ICU expansion brings up hospital parking debate

Recommendation to relax minimum parking requirements at hospital for a proposed expansion of the intensive care unit comes before Council.

A recommendation to relax minimum parking requirements at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital for a proposed expansion of the intensive care unit caused council to get into a discussion about parking problems in that neighbourhood.

City staff recommended the approval of the hospital parking variance permit, which reduces the minimum off-street parking requirements for the hospital from 476 spaces to 442.

Coun. Denise Pallesen said that she read it over and had some trouble agreeing with it.

“The parking at the hospital is bad,” Pallesen said. “I know it says in the report that it’s only from 10:15 (a.m.) to 12:15 that it’s really bad, however if you have to park six or eight blocks away to get a spot between 10:15 and 12:15, there’s not enough parking.”

Pallesen noted that one drawing in the report shows 24 future proposed parking stalls.

“Can anybody tell me why they are future parking stalls?” she asked. “Or are they actually considered part of this development?”

She said she was not against the development, but parking needs to be addressed. Pallesen sits on the Cranbrook in Motion committee and so sees a lot of complaints from residents about the parking, as staff, visitors and patients park anywhere that is available.

Roy Hales, director of corporate services for the city, said to his understanding the report shows the potential for an additional 24 parking spaces, but not a guarantee.

“I think they have agreed to monitor the need on an annual basis,” Hales said, but added the 24 spaces aren’t proposed as part of the development council is looking at.

Coun. Gerry Warner wanted to know how many hospital employees use the parking lot, and whether Interior Health would encourage employees to bus to help relieve the parking lot woes. Employees could “use our underused transit system and that would put more spaces for the public and whatnot,” Warner said.

Mayor Wayne Stetski explained that the zoning that was originally set aside suggested that there should be 786 parking spaces. The parking study at that time projected 456 spaces as peak hourly demand at the hospital. There is currently a provision of 476 spaces.

“Of the original 476 parking spaces, 431 remain in service and there are 11 new ones potentially on the way as a result of the ICU expansion, as there is some space not being utilized,” Stetski explained. “That will lead to 442 spaces available.”

He said city staff is basically noting that there will be minimal negative impact from the proposed parking variance, given the limited traffic and parking demand the proposal will generate.

“I understand the concerns of the neighbours and the neighbourhood absolutely,” he said. “I don’t know if this is going to change that at all. The concerns have been very prominent over the years.”

Staff said the ICU expansion will add two more beds for a total of six. That addition won’t cause any more demand for parking, staff said. The other expansion is in the power room, which also shouldn’t affect parking demand.

Hales said there is an existing parking problem there, but this won’t affect it either way.

Stetski said as part of the regional hospital board, if demand for parking keeps up, they will not hesitate to ask IHA to build a parking lot that could accommodate more vehicles. He said so far the discussions on parking have been on changing the payment process from prepay to one where you pay as you leave.

“As far as this project going ahead I don’t believe it has any effect on the situation,” Coun. Bob Whetham said.

Coun. Diana J. Scott was against the recommendation, and saw it as an opportunity to get more parking at the hospital.

“We need more parking and this is a chance to get it, so I say let’s not waste it,” she said.

But Whetham said the ICU expansion should be the first priority and long-term parking can be worked out with the hospital at another time.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to see us holding up the ICU over a few parking stalls that really are not being changed as a result of this development,” he said.

The recommendation passed, but Councillors Pallesen and Scott were opposed.