Towns eases downtown parking restrictions for merchants

The Town of Smithers is taking steps to attract and retain more retail business to the downtown core.

The Town of Smithers is taking steps to attract and retain more retail business to the downtown core.

At the regular council meeting on May 13, Councillor Phil Brienesse put forth a motion to reduce the parking requirement for retail uses in the C1 zone between Railway Ave. and Highway 16 from one space per 60 square metres of floor space to one space per 180 metres.

The bylaw amendment was an effort to retain new business and encourage redevelopment to keep Smithers’ downtown unique and vibrant, Brienesse said.

Currently, building owners are required to provide one parking space per 60 square metres of gross floor area.

They can either build the spots on site, provide parking on another property within a certain distance if they are granted a covenant by the property owner or they can pay the town $9,500 for each space.

Any funds collected by the town are placed in a special reserve which is only used to develop parking lots.

Brienesse said he has heard time and again, this cost is another roadblock entrepreneurs face when considering whether to set up shop on Main Street.

“Everybody recognizes there’s a problem,” Brienesse said.

“Everyone is throwing in their two cents about what they think would be the way to go. The business community and the retailers are not expecting us to do nothing. They would like us to do something about the problem.

“We just cannot let this sit any longer and keep saying, ‘well, yeah, we recognize this is a problem but we’re not smart enough to come up with a solution.’ That’s not good enough for our community.”

After a lengthy discussion, council voted to amend the bylaw to reduce the parking requirement to allow one parking space per 100 square metres of floor space.

Mayor Taylor Bachrach said he hopes the amendment will send a positive message to the community.

“There’s a real desire in the community to do something to try to retain retail downtown,” Bachrach said.

“I think it sends the signal that we’re going to make the costs quite a bit less for people wishing to get into business.”

Councillor Mark Bandstra put forward a separate motion, which passed, asking town staff to report on options for lessening the development requirements for parking lots in order to reduce  the costs for business owners.

That report will be discussed at an upcoming meeting.

Council last went through the parking regulations in detail in 2008. They made 11 changes at that time, including moving from one space per 45 square metres to one space per 60 square metres.