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Reducing parking in downtown residential buildings has its benefits

Onsite or underground parking in developments can add significant costs to projects
Metro Vancouver found that parking supply in developments exceeds demand in both rental and strata buildings

Developers are decreasing the amount of onsite or underground parking in new buildings, as issues such as affordability, and construction costs and speed, converge.

Reducing the amount of parking available to residents in a building, or omitting it altogether, can save developers both time and money in an environment where red tape is delaying construction approvals, skilled labour is hard to come by and concrete is increasing in price. The result is a case where municipalities, developers and even some Vancouverites are in favour of reducing dedicated parking in residential buildings.

For residents, reduction of parking can result in more affordable housing that is delivered faster. It can also support climate initiatives by reducing the number of cars on local roads.

The City of Vancouver introduced a motion on May 9 to make Gastown more pedestrian friendly by eliminating car traffic on its main thoroughfare – Water Street.

“When you talk about the idea of providing less parking, this is one of those rare cases in urban planning where there’s a convergence of interests between developers, cities, and consumers or residents,” said Mark Seinen, senior regional planner with Metro Vancouver.

“Everyone sort of wins in this case and it’s actually a very interesting element of planning. It’s one of the few topics where it is really less regulatory and a more market-based approach is broadly seen as the best path forward.”

Across the region, there is a surplus of parking spaces available in strata and rental buildings, according to the 2018 Regional Parking Study by Metro Vancouver.

The number of vehicles owned by apartment renters is much lower than that of owners. In strata buildings, parking supply exceeds use by 42 per cent. The figure drops to 35 per cent in market rental apartment buildings and 41 per cent in mixed-tenure and mixed-rental apartment buildings.

In strata buildings, parking oversupply increased from 42 per cent, in 2005 to 2009, to 45 per cent in 2014 to 2017.

But the rate of parking oversupply decreases in newer rental and market rental buildings. Those built between 2005 and 2009 have 44 per cent oversupply, for both rental types. This decreases to 38 per cent for rental and to 27 per cent for market rental in buildings completed in 2014 to 2017.

The cost to build one onsite or underground parking stall in a residential development is roughly $120,000, according to Jack Bernard, vice-president of client services at Rennie.

“That’s because you take in the cost of land, materials, excavation, labor, all those things,” he said. “They’re certainly looking for what’s the balance, how many buyers will take it and is there an opportunity for them to then either reduce their price and not add parking. Because it impacts affordability, especially if you’re living close to transit or you don’t drive yourself.”

The price of concrete, which is heavily used when constructing underground parkades, has risen by more than 13 per cent from March 2022 to 2023, according to data gathered by the Canadian Home Builders’ Association from Statistics Canada’s industrial product price index.

When it comes to time added to a development, Bernard cited one downtown Vancouver development in which building underground parking delayed the project by “over a year.”

“The choice probably isn’t between having underground parking and not having any at all. But it makes a difference whether you dig down four storeys or five storeys, that additional storey is really quite significant on both the construction costs, the greenhouse gases and – downstream from that – the housing affordability,” Seinen said, adding that Metro Vancouver refers to this as “right-sizing” or tailoring the parking to the specific development and location.

The conversation around limiting parking is “far more robust” in denser areas and downtown cores when compared to suburban settings, he said.

The City of Vancouver’s minimum parking requirement is calculated based on the building classification and location in the city. For downtown, “there is no minimum residential parking requirement for residential uses Downtown, including live-work use,” except in the West End and Robson North Permit Area, with the exception of loading, visitor, bike and accessible parking stalls, according to City parking bylaws.

For apartments closer to transit networks, the parking demand range is 0.89 to 1.06 vehicles per apartment unit, whereas for apartments further away from transit networks, the parking demand range was 1.10 to 1.25 vehicles per apartment unit, according to Metro Vancouver’s parking study.

For many developers, it’s all about striking a balance between cost and benefit, Bernard said.

“On a standalone tower, I have a harder time acknowledging reduction of parking unless it’s strictly a cost analysis. If you’re looking at a master plan community that’s near transit, I can fully get behind the reduction in parking,” he said.

Bernard highlighted the Squamish Nation Senákw development in the Kits Point area as an example of parking reductions, saying he gives “full support for it” and hopes that it will encourage city councillors to revisit parking mandates.

In its present state, the project is intended to create a majority car-free community and will not include enough on-site parking spaces to accommodate every unit. Nch’kay Development Corp. and Squamish Nation declined Glacier Media interview requests.

For developers that want to reduce parking but accommodate transportation, there are a few options, according to Seinen.

Some projects may strategically choose locations with access to transit, offer a partnership with a rideshare company such as Evo, increase bike storage and uncouple parking spaces from specific units. This would allow residents to purchase parking spaces as needed.

Participation in car share programs was highest in Vancouver, with 16 per cent of surveyed households participating in one, according to Metro Vancouver. Households with car-share memberships had fewer vehicles than non-members, according to Metro Vancouver.

“The industry best practice is that when you have this approach of eliminating your parking requirement in the building, that has to be paired with on street parking management approaches. So, it really has to go hand in hand with each other,” Seinen said.

This can come in the form of parking meters or the creation of parking permits for residents.

“You don’t want to see that spillover happening if you were to really undershoot the amount of parking that you needed in that development,” he said.

Bernard highlighted that considerations also have to be made for visitors to the building and for deliveries.

“A vast majority of buyers still see [parking availability] as a must-have. People in real estate will often explore must-haves and realize that they’re nice-to-haves not must-haves,” Bernard said.

“Through education and through understanding of what the government is looking to do, to make it easier to not have a car, then it might be more widely adopted. But until that education around it hits, it’s gonna be hard to adjust the must-have buyer mindset.”

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