow said after the meeting that the new storm sewer being installed has more than enough capacity, and that it drains into a wetland filtration system.
Mitchell was also concerned that the paving of alleys would result in increased traffic, and possibly more accidents and injuries. Farrow said any traffic and safety issues could be dealt with by the police, and that the possibility of increased traffic in alleys was worth the trade off of uniform paving throughout downtown alleys.
“We certainly as a council have really researched it, and looked into what would be the most appropriate. Do you want gravel and a mess all over the streets, or should we keep our town looking beautiful?,” he said.
Phil Brienesse, after praising council for actually tackling the parking bylaw, questioned the wisdom of increasing cash in lieu parking fees for land owners wishing to get rid of covenanted parking spots on vacant lots in the downtown area.
“I think it’s kind of always long been acknowledged that Smithers doesn’t actually have a parking problem, they have a development or redevelopment problem, in particular pertaining to all the covenanted land,” he said. “So what you’ve done now is made those covenanted lands actually far more valuable to never give up as covenanted land, because as you know, all three parties have to agree to release the covenant on it – the store owner, the property owner and the town. So if that property owner now wants to redevelop that piece of land, you’d be an idiot as a store owner who has that as your covenant to give up your covenant on it, because it’s going to cost you so much more money to do it through one of the other channels that exist,” he said.
Brienesse encouraged council to take another look at reducing both the amount of parking spaces required by businesses, as well as reducing the cash in lieu amount.
Farrow said council wrestled with the issue, and offered a grace period for property owners to buy out at the old rate of $5,500 per parking spot (the new rate is over $9,000).
“We made that really clear, we sent letters to people that had those properties to try to take care of that situation,” he said.
He said the parking bylaw should have been updated more regularly, in order to avoid huge increases in costs such as the current proposed amount. The bylaw received third and fourth readings from council at the meeting with no further changes, although it has not yet officially been adopted.