Sechelt’s Planning and Community Development (PCD) Committee has given the thumbs up to a request from the Sechelt Seniors Activity Centre Society to enable expansion of their building by allowing them to reduce the number of parking spaces on site. But it was a close thing.
In a report to the July 26 PCD meeting, Planning staff recommended that the request for a variance be denied. The Activity Centre, built in 1993, currently has 51 car parking stalls, plus room for three scooters, four bikes, one bus, and a loading area that extends into the lane. This falls well short of parking requirements under current zoning bylaws.
A proposed 18-foot extension to the front of the building would further reduce the number of car stalls to 43, while increasing the size of the building to over 10,000 square ft. (almost 1,000 sq. metres), a size that normally requires 104 parking spaces.
Interim Community Planner Aaron Thompson, presenting the case to deny the variance request, said that approval would likely lead to additional overflow parking on the surrounding streets. Councillor Noel Muller agreed.
“I have seen the parking go all the way down Trail for blocks and as well up both sides of Hackett, so I’m reticent to remove these requirements on parking,” said Muller. “I have no issue at all with the expansion of that building, it’s just how do we deal with the parking issue?”
Councillor Alice Lutes concurred. “Like Councillor Muller, I would really like to see this expansion be able to happen, but I just can’t say yes to getting rid of the parking spots when we know it can be such a problem when large events take place.”
A letter from Activity Centre Society argued that parking requirements should be based on activities held in the building, not square footage. They noted that the existing parking is not full during most of the regular morning and afternoon programming.
They also said that the Activity Centre has made overflow parking agreements with the Arts Centre (16 spaces) and Capilano University (47). To improve access to CapU, they intend to build a lighted walkway through a wooded area at the east end of the lot (an area that the Centre wants to retain as green space).
In response to questions from Councillors, members of the Activity Centre Society in attendance at the committee meeting said that they had looked into building up rather than out, but the addition of a second storey would require major structural upgrades and an elevator.
The motion to deny the variance was defeated by a vote of two to one, with Councillor Lutes in favour of denying the request, and committee chair Mike Shanks abstaining.
However, councillors were in agreement that long-term solutions are needed for Sechelt’s downtown parking woes.
They voted in favour of a staff recommendation that Council do long-term strategic planning around parking, including drafting a new parking bylaw that would allow applicants to pay cash-in-lieu of onsite parking. The cash would go into a fund to buy downtown land for a municipality-owned parking lot or parkade.