Parking at some schools in Chilliwack, such as Vedder elementary as shown here on May 19, 2020, have small parking lots that accommodate staffing needs. But a proposed change to the city’s zoning bylaw would stymy plans for new schools that are underway. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Proposed parking changes in Chilliwack could impact future of school development

Chilliwack school district staff appealing to mayor and council for another look at bylaw amendment

Proposed changes to parking bylaws by the City of Chilliwack would severely impact the ability to build new schools here, says the school district.

The changes are part of a grander plan by the city to update their zoning bylaw, and would require a significant increase of parking spaces at new and renovated schools. Two new schools are moving through the development stages, and a third one is in the early planning stages in Rosedale. While current schools will be grandfathered and won’t have to conform, additions to a school would trigger the need to create much more parking space.

In some cases, the proposed bylaw would require more than twice the parking spaces as similar schools in other lower mainland cities.

The district is working on communicating their needs back to the city, in the hopes they can work together to address any parking and traffic issues at school sites around town. At their May 12 meeting, the board of education agreed to write a letter to the mayor and council expressing their need to be consulted on the changes. In the meantime, the district’s secretary treasurer Gerry Slykhuis has been communicating with the city to help fine tune parking requirements.

READ MORE: Zoning changes on deck at city hall are ready for review

“As we discussed at our March 20, 2020 conference call, the proposed changes are quite significant, and would make it even more difficult for the School District to construct new schools or additions,” Slykhuis wrote to city staff. “They also would do little to alleviate the congestion problem that occurs twice daily.”

Slykhuis underlined that both the new Imagine High being created at the UFV North site, and the new K-8 school at Vedder River will not be able to provide the parking spaces outlined in the draft bylaw. Both school sites were difficult to find as it was, in a city with very few options for the district to consider.

A third future school, at the old Rosedale elementary school site, is in early planning stages and would not be possible with the proposed changes either.

“While these proposed standards will result in substantial additional costs to any new schools built, this is not our main concern,” he said. “Our main concern is that this would further limit the possibility of ever finding parcels of land that could accommodate a school. We have recently obtained permission from the Agricultural Land Commission that allows a portion of the former Rosedale School site to be used for a new elementary school. Unfortunately, this permission will no longer be helpful, since the location size would become inadequate should the new parking requirements be passed.”

They plan to attend the public hearing that will be held regarding the zoning bylaw, however, that has been temporarily postponed until such a hearing could be held safely under provincial health orders, due to COVID-19.

In addition to the concerns regarding the feasibility of shoehorning more parking into already tight school sites, the district looked a comparisons between Chilliwack’s proposed parking requirements, and those of nearby cities. They found the requirements to be more than double cities like Langley and Surrey.

The school district also doesn’t believe that more parking spaces will alleviate traffic issues that arise twice a day.

“Few of our schools have parking issues,” Slykhuis wrote in his letter. “Instead, we have drop off and pick up issues. Twice a day for 15 minutes our sites see traffic congestion while students are dropped off or picked up. This proposed bylaw will do nothing to solve this issue.

“Alternatively, we would suggest that the City continue to require us to have a traffic study as part of the design plan for new schools.”

A date for the public hearing has not been set. Imagine High is set to open in September 2021, and Stito:s La:lem Toti:lt is set to open a year later. There is no confirmed plan for the Rosedale school as of yet. There was an open house regarding the zoning bylaw back in February.

READ MORE: Imagine High floated as name for new Chilliwack art and tech school


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