Developers losing money on required parking

More buildings in Toronto are being built with less car parking, and most are finding that they just don't need it. The mainstream media highlighted a new condo no car parking on the site of the Royal Canadian Military Institute. The developer needed to get a special exemption from the city even as the city's planners opposed it. It's not the first development with little to no parking in Toronto. The Wychwood Barns were rebuilt with no extra parking. The Brick Works is being rebuilt with less parking. Can they still be successful with so little parking? Will they be even more successful?

When the opportunity to develop 426 University Ave. first crossed Stephen Deveaux’s desk, he quickly realized the 38 x 16 metre site didn’t even have enough space to accommodate a proper ramp for an underground parking garage.

“Most developers would look at the site that had a challenge like this and say: ‘We’re going to pass,’ ” says Deveaux, vice-president of land development for Pickering-based Tribute Communities. “We looked at it as an opportunity to do something new and different and progressive.”

Granted, it was also an opportunity to save a little coin. It costs about $27,000 to build a single underground parking space in Toronto.

Both car use and car ownership are declining in the city thanks to gas prices and the availability of shared vehicles through AutoShare and Zipcar. According to a survey commissioned by the City of Toronto in 2007, only half of bachelor-size condo owners in the city own a car, and the ownership rate for downtowners in tiny condos is correspondingly small — just 0.2 cars per condo owner.

That’s why most condo parking lots are vastly undersold — and at a considerable cost to the developer.

The city planners were against it, but not Councillor Adam Vaughan. If I were a downtown developer I'd try to safe some money by asking exemptions for most of my properties. Why build all that parking if I can't even sell it? Why not leave it entirely to the market?

Tribute’s plan got support from the likes of Councillor Adam Vaughan, who got his driver’s licence a year ago and uses his car twice a week. “The reality is when you live downtown, you live downtown the way people for eons have lived downtown: You walk, you cycle, you find other options.”

He’s happy to draw new residents to his ward who won’t bring cars with them, and he thinks the car stackers the building proposes to put in its basement to cram in nine cars are “amazing” — they’re common in Europe and cities like New York.

You build it, they will come. You don't (or price it high enough) and they'll find another way to come - most likely by transit, carpool or bike.

“The more you want to look like L.A. or Houston, the more parking you require,” says Donald Shoup, professor of urban planning at UCLA and an expert on parking. “The more you aspire to be a great city, the more you should aspire to do this kind of thing.”

The city is planning, however, to reduce parking requirements across the city in the new zoning bylaw.

But this is just one condo in a parking-rich part of town — it’s not like half the city’s high-rises have no spots for cars. However, parking requirements will soon catch up with our rejigged relationship with the car: The city is revising its standards and downtown locales will be asked to provide fewer spots starting in early 2010.


For an excellent book on this issue read The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup. He basically argues for abolishing mandatory parking restrictions and letting the free market determine the supply and pricing of parking.

Parking is always the last thing on the developers mind. yournetbiz