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Opinion Piece: Are we ready to be bold to reach our growth potential?

By Chris Guérette

CEO – Saskatoon & Region Home Builders’ Association

There is nothing quite so boring than to realize that you are part of the club that gets stuck in the weeds. We’ve all been there.  You look at another group that is just as smart and capable as you are, but for some reason they are gutsy, innovative, brave and BOLD. They are shaking things up. And it hits you – you are not.  If your competitive side doesn’t kick in, you take one look at that other group and instantly feel deflated. That feeling spreads into culture fast if you don’t catch it early enough.

We talk a big game in Saskatoon in terms of how we can grow our city (which, for the record, is energizing!). But from my experience, there is a mismatch from bold ideas and actually acting on them.

Or maybe that’s the “magic” of government processes. (Ok, taxicab confession – I have a chip on my shoulder about that sometimes.  So, let’s put that aside.)

Take a look at parking requirements as we grow. I know, not exactly a bold topic.

This is a great example of how we can be brave with any topic.  Because if you want to be bold –  you have to be brave with even the smallest gestures or actions.  The best part is it can take one bold move to really shake things up and send a message.

So, back to parking. Our city is currently evaluating how to amend the zoning bylaw to reduce parking minimum requirements for multi-unit sites on corridors. Let’s process that idea.

The top concern regarding this type of proposal would be that it only affects a small number of builders and projects and the potential for positive impact (read: increasing your potential) could be so much greater.  Another concern would be that the costs of adjacent lots to main corridors may face inflated costs and they could become more difficult to acquire. And another concern would be that the Corridor Plan actually has a clear boundary, so why are these reduced requirements only being applied to adjacent lots and not the entire corridor area?

We could go on, and I’m sure someone has a great response to all of these concerns, but at the end of the day we’re in the weeds. And from the weeds, we can’t see the potential we need.

Parking adds up to a huge cost to development that is not always necessary to the levels required by current regulations.  This – you guessed it – can greatly impact affordability.  Not to mention the viability of a larger project that would increase smart growth in our city.

Developers will get this right if they want their project to succeed and build the appropriate amount of parking that the market will demand, or they risk the viability of their project. There may be the odd project who doesn’t get it right, but we also can’t focus our potential on how to deal with the exception.

Here’s bold thinking: what if we simply removed any minimum parking requirement across the board and let the experts determine the need for parking based on market demand?

Just next door, (sound familiar? I know, I can be a broken record) the City of Edmonton struck that bold move a few weeks ago by eliminating all parking minimums. Anywhere. Any project.

Go growth!

So, City of Saskatoon, I encourage you to think big, be bold with proposals relating to growth.  Even the small ones. There are many businesses who are ready to run once you give it the green light. And it takes many small wins to create momentum towards a winning potential.

I want to believe we have the right people in place, that we know how to dream, that we know how to fail, that we have the willingness to be that big city. But somewhere in the process of all those ingredients, the culture of thinking big and bold is missing.  We need to be bold with anything if we want to grow and reach our potential as a City.

And right now, as silly as it sounds, it starts with our parking.