Council waves big parking fee for new downtown business

Trail council agreed to waive the $21,000 levy for new startup Austin Engineering Ltd.

The recent investment in a landmark building took centre stage during Trail council Monday night.

The large brick building on the corner of Cedar Ave. and Farwell Street stood mostly vacant for a number of years before it was purchased by an engineering firm earlier this year.

It’s been five decades since the second floor suite facing Cedar Ave. was home to boarding house tenants, now Austin Engineering Ltd. is ready to refresh the space to house six shared-use offices.

Therein lies the very expensive problem.

Once a change-of-use is granted, meaning a change from residential to commercial use, the city’s zoning bylaw kicks in along with a pricey parking fee.

Based on the 1,800 square-foot renovations, the building’s new owners are required to provide seven off-street parking spaces in connection with the change-in-use.

Because the off-street parking cannot be provided on the property, which was developed in the 1920s, Mary and Roger Austin are subject to pay the City of Trail $21,000, ($3,000 each) in a lump sum in lieu of the seven parking spaces.

The costly fee can be tantamount to making or breaking a start up business, and doesn’t jive with the city’s downtown tax incentive program that is meant to encourage re-development in the city’s core.

The Austins attended the council meeting to request the city waive the $21,000 levy, citing the straight cost a disincentive to site a professional office downtown.

“We located our space there to access all the services downtown Trail has to offer,” Mary Austin explained to council.

“We feel that the engineers we’ve brought on board will be an asset to the City of Trail and to the businesses located in the downtown core.”

The new firm currently has three full time and four part time engineers, all of whom are enthusiastic to be working in downtown Trail to access restaurants, shopping and the arena’s squash court.

“They contribute to the downtown core bringing innovative ideas…providing high level services to our local businesses,” she said. “But also to neighbouring businesses by accessing other services that are accessible downtown.”

Since buying the property, The United Way and a team of behavioural consultants have leased the ground floor spaces for a reasonable rent, which Austin maintains wouldn’t be feasible with such a hefty parking levy.

“We want to encourage others like that to come into the building,” said Austin “But with upfront fees in the thousands of dollars I couldn’t offer that. I need to have low rental rates and in order to have low rental rates these fees are a hindrance to getting those types of excellent businesses in. We want to see positive businesses that turn a profit and give back to the community.”

Others on hand to back up the pair, included downtown business person Ingrid Hope and municipal council candidates Fred Romano and Lisa Pasin.

“It’s extremely important to have new business downtown and that place has been empty for years,” Hope said. “It’s such a large fee when they are paying to park in the parking lot anyway, I just don’t see the point.”

Coun. Kevin Jolly concurred and moved to waive the entire fee, not just a portion, explaining that the method of trying to expand the city’s parking resources through this zoning bylaw hasn’t been effective to date.

“As a start up enterprise that is a significant fee to be paying when you are already paying for offset by rental (in the city’s other parking lots).”

If the motion is granted then the entire structure for payment of the parking spaces is gone, said Coun. Robert Cacchioni, who sought verbal assurance from Austin that employees would park off site.

“We already rent five off site parking spaces for our employees and to have visitors would be quite unusual because normally we go to them,” Austin added.

In a unanimous vote and support from city staff, council agreed to issue a development variance permit that waives the $21,000 levy in full.

This discussion quite often comes up, noted David Perehudoff. “Given council’s change of direction with respect to the tax exemption bylaw and how that’s functioning, to charge fees like this contradicts what council is trying to achieve.”

Past fees, about $19,000, that were collected through the zoning bylaw have been deposited into the Parking Facilities Reserve Fund for future parking-related projects.

“Given the very limited amount that has been collected, if council is serious about addressing parking issues, then consideration could be given to redirecting moneys from current parking operations into the reserve fund rather than having to deal with ongoing variance requests,” Perehudoff added.

The matter will be presented to council for consideration during the 2015 budget deliberations.

Within the property are four commercial units on the ground level, four residential apartments on the second and third floors and the 1,440 square-foot suite on the second floor designated for office space.