This whole matter is rather complex and has very significant. long-term implications for use of public land in the area of the High School, the Rec Center and the Bowker Creek greenway, as well as for community planning to promote active transportation, including the north-south pedestrian/cycling connector through Elgin Road to the OB Village and north to Henderson Park and beyond, as well as the east-west connector along Bowker Creek. In summary, this requires much broader thought than is evident in the proposals before Council tonight.

In my view, Council needs to call “time out” to receive and consider the Traffic Impact Study just started by the School District; to consult and consider community input on options for better solutions for multiple community interests; and to resolve the fundamental, legal issue of ownership of the land involved.

PARKING REQUIREMENTS
Despite asking, I have not seen the details of the calculation of the 265 parking spaces apparently “required” by the parking bylaw – which itself, remember, is a creation of the OB Council, not any other body. That total must presumably be based on the combined uses for the school, the NLC and the theatre. So, let’s look at these.

1. Latest enrolment figures I have seen (2011) showed 1134 students at OB High (I haven’t seen what “capacity” is); the proposed capacity is 1300, which apparently is not a significant change from the present size.

The OB Parking Facilities bylaw requires for schools “1 per classroom + 1 per 10 secondary [Gr 11 or 12] students” – I have not seen numbers for either of those variables, so don’t know what “required” number of spaces that calculation produces. It’s unclear whether that number reflects current or expected usage patterns. At Committee of the Whole on Aug 13, Ron Windjack of CEI Architecture confirmed that there are now 125 parking spots at the school and stated that current use has been “consistently counted at 30 students and 60 staff; if visitor parking is included, this would make the total parking demand for the school to be approximately 100 stalls”. This is 25 less than the spaces now available on the main school property (i.e, north of Bowker Creek)!

2. At the same meeting, Mr. Windjack is reported to have said, “daytime use of the NLC will require a maximum of 60 stalls…and the high school spaces will be available for NLC users during the evening”. An Oct. 2010 document from CEI Architecture, who supported the school design process with community involvement back then, the NLC is to include 1212 sq. m of space accommodating 25 day care spaces, a teen centre, and 120 after-school care spaces in 5 activity rooms. How this activity would need 60 additional parking spaces is unclear to me. The Parking Bylaw requires “1 space per 5 enrolled children at peak operating capacity” for Kindergartens, Pre-schools and Child Day Care Centres – that would be 5 stalls. These obviously aren’t for use by the kids, so they must be for staff. There is no specific use category in the bylaw for After School Care. If it were the same as Day Care, the requirement would be 24 stalls. Again, for staff? But note that this use is “after school” and demand would not coincide with demand for school use during the day. Would the teen centre logically require any parking?

3. The Oct 2010 CEI document indicates the Theatre would accommodate 450 seats in 500 sq m. The Parking Bylaw has no specific use category for Theatre, but if it were considered the same as Recreation Centre or Community Centre, the requirement would be 2 stalls per 10 sq m or 100 stalls in total. Note that community access to the theatre is likely to be almost entirely outside of school hours. Also the current community theatre seats 400 and its occasional use has not led to parking issues in the vicinity.

Overall, it is unclear how the reported total requirement of 265 stalls has been calculated, but it makes sense that the parking needs of the respective uses discussed above should not be considered cumulative. The peak parking demand times for each of these will occur at different times of the day and evening. I would suggest that even the 195 stalls proposed by the School District, and for which they are seeking a variance from the Parking Bylaw, exceeds what is really needed.

ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION AND REDUCING DEMAND FOR PARKING

There is little or no indication in the record of proposals to Council or in Council Minutes of serious consideration of measures to mitigate parking demand by promoting use of active transportation by staff and users of facilities. What are the plans for improved public transit to and from the School/NLC/Theatre site and the adjacent Recreation Centre? Neither the School District nor the Municipality participate in the BC Transit ProPass program to encourage staff use of transit instead of driving to work, where they park all day for free.

Demand for car parking could be significantly reduced by measures to promote cycling and walking to the venue. It is after all, a Neighbourhood Learning Centre and a Community Theatre. Imagine plenty of quality facilities for bicycles on site. Imagine convenient, safe, well-lit pathways radiating from the venue north to Henderson Park and beyond, south via Elgin to the Village and beyond, east along Bowker Creek to Monterey and beyond, and west along a restored Bowker Creek to Foul Bay Road. Think what this non-vehicular traffic could mean for service businesses (restaurants, etc.) in the area.

Let’s call “time out”. If Council approves tonight the School District proposal for “consolidation” of the separate legal land parcels on and adjacent to the present school site, they will give away for good any choice for future use of the municipally-owned lots at the end of Goldsmith street, which have never been used for school purposes. If they approve the parking proposals as is, they will do so without seeing the Traffic Impact Study report and without full consideration of alternatives to continued reliance on private vehicle as primary means of transportation in our community. That’s not a vision for the future, for a green community.

References:

Notification of Public Hearing: http://www.oakbaybc.org/Public%20Hearing%20Notice.pdf

Parking Bylaw: http://www.oakbaybc.org/bylaws/3540.pdf

Minutes, Committee of the Whole, Aug 13, 2012: http://www.oakbaybc.org/minutes/w_aug13-12.pdf