City fudges own rules, cuts
Cars are a challenge in Aylmer, most readers would agree. The lack of harmony between pedestrians and drivers has been back in the news. And the lack of winter parking grows every year, as apartment complexes mushroom. Densification is crucial to Aylmer as our business community struggles to compete with the Plateau’s big-boxes, closer than those in Hull, Gatineau - or Ottawa. Traffic comes with densification - and so does parking. Or maybe it goes.
More people are living in these apartment complexes; they are affordable. And with today’s pressure to optimize every bit of land for more rentable units, the trend is to build fewer parking spots, and smaller ones, too.
Of all the condominium and apartment complexes built in the last five years in Aylmer, the majority did not fulfill minimum parking standards required by Gatineau’s Land Use Planning Bylaw. Builders were permitted to reduce the number of parking units, called a Minor Variance. For example, one building complex that had a minimum requirement of 117 units was permitted to drop down to 101 (2016). Another example, officially with a minimum of 30 spaces, was permitted to build only 18 (2015). Another was permitted to go from 24 to 16 parking units (2014), and, in the same project, went from 2 to 0 for Special Needs parking.
Builders must be specific with their plans when they apply for a Minor Variance; for example, cutting the number of parking spots. We can only assume that city officials weigh the elements of a building’s design against the needs of the very people living inside those buildings. “Living” is the key word. Proximity to public transit, number of rooms per apartment, average expected visitor parking, etc. – some of the considerations planners must weigh when juggling any minimum threshold for parking. Knowing these criteria must go into all such decisions about parking spaces per apartment, why are streets near these complexes lined with parked cars? And where can these cars park in the winter? Even with winter parking permits, when a storm hits, those cars must be moved elsewhere. Where? What are the city planners thinking?
It is no surprise that apartments are occupied by young families; their affordability compared with a detached home makes this obvious. Busy enough, these parents must now manage winter parking. Where are the elderly, the grandparents who visit them, to park? And how does the snow-clearing service handle this growing number of vehicles, a growing number not moved in storms?
The answers to these questions make a difference in the daily lives of residents. This is exactly why a minimum number (and size) of parking units is specified in the Planning Bylaw. Paying attention to the long-range needs of residents, not only builders, is how a city is well-run.