This is an open letter that was sent today to Cadan, Inc., the developer of the Lang Tannery project; Ken Seiling, Regional Chair; Carl Zehr, Mayor of Kitchener; and Rob Horne, Regional Commissioner of Planning, Housing, and Community Services. It was also copied to other interested parties.
Dear community and business leaders,
I am writing to you regarding Cadan, Inc.’s Lang Tannery project in Kitchener, specifically the planned demolition of four old industrial buildings in the block bounded by Victoria, Oak, and Joseph Streets to allow for a gravel parking lot and a future parking structure. This plan has been recently written about in The Record.
It seems to me that no one wants to see these reusable heritage buildings demolished to add another parking lot to downtown Kitchener. In an earlier Record article, Roland Rom Colthoff, the architect of the redevelopment, said that the parking requirements of the Tannery could be reduced if public transit improves. But at the same time that the Region of Waterloo is planning major transit improvements to attract people out of their cars, the Tannery plans to add new surface parking to the downtown.
I believe there is a better way, one that is better for Cadan, Inc., better for the community, and better for the environment.
I ask that you consider whether a transit solution can be found to immediately mitigate the need for more parking, and that a partnership be undertaken to finance such transit improvements. This is entirely feasible, because the very transit improvements that would make the Lang Tannery well served by transit are ones the Region of Waterloo will be making anyway in the next few years. If Cadan provided private investment to kick-start such transit improvement, I believe the City of Kitchener and the Region of Waterloo would be able to provide the funds in subsequent years to ensure that those improvements become permanent.
What do I mean by transit improvements? By my calculations, about one-tenth of the cost of a 640-space parking structure, or $2-3 million, would be sufficient to cover the one-year operating cost increase of doubling frequency on the iXpress bus route and adding night service. The iXpress is a very popular express bus route that travels the length of the Region along its Central Transit Corridor (future light rail route), but currently runs at only 15 minute frequency. With 7 minute frequency and a stop added at King & Victoria — which is planned anyway — this would bring schedule-free express bus service within one block of the Lang Tannery. (This improved service would, in turn, spur more use and hasten the arrival of light rail.) There are other possible routes for improvement, such as bus service along Victoria Street itself to the suburbs on the west side.
Helping to kick-start excellent transit service is beneficial to Cadan first of all because it reduces parking demand, and prevents the need for expensive demolition and garage construction. Those savings can be passed on to tenants, who may be more numerous and successful as a result. Cadan could make the most of limited parking by leasing parking space separately from loft space (unbundling), and encouraging tenants to offer employees the choice of parking or its cash value. Such “parking cash out” reliably decreases parking demand and would be particularly effective with excellent transit service. Accounting for such demand management, enough spots could be leased from the many surrounding lots to deal with any remaining mismatch of supply and demand.
Preventing the need for demolition also opens up new opportunities for Cadan in reusing some or all of the currently-doomed buildings, allowing it to reap the consequent financial rewards as well as good will from the community.
The community stands to benefit from the preservation and reuse of heritage structures, from the resulting extra pedestrian traffic due to those buildings and the higher use of transit to get to the Lang Tannery, and through preventing the public health impacts of more driving and more air pollution in downtown. The municipal governments stand to benefit from preventing further strain on road infrastructure and visibly accomplishing some of the goals of their official plans.
The environment is better off with fewer people choosing to drive and, as architect Carl Elefante has put it, the greenest building is one that is already built.
What is the catch? Here the situation is simple: there is none, because reducing economic inefficiency is its own reward. The inefficiency lies in the provision of more parking in addition to the planned provision of high-quality transit service, when the latter would suffice for the same purpose.
You have before you an opportunity to provide an outstanding model of using our limited existing resources to plan for a sustainable and liveable future community. I ask that all parties consider the full breadth of mutually-beneficial options available before you. A win-win-win solution for the Lang Tannery would turn a good project into a great one.
Tri-Cities Transport Action Group
The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group (TriTAG) is dedicated to improving transit and active transportation in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. This open letter has been published at http://www.tritag.ca/blog/2010/04/14/win-win-win-solution-for-the-lang-tannery/