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Edmonton considers options for abundance of downtown parking lot ‘eyesores’

There are 275 surface parking lots spread across Edmonton’s core neighbourhoods, but just 30 are operating with a valid permit, a new city report says.

Many of the privately owned flat lots that dot Oliver, downtown, Chinatown and the Quarters have fallen into a regulatory loophole, where standards for lighting, maintenance and landscaping that would apply to lots with permits aren’t being enforced.

Local businesses and residents say a large number of the parking lots are in disrepair, with potholes, litter and vacant space that’s not helping the effort to attract more people to the city centre.

But city officials say comprehensive enforcement to bring all the unpermitted lots in line could be a lengthy process that will require more funding and resources.

“Although the overarching policy direction and zoning regulation to restrict or prohibit surface parking lots has been largely successful in stopping the increase of new surface parking lots, at the same time it has created a disincentive to improving and beautifying the lots as they wait for redevelopment,” the report says.

Downtown Edmonton Community League president Cheryl Probert said at this point, any effort to make the lots look better would be welcome.

“It’s pretty straightforward. I’d like to see these spaces addressed, have the bare minimum repairs done,” she said.

“These unmaintained surface parking lots really make large swaths of our downtown neighbourhoods unattractive. So you couple that with real and perceived social and safety concerns, and really, it’s not enticing people to be out and about at street level.”

City rules

Landowners, who might not necessarily be the parking operators, are supposed to be responsible for site maintenance and repairs. The city report doesn’t include underground lots or parking garages.

City council passed a motion last year from Ward Métis Coun. Ashley Salvador asking for the parking report, with details on options to speed up redevelopment of surface lots in central Edmonton, and possibly phase out lots without a permit.

Salvador told CBC News that shuttering the parking spaces could leave them as unmaintained vacant lots, and that isn’t a good option.

But she said she doesn’t want the status quo to stand.

“When I think about how long some of these properties have been operating without a permit, as an organization, I think the city should be applying its rules and bylaws and fines consistently across the board.

And in this case, I do not think we have been doing so.”

City council’s urban planning committee is set to review the report on Tuesday, and Salvador said she wants to explore the possibility of stepping up fines, with that money getting reinvested into downtown development.

The situation isn’t fair to the handful of parking operators that are working within the rules, Salvador added.

‘It ran away on us’

Edmonton Downtown Business Association executive director Puneeta McBryan said the unsightly parking lots have long been a sore spot for her organization.

She said something should have been done before the city got to this point, where about 90 per cent of surface lots are operating without a permit.

“It ran away on us many years ago.”

McBryan said, on one hand, the abundance of parking makes it more affordable to drive downtown, and that accessibility can make it easier for people to get there.

But dilapidated stretches of concrete along the same streets that downtown businesses are trying to make into inviting spaces aren’t helping draw visitors.

“I don’t know what combination of carrot and stick we need to use to get these lots properly paved, to add some trees, add some benches. Just do a little bit of an upgrade so that they’re not eyesores,” McBryan said.

She said it’s the city’s job to set a minimum standard and enforce it.

“Our hope is that at the very least, council will be firm … in asking administration to do something about the state of these parking lots.”

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