Monday, April 18, 2016

Rezoning approved for controversial multi-family residential area on Pincher Creek's north hill

Toni Lucas - Council for the Town of Pincher Creek held a public hearing on Monday, April 11, 2016 before their regular meeting. The hearing addressed Land Use Bylaw Amendment 1547-AA, the proposed rezoning of an area on Pincher Creek's north hill to allow for one area to become multi family residential housing. Second and third reading of the bylaw passed at a special meeting of council held the evening of April 18, 2016.

During the April 11 public hearing the council gallery held approximately 30 people, many of them ready to speak to the issue. Some spoke in favor, some spoke in favor under certain conditions, and many people spoke against the rezoning. Council members in attendance included Mark Barber, Jim Litkowski, Duane Filipuzzi, and Mayor Don Anderberg. Oldman River Regional Services Commission Senior Planner Mike Burla was also on hand to answer a number of questions. The public hearing lasted for over an hour and a half.  Everyone present who wanted to tell council their concerns were given option to do so. In addition there were a number of letters sent to council about this issue. After hearing all those who wanted to speak council decided later during their regular meeting that their vote on the application should be held over to a special meeting of council (which was held Monday evening, April 18).

Stantec Consulting Limited submitted the application on behalf of Gero Construction and Development Limited.*  The first to speak to council at the public hearing was Stantec Consulting Senior Associate Brad Schmidtke, who spoke in favor of the application. He said there was the intention to include medium density housing in phase one of the construction project, and Mike Burla agreed there were plans to include multi-family residential in the general area on the books for 35 years. Schmidtke said there was an open house where people could see plans and voice their concerns. "We received great comments from the public on that. Certainly there were concerns expressed..." One of the concerns he said was people concerned about a high rise building being established. He explained some of the plans for the proposed area:
  • A row-house style product
  • Intended to be no more than 2 stories above ground
  • Proposed around 30-40 units
  • An additional egress will be made
  • Planned as a fenced community
  • Marketed to 'empty-nesters'
  • Units are to be sold, rather than rented out
Schmidtke said, "If it is done well, with proper architectural controls, creating a beautiful aesthetic, these sites can be well done, and well maintained, and looked after." He said at the meeting he could not say what the cost the units would be sold at.

The people who came forward with reservations about the project had many common concerns. A few of the issues mentioned included: 
  • Devaluation of the area
  • Wear and tear on the streets from more traffic
  • Traffic congestion
  • Higher parking congestion
  • Even if a unit is originally sold there is nothing to stop the new owner(s) from renting out their property
  • Lack of 'pride of ownership' if the units become rental units 
  • Concerns about units becoming run down
  • Phase 1 not being completed while Phase 2 starts (concerns over the first phase becoming neglected or not fully realized)
  • A number of empty housing units in the area already
  • The number of places in the town of Pincher Creek which have been for sale for more than 6 months which have not sold
  • Proper studies for the area on land stability
Archie Craig was one on the last speakers from the public gallery. He got applause from other gallery members after he addressed some of his points to council. "What I heard mostly, tonight, was that the current residents feel as though we made investment decisions, monetarily and intangible to raise our families under the premise of an R1 neighbourhood."

"When we talk about changing the rules, or changing the information we made some of those decisions, potentially the biggest decisions in our lives. To change the rules after we have made them, invested in that community is frustrating." Craig said he understood the need for multi-family residential and outlined other areas which already have been zoned for that within the town. "There is a very real possibility that multi-family will cannibalize any R1 sales, and lead into a lot of the concerns my neighbours had: Ghost town scenarios, unfilled houses, empty lots."

Craig questioned a few of the items brought forward. "I think the term 'affordability' has to be defined." He said the term affordable housing was a buzzword and was concerned about the price of the units, which was not revealed at this meeting. He said based on the numbers he had heard, he had concerns about the range of price point the may be sold for. "These affordable houses are more expensive than existing inventory in town that aren't selling. So now we're into questions about demand, affordability, these are all very real conversations, I think, to be considered." Craig also questioned the seniors market saying Whispering Winds was at approximately 50% capacity, and Crestview Lodge is about to renovate. "Is the need for seniors housing, affordable housing, and depending on your definition of affordable, does that already exist? Do affordable houses exist in Pincher, and they're just not moving?" 

He concluded by saying this was not a 'not in my backyard' scenario. "It's more of a 'Hey, this is the information we made these substantial life decisions on'. So I think we generally would support community, affordable housing, in the right place, at the right price point, to service a need. I don't buy into 'We just don't like it because it's in our neighbourhood'. It's where we chose to live, based on this information."

During the special meeting of Town Council held on Monday, April 18, councilors Mark Barber, Jim Litkowski, Duane Filipuzzi, and Mayor Don Anderberg were in attendance.  Councillor Lorne Jackson also was in attendance, however could not vote as he was not present during the public hearing.  Council discussed this issue for approximately 20 minutes going over the issues the landowners who were opposed presented, and other concerns.  Councillor Filipuzzi said this was not correctly termed as affordable housing, as it has no subsidies or government support.  Councillor Barber said he has made previous personal home buying decisions based upon the proximity to row housing, and said he would 'feel like a hypocrite' if he voted for this decision.

Mayor Don Anderberg was the most vocal during the discussion.  "Really, it's a tough decision.  I certainly understand the concerns of the landowners that are there, but when I look at it, I'd have a hard time thinking that people would  really have a real big objection to a concept similar to what Willow Court is across from the hospital.  Basically,  I think that is kind of what the spirit of this is," he said of the proposed development.  "I think overall in my mind, it's beneficial to the community.  It may detract from some people's real estate value, I really don't think so.  We need housing here. The other consideration for me is we actually have a local company willing to invest significant dollars to make something happen here."  He added "I don't agree with some of the comments that where made about this turning into, basically, a ghetto."

Councillor Mark Barber said, "I don't think that area, that location is appropriate, because given all the homeowners bought their properties up there, they bought with the understanding  they were all single family dwellings."  "I don't think that anybody that was here the other night had any thought, consideration, or understanding that the spirit of that subdivision included multi-family dwellings."

Second and third reading of the bylaw passed by a vote of 3 to 1, with Councillor Mark Barber opposed.

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