The City of Langley’s Downtown master plan encourages dense development within the City’s core, but who is on the hook when not enough parking is available to service these projects?
That question was at the heart of a debate about a new mixed commercial-residential development at 20268 Fraser Highway, which City council ultimately approved in a 6-1 vote at its Feb. 20 meeting.
The former Parker’s Mattress City on Fraser Highway closed about a year ago, leaving the building sitting empty, apart from a small import rug business.
Ariana Oriental Rug Co. will relocate at the end of March, likely within the City, said owner Nasim Qasemali.
On Feb. 20, architect Tim Ankenman presented his vision for the property to council. The design, which will build on the existing structure, calls for a mix of commercial and residential space, including retail “boutiques” and 12 strata units, ranging in size from 710 to 1,050 square feet. The residences will boast 10-foot ceilings, as well as skylights in the upper units, and will surround a central courtyard.
Facing Fraser Highway at ground level will be three, 1,000-square-foot store fronts, ideal for such businesses as a yoga studio, deli or café, Ankenman said.
The architect was first approached by the Parker family in 1993, to design a mixed commercial and residential structure, he told council, but the project was deemed not economically feasible at the time.
Today, he said, 12 living units are required to make the development viable. However, providing sufficient parking (as per City bylaw) for those dwellings as well as three businesses proved impossible because of the property’s shape and location, Ankenman said.
“It is a narrow, deep site with a parking situation that is unique.”
The proposal calls for 21 parking spaces (including enough to accommodate all the building’s residents) instead of the 28 required by the City. However, municipal regulations allow developers to pay a fee of $7,500 in lieu of each missing parking space. In this case, the cost to the developer will be $52,500, which will go into a City parking reserve fund.
While six of seven council members voted to give the project the go-ahead, as it was presented, Councillor Dave Hall said he could not overlook the commercial parking shortage.
“I was hoping you’d come back with a modification of the plan for parking,” Hall told Ankenman, in reference to an earlier presentation to council.
“I don’t believe I can live with an exception of this nature on this particular site,” he said.
Referring to a plan to replace parking spaces south of McBurney Lane with green space and paths, Hall said: “We got all kinds of flak from merchants.
“I believe this would result in people parking in areas that are not your property.”
“We don’t believe the building is under-parked,” Ankenman replied.
While Langley requires 11 commercial parking spaces for a development of this scope, in Vancouver, only five would be required, he said.
Although the number of parking spaces doesn’t meet the City bylaw minimum, from a practical perspective, there is enough parking, Ankenman stated.
“We’re quite comfortable paying the in lieu.”
Admitting he shared some of Hall’s concerns, Councillor Ted Schaffer said this type of development is exactly what the City is trying to attract.
“I think it’s the best project we can have for this particular site. The long and short is, it’s their dollar.”
Councillor Jack Arnold voted in favour of the project, but took Ankenman to task for his reference to Vancouver policy
“I’m not impressed. Next time, come and talk to us about how it should be in Langley, not how it is in Vancouver.
The City’s policy is clear and it can’t be applied selectively, he added.
“I’ve never agreed with buying invisible parking spaces, but I lost that debate,” said Arnold.
Parking is “a bit of an issue” in downtown Langley City, Councillor Teri James said. But, she added, the 20200 block of Fraser Highway is not among the worst areas.
“We’ve invited developers to revitalize our downtown core . . . . I fully support this development. If (council doesn’t) nobody will come and develop here.”
Councillor Gayle Martin offered her “wholehearted support” to the development, saying it is “exactly what we want in our downtown core. It has met residential (parking) requirements and that’s very important.
“During the McBurney debate, at the time I said, ‘Is it up to the City to provide parking for businesses?’ I don’t think it is.”
Mayor Peter Fassbender was the last to weigh in on the issue, saying that while “parking is a challenge” in the City, efforts are being made to improve transit.
Getting people out of their cars is another component of the City’s development plan, he added.
“The other thing I see in this redevelopment is learning from mistakes made at The Muse,” he said.
(The Muse is located a short distance to the west of the proposed development, and has larger retail spaces on the ground floor.)
Where the large retail spaces have proven difficult to lease, the mayor said, the boutique style shops proposed in the Ankenman development will provide shoppers with “a unique retail opportunity.
“It’s another domino coming down (and it) shows how you can redevelop on an existing property.”
Construction is expected to begin in the spring.