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After months of consideration, Vancouver city staff have recommended that the city only invest in visitor parking and focus on creating partnerships with private developers to build parking for downtown employees.

The conclusion follows a study by Dixon Associates, which found that despite anecdotal evidence, the city has plenty of parking. But looking forward, city officials said, they wanted a new policy based on city goals to guide further investment. The resulting recommendation makes visitor parking the city’s the top priority.

“Your policy then would be to strategically invest in private developments to ensure visitor access,” said consultant Rick Williams during a December council workshop. “So when you sit down at the table with a developer, it’s how can we work with you to minimize the cost of parking, but at the same time ensure it’s not all residential nor is it all employee parking.”

That wouldn’t mean the city couldn’t or shouldn’t own parking, according to Williams. But he said the city should initiate discussions with developers with the idea of providing access for visitors.

“We’d rather have an operating agreement that could be maintained,” Williams said.

Driving the city’s preference is the cost of building new parking.

Each new parking stall costs about $45,000, meaning the city needs to generate between $300 and $400 a month to cover its costs. At the moment, city-owned parking generates $100 per month.

With this proposed policy, “all risk is assumed by the private sector,” Williams said.

If Vancouver opts to invest in parking, Williams suggested copying Seattle and Portland and focusing on branded public parking lots similar to the chain of U-Park or SmartPark garages.

Placing the burden on developers to create visitor parking is a change in policy, but Williams said it will bring more innovation in the way developers plan parking.

In concert with a policy shift, the city should also consider reducing or eliminating street parking minimums, he added.

Employee parking

Downtown businesses, however, have been asking the city to build more parking for employees, not scale back.

“It’s a challenge I think those of us downtown talk about every single day,” said Councilor Linda Glover, who also operates Divine Consign downtown. “Right now, we’re getting a lot of pushback from employers who are hesitant to bring in more employees.”

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Given the current market, Williams said it’s going to be a tough transition.

Councilor Ty Stober said he’s concerned with the staff proposal as it stands.

“I’m feeling like the work you presented so far builds a trunk but doesn’t get us to the limbs and the leaves,” Stober said.

He added that he hopes the next time staff comes back to council on this subject, the proposal deals with parking as an ecosystem.

“The public needs to hear how we are dealing with resident and employee parking as well,” he said.

A first reading on the proposal was tentatively planned for Monday, but a Feb. 11 workshop has been assigned in its place.

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