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Going greener debate moves to front burner on Granite Pointe development as city approves 300-unit project

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
December 30th, 2019

The city opted not to over step its bounds as it dealt with approving re-zoning for the latest major development in Nelson.

The 300-unit Granite Pointe Golf Course project had a chance to move its green footprint from Step Code three to four after city Coun. Rik Logtenberg proposed an amendment to the project rezoning at its third reading recently.

Similar to when the proposal came to council in October, Logtenberg wanted to see the project raise and set the bar for development in Nelson.

“This isn’t just about keeping our promises, it’s about seizing this opportunity and setting the standard, not just for this development but for all innovative developments in Nelson,” he said.

“We are really setting our developers up to succeed, not to fail, because there will be additional capital to support this kind of work. The key is, these (higher) standards are coming anyway, they are coming.

“This is our opportunity to say what we stand for, what we hope to become once it is complete.”

City senior planner Sebastien Arcand suggested enforcing a more stringent Step Code might come at the expense of affordable housing for the project. He noted also that the higher code focused on the air tightness of homes, not on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Arcand explained that — with a projected 20-year build out for the development — by the time it was realized there was a strong likelihood a higher Step Code would be in effect.

“So I think, at this point in time and due to the fact that a conversation has already been held around this proposal” it was unfair to raise the bar, he noted.
Coun. Jesse Woodward asked when Step Code four would be implemented. Currently, the city is at Step Code one, said Arcand, and the introduction of the code was not mandatory. In August of 2020 the city is scheduled to introduce Step Code three.

“Working from there, naturally, we would be looking at Step Code four in the next few years,” said Arcand. “It’s something that is coming along.”

The provincial government wants mandatory net zero emissions on buildings and homes by 2032. However, Mayor John Dooley felt council was having a debate around a future code issue that should be contained in a separate discussion, rather than tying it to a particular development.

“These folks developed this plan based on the code that was handed to them from Development Services,” he said.

“There is a bigger picture here. Just because you are putting a bigger code on it doesn’t mean you are reducing greenhouse gases.”

Granite Pointe has a long history of supporting community housing on lands adjacent to the golf course, as well as some of the most affordable market housing in Nelson, noted Oliver Berkeley of Keystone Appraisals, on behalf of Granite Pointe Recreation Society, in a letter to council.

He explained that the rezoning request was made to build out a hybrid form of the R2 zone, which was a blend of R1 and R2, that included pocket housing.

“The (society) directors believe there is a market for more attainable housing and the portion of the development parcel that is the focus of the rezoning is well suited for this form of development,” he said.

But consideration of a higher Step Code as a specific requirement would hinder Granite Pointe’s ability to provide a competitive development opportunity in the market, said Berkeley.

“We would respectfully suggest that there be careful consideration that any increase in development standards are applied to all market participants equally, and we note that several other significant projects that are moving forward within the city have not been singled out for specific sustainability measures,” he wrote.

Such a move would balance the need for improved sustainable practices with the cost of new housing, Berkeley added.

“This is a rezoning application only and the city has ample opportunity over the life cycle of the project to implement broad sustainability practices that raise the standards evenly and fairly for all, in a measured and planned way,” he wrote.

With provincial regulations expected to rise over the years, and the life of the development projected to be several years, there was a clear need to hit a higher standard once the project was complete, said Logtenberg. All existing buildings will have to be retrofitted to meet that higher standard by 2032.

“If we don’t do this now we are simply passing the liability on to the owners and to the city,” he said.

“So if we are building buildings less than that standard they will have to be retro-fitted at a much higher cost than if we do it right the first time. Doing it at this point it will be much more difficult, but … by the time this project develops, it will be the smart way to build.”

Coun. Brittny Anderson agreed, but the city was not looking at the full cost accounting of the Step Code requirements presently. Retrofit technology might be that much better in the next few years than it is now.

Higher step codes of four or five could be tied to some incentives to encourage people to go to alternate forms of electricity or other type of energy that is less carbon intensive in the future, she said.

But council needed to act now, Woodward iterated, as other governments around the world are making bold moves to reverse climate change.

“We are treating these decisions like we have time, but if you believe in science … we don’t have time. We have a decade to make drastic moves,” he said.

“The bell is ringing. They are really calling out policy makers to make bold moves and to not kick the can down the road to the next council, or the next election cycle, because we don’t have the time.

“All of the signs are pointing to we have to start now and the painful part will be the first bunch of projects that are on the books that we need to boost up to the next level, that we need to go at anyway.”

Dooley said that council needed to represent the greater good of the community and that the Granite Pointe project had been in the works for six months. Now, at the 11th hour, council was putting a new regulation on it.

“And I get what you are saying … but in my opinion this is unfair to the folks that have sat with our staff for six months, through public hearings, talked to the community and brought their project back in good faith and now we are going to change the rules,” he said. “And that is not good government. That is a total blindside from council.”
Logtenberg said, with all due respect, he made a motion in council chambers during a regular meeting in October to require the project adhere to Step Code five.

“And, on top of that, this is our job. This is when it comes before us. We don’t sit down with (staff) ahead of time and sketch this out. When it comes before us is when we give these inputs,” he said.

“Of course it’s not fair to the first person who (this applies to). But that’s not how you measure this kind of change. You measure it based on this is the new standard and every development from here on now must meet this kind of standard.”

Step Code four means a better quality build, he added, and it saves money over the long term, and creates higher efficiency.

“This is doing the best service we can for our residents as well as the developers at Granite Pointe,” Logtenberg said.

Dooley said he was not opposed to the concept Logtenberg put forth, but he was opposed to cherry-picking a project late in the re-zoning process.

“If we want to have this conversation about Step Code four and we decide, as a council, that is what we want going forward, please let’s do that and let’s bring that forward on that basis,” he said.

“But this creates uncertainty and disrespect, to be honest with you, to the folks that sat in good faith with us and trusted our decision making going forward.

“I think your idea is not a bad one, but I ask council to get rid of the uncertainty. This is not the right time to do this.”

The greenest building is the building already existing, Anderson added, so if the city were truly trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions it wouldn’t anything to be built on that property.

“Let’s not kid ourselves that this (Step Code four) is the greenest option,” she said.

The amendment to Step Code four was defeated. A subsequent vote on the zoning bylaw amendment to move the project forward was passed and adopted.

Hole in one

It is expected that the development would provide new and improved forms of revenue for the golf course, primarily through the development of excess lands held by the golf society.

The developers are expected to maintain a 7.5 metre conservation easement along the rear property lines of the properties located on the south side of West Richards Street, as well as limiting the building height to three stories when adjacent to R1-zoned properties. As well, new sidewalk, crosswalks and a bus stop will be added in the area.

In addition, the project could create another zoning designation. The proposed R2-A zone for Granite Pointe will provide for a mix of residential units that is considered medium density within the city, providing for more residential uses than the current R2 zone, but subject to additional regulations.

As well, there is an opportunity under the city’s Affordable Housing Policy to receive voluntary cash contributions to the affordable housing fund at the time of rezoning. According to the policy the applicant can provide either five per cent of all residential dwelling units as affordable housing units or make a contribution to the fund.

“The applicant has agreed in principle to a voluntary contribution to the affordable housing fund of $1,000 per unit,” noted a city staff report to council.

An agreement is in the works to bind the applicant to the voluntary contribution.

Concerns on par for the course

There are several concerns — which had arisen out of two previous open houses on the development — from the adjacent neighbourhood, the principal ones being an increase in traffic and a change in density for the neighbourhood.

However, the proposal is in general conformity with the Official Community Plan, noted a city Development Services staff report to city council. The OCP recognized that the golf course would be redeveloped and accommodate residential while maintaining a useable 18-hole golf course.

“That being said, efforts have been taken to ensure that the proposed bylaws have policies and regulations in place that will mitigate the concerns,” said Arcand.

“At this point in time there is no real development proposal being brought forward, but … you have to start thinking about what kind of land you can develop on both sides of that road.”

Development time line

The current rezone on the Granite Pointe properties goes back to 2010, at which time the golf course society completed an Official Community Plan amendment in support of residential development.

In the face of declining golf course membership a high-level plan was developed to consider long-term real estate development to support the club financially, with the hope of attracting a residential community that would support the course.

That plan was ultimately approved to facilitate up to 300 residential medium- to high-density units.

However, that plan was shelved when the real estate market slowed but a smaller parcel on Choquette was purchased and developed by a local company that sold 30 condo units over three phases between 2013 and 2017.

But in 2018, after a difficult golf season which resulted in a $450,000 financial loss, the directors engaged Keystone to consider the real estate plans. As a result, a project team comprising of a mix of project analysts, landscape architects and golf course development experts put together a long-term vision and subdivision proposal that created a single, 16-acre development parcel that would hold the full life cycle of the project.

“It was the view of the project team that identifying the potential full build out would provide stronger planning opportunities and efficiencies,” noted a city staff report to council.

The vision of the project is to redevelop Granite Pointe into a four-season amenity that supports a broader range of community orientated activities and a central “village” core that would be pedestrian orientated.

“The directors wish to convert an existing informal public use of the property into an organized amenity and draw broader support from the Rosemont neighborhood,” the report read.

The public amenities envision a central plaza that might include a restaurant/coffee shop, a community shared office and health centre and a Nordic ski facility and community trails.

— Source: City of Nelson

The 19th hole

The development does not mean the end of the golf course, but instead could be the instrument to save the city’s course. Granite Pointe is facing business challenges “that jeopardizes its ongoing financial viability,” said Arcand.

“Golf course membership throughout the industry is declining and revenues are falling as expenses continue to rise,” he said.

The development would provide new and improved forms of revenue for the golf course, primarily through the development of excess lands held by the golf society.

“An obvious benefit is the addition of residential units in the city,” Arcand said in his presentation to council. “Vacant land is rare and the proposal can potentially lead to helping reduce the pressure on the overall housing market. It also adds new residential choices in a neighbourhood that is mostly dominated by single-family dwellings.”

Although the current plan is meant to be conceptual the details such as road layout, servicing, trail connections during the subdivision process, building design and setback during the development permitting stage and building codes during building permitting stage will still be dealt with.

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