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Report: Downtown parking sufficient; criteria developed for future partnerships to build more (April 19)

Parking garage almost always has available spaces.
Parking garage almost always has available spaces.

Burlington is scheduled to add another public parking garage downtown in 2019, but we could instead add parking by partnering with private developers, constructing a level of underground public parking in residential or commercial developments under construction.

The benefits are numerous: adding parking supply bit by bit is quicker – we have projects we can partner with now rather than wait to build a garage; this approach avoids debt – building a large parking garage paid for all at once will empty reserves and require debt and interest payments but incremental construction could be paid for using existing reserves; the land for a parking garage can be better used for tax-paying office or residential development that will add to the vitality of downtown; adding underground public parking in new developments scatters the supply around the downtown, rather than in one location; and parking garages aren’t terribly attractive.

For these reasons, I’ve championed public-private partnerships as a way to build more public parking downtown, underground, in private buildings under construction. The City’s Downtown Parking Committee and the Core Commitment vision for downtown also support the parking partnership approach.

I brought a staff direction last year asking staff to report back on criteria for entering into such partnerships, which arose from a potential partnership with the private developers who are building the Saxony condominium at Locust/Blathwayte/Elgin Streets.

Staff have now come back with general criteria, which will be considered at the Development & Infrastructure Committee April 19. The most important criteria for determining whether or not to consider a public-private parking partnership is demonstrated parking demand; currently there is sufficient parking supply downtown, states the staff report (Parking Partnerships)

As an aside 36 additional on-street parking spaces will be added to the downtown parking inventory as follows:

  • Brant St. – 1 new space (was a vehicle loading zone)
  • Ghent Ave. – 1 new space
  • BPAC – 13 new spaces (was a bus loading zone)
  • AGB – 7 new spaces (was previously free, 5 hours)
  • Brock Ave. – 14 new spaces (was previously free, 5 hours)

Staff are also looking into using some loading zones as paid parking at certain times of the day. Separately, four spaces are being added to Lot 4, (John/Elizabeth lot), as part of the Elgin Street Promenade to offset the loss of spaces in Lot 1 (Pearl/Elizabeth lot) when the promenade is constructed.

My Take:

I support adding parking supply incrementally as part of larger private developments, rather than building a stand-alone parking garage in a central location. Staff have developed thoughtful and detailed criteria for determining when to proceed with such a partnership. That said, it may be necessary to build new supply prior to demonstrated demand, since once a building is constructed there’s no “do-over” to add parking later when demand materializes.

Criteria for adding new parking via partnerships with private developers:

The criteria are grouped under three main categories: existing operational parking needs, financial implications and legal implications.

Among the highlights:

  • parking should only be added when there is a demonstrated operational need. Staff have concluded that given the parking studies in 2011 (MMM Group) and 2013 (Carl Walker) there is currently sufficient parking downtown, and people prefer on-street parking, followed by surface parking lots followed by the garage as a “last resort.” Integrating parking in a residential building with the addition of the spaces being underground appears to be a “less desirable choice for the parking customer,” states the report. This spring, underground “pucks” will be added to all on-street parking and municipal lots to give us real time, 24/7 parking use data, so we have a better idea of whether parking is at capacity, and the times and areas of downtown where there is heaviest use.


  • new parking supply should pay for itself; the cost of an underground space is roughly $40,000, versus $25,000 for an above ground structured space. Annual operating costs are roughly $470 per space in the existing garage, plus $440 per space for annual capital renewal, for a total of $910. Revenue in the existing garage is roughly $1,230 per space. Currently, parking downtown generates revenue, with no taxpayer subsidy. Businesses within the downtown pay a special parking levy in lieu of providing onsite parking facilities. The surplus of revenues over expenses goes into a reserve fund for renewal and new parking. As of December 31, 2015 the Parking District Reserve Fund had an uncommitted balance of $6,498,508. The 2016 capital budget and forecast includes a $12.9M placeholder for a new parking structure in 2019. An analysis of the reserve fund indicates that building this structure would be financially unsustainable at current revenues and reserve fund balance. To be sustainable “consideration should be given to future growth in parking supply being distributed in small structures over multiple locations and time periods as demand warrant,” states the report.
  • From a real estate perspective, it is more desirable for the City to own a parcel of land than to own a below-ground interest in land, states the report. An underground parking garage basically cannot be used for anything else and is a depreciating asset. While surface parking is undesirable as a long-term land use, it does make a good interim land use for a property until economic conditions support redevelopment of the property. There would be an opportunity to replace the surface spaces lost as part of the redevelopment.

Background Information

Parking Surplus

In 2011, the City commissioned a report from the MMM Group on the current status of parking in the Downtown. This report was followed by a report in 2013 from Carl Walker on sustaining the parking strategy. The MMM study evaluated the use of the current parking supply and the demand for use.

The total public parking spaces available consist of 298 on-street, 640 in parking lots and 339 in the Waterfront Garage and 42 accessible spaces totaling 1,319 parking spaces.

The current occupancy rates during peak demand periods are: 60-62% for the parking lots and parking garage and 60-64% for on-street parking spaces. At times, on-street demand reaches 85% occupancy. At 85% utilization, parking facilities are generally considered to be operating at practical capacity when ease of locating a space and vehicle circulation is taken into consideration.

New Parking Facility

The MMM Group concluded that a combined 261,000 sq ft of new office development in the downtown would trigger the need for a new 500 space parking facility. Since 2011, approximately 6,000 sq ft of new development has occurred.

As a result of the slow-down in investment in the Downtown, the construction of the proposed parking garage has been postponed and moved back in the parking capital forecast from 2017 to 2019.

The MMM study identifies existing surface parking lots as the best locations for a future parking structure.

It is clear that the demand for parking in downtown Burlington is being sufficiently accommodated by the current parking supply. The issue for vehicle parkers is the opportunity to have a parking space adjacent to the destination.

Parking Demand Criteria

  • Using the parking occupancy data, does the municipal parking infrastructure exceed 85% capacity at peak times?
  • Using the parking occupancy data, do the two municipal parking lots closest to the subject property regularly exceed 85% occupancy?
  • Have any parking spaces been provided by the municipality in close proximity (approximately 300 m) to the subject site recently? If so, how many?
  • Is the parking partnership proposed in a non-residential building which will have increased daytime demand?

Legal Criteria

  • Is the parking partnership with another government agency or institution or with an established commercial developer?
  • Will there be a legal agreement in place that the parking facility will be maintained to the City’s standard?
  • Is the City able to retain control over the parking rates?

Financial Criteria

  • Will the parking continue to be self-sustaining?

Access Criteria

  • Are the parking spaces provided on either the surface or on the first level of either underground or above-ground parking?
  • Is there clear access for the public to observe and access the parking spaces?

Your Take:

Do you support partnering with developers to build public parking underground? Are there additional criteria the city should consider? What’s your experience of parking supply downtown? Leave a comment below or email me privately at

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

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  1. Partnering with developers will only work if there are dedicated public parking spots. Typically what has been happening is that the developer’s plan includes a parking garage that will allow public parking, HOWEVER, the only spots available during the day are extremely limited as in the case of the proposed medical offices by Carriage Gate, the office staff, etc are to park there along with patients…this leaves very little PUBLIC parking space, for people just wanting to shop or go to a restaurant, or visit. In the end there is a loss of public parking spaces, ( if a parking lot has been sold to allow for the development).

    Some of the streets presently (Pine, between Pearl & Elizabeth) allow for parking on one side of the street. The street is so narrow that two cars cannot pass comfortably when cars are parked on the one side. Let’s not forget the “sharrows ” as well to make an already unsafe situation even worse. Turning onto Elizabeth Street from Pine is also a treat ( especially when the large trucks are parked in the loading zone), one cannot even see the cars coming from the opposite direction.

    The City does not even ask the developers to build proper loading areas for the large food trucks that deliver food on a regular basis ( Pearl & Pine Residence) on their own property. Presently if I go out of my garage on Pearl street and try to turn left onto Pearl and the large delivery truck is parked bringing in food to the residence, once again it is dangerous. Why does this residence not have its own delivery area off its private parking area at the back of the building? I would have to think because the city did not make it a stipulation.

    While the idea with partnering with developers may look good on paper, I doubt it will really add more in the way of USEABLE parking spaces in areas that shoppers or diners are willing to use.

  2. Glad to hear you are considering converting loading zones into paid parking at certain times of day and I would go further and ask that they be permitted to be used as regular parking spaces during evenings and weekends. I couldn’t believe my eyes on Valentine’s Day evening (a Sunday) at about 9;00 pm when a car parked in a loading zone spot was being ticketed by one of our by-law officers. I mean come on, really?? I know technically the sign says “no parking” but seriously, is there loading / unloading happening on Sunday night at 9 pm?? There wasn’t a lot of parking downtown that night and we had almost parked in a similar spot earlier, thinking it wouldn’t be an issue but not being entirely sure…..glad we didn’t!!!

What's your take?

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