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Getting more bang for the dollar: city rides building boom wave of another sort

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
August 9th, 2018

Construction values in Nelson have leapt significantly despite theintensity and level of construction slightly slower than 2017, says the city’s manager of Development Services.

Pam Mierau felt that a key contributing factor in the difference between this year’s development activity and last year was the value of construction.

“We have seen a $3 million increase in construction values over last year, despite 12 fewer dwelling units (being built),” she said.

Part of that increase may be attributed to an increase in construction costs with more high-end homes being built, Mierau added.

Higher land values are also a consideration, she said, with the city fielding more subdivision applications as more people are chopping up larger properties.

“The increase in construction value is reflected in the BC Assessment values for single family residential in Nelson, which show roughly a 30 per cent increase in assessed values over the last three years,” Mierau explained.

Digging into the numbers there have been 101 building permit applications submitted to the city’s Development Services to date (end of June), around the same number as 2017.

Single family residential homes make up the bulk of the permits, with some secondary suites, duplexes and two four-plexes, making up a total of 29 dwelling units so, compared to 41 at this time last year.

“The difference in these numbers can be mainly attributed to the 10-plex at the golf course last year (‘The Crossing’ at Granite Point),” said Mierau.

Where the shovel meets ground

The 2018 construction season has not been characterized by single family homes entirely, with the second half of the year heralding some larger projects in the city, including a 47-unit, four-storey development that will be undertaken by Nelson Cares located close to Lakeside Park (on the corner of Nelson and Kokanee avenues).

“As well, we anticipate the SHARE Housing Initiative which consists of a four-storey, 39 unit development with some commercial at grade, to also potentially get underway this year,” Mierau pointed out.

“We anticipate that the sale of city-owned land at 205 Hall Street will be finalized shortly, with the construction of the four-storey development, including a mix of commercial and residential at grade and three floors of residential above, potentially getting underway prior to the end of the year.”

That theme will be repeated in several other projects, Mierau revealed. There has been interest in the empty lot along Vernon Street opposite the Adventure Hotel, with discussions on the property centred around a four-storey, mixed-use development that includes both independent as well as assisted living units for seniors.

“We will likely also see the new Ancron Medical Centre across from the Kootenay Lake Hospital this year getting underway prior to year-end,” she said.

Moving on to Baker Street two more projects are expected to begin this year as the neighbouring buildings that house Hall Street Printing and the former Red fish Grill will see some changes.

The Red Fish Grill will include both a restaurant at-grade as well as two residential units above, while the printing building will be adding an additional storey which will also include two residential units.

Hurry up and wait

All of the activity has meant the city staff has been in high gear trying to facilitate the work from the permitting and inspection end.

Although the city been trying to process building and development permits as quickly as possible, wait times for permits have extended from four weeks to approximately eight weeks, and in some cases up to 10 weeks, Mierau stated.

“We appreciate the frustration that the increased wait times have caused homeowners and builders, and so to facilitate the faster processing of permits, Development Services has recently hired an additional planner as well as another full-time building inspector,” she said.

The rate of complete applications has also been increased as the city has been proactive in ensuring they are whole — avoiding a delay caused by an incomplete application that would slow down the entire application process.

“Processing times in Nelson remain as good, if not better, than many other B.C. municipalities that are experiencing growing real estate pressures and an accompanying construction boom,” said Mierau.

Trying to keep pace

With building and development showing no sign of slowing in Nelson the city has had to keep pace for its own part.

The city has hired new Development Services staff and is working to facilitate development in Nelson through the implementation of new rules for laneway housing, said Mierau.

“These rules should be finalized shortly and include increasing the allowable size for laneway houses in terms of the gross floor area, the building footprint, as well as the height,” she said.

The increased density allowed on lots in residential neighbourhoods is key to the changes, she added, allowing people to construct three dwelling units on a lot (as long as they meet certain lot size requirements), as compared to previously only two units allowed on a lot.

“These amendments are aimed at providing homeowners with more flexibility to construct laneway housing of a size that makes it more financially viable,” said Mierau.

According to the research done on the impact of laneway housing, allowing greater densification provides an alternative housing solution to single family houses or condominiums, packing a smaller footprint than new single-family homes and less of a visual impact than taller, multi-family buildings.

Those changes dovetail into the ongoing efforts in Development Services to update planning regulations to facilitate development by allowing for smaller lot sizes and increased density throughout Nelson’s residential areas, Mierau explained.

Other changes include mandatory suite-ready development in some areas of the city, reduced annual water and sewer fees for secondary suites rented on a long-term basis, and some flexibility in reducing parking requirements for laneway housing and secondary suites.

Mierau said the city has also amended some of the Railtown zoning to facilitate development in that area, and discussions are currently underway with landowners to help achieve development in alignment with the Railtown Sustainable Neighbourhood Action Plan.

Moving towards affordability

A recently completed status update report is expected to inject some affordability into the Nelson housing market over the next few years.

Development Services has completed a detail on 20 strategies in the Housing Strategies Update – October 2014, along with an updated Affordable Housing Policy which includes revised incentives, guiding principles as well as criteria for the allocation of money from the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund, and a discussion on other opportunities to support affordable housing.

“Several recommendations are provided for council’s consideration which would provide additional support for affordable housing beyond what the city is currently doing,” said Mierau.

This report was first presented to council in May for review, and will be presented again at the regular business meeting of council this month for further discussion.

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