Eight months after saying no to a zoning bylaw change that would pave the way for a duplex to be built at the corner of 5th and St. Paul, city council has now approved and adopted the contentious bylaw. Monday evening at council, neighbours repeated their views, citing safety and over-densification concerns as reasons to squash the project. Arguments in favour of the project were also repeated as the City was called on to live by the OCP and Strategic Sustainability Plan. In fact, the only difference this time around was one councillor—Jill Spearn—who changed her vote.
Duplex a go-go
When the bylaw amendment to allow duplexes on small lots between 3,000 and 6,000 square feet was last called to question, council voted 3-3 with Councillor Andy Stradling absent, killing the motion in a draw. This past Monday, Stradling was again absent; however, Spearn decided to support the project this time around, resulting in a 4-2 approval of the motion.
“Originally, I did vote against this zoning but after further conversation and listening and delving into it and looking around up there...I mean, it's seemingly congested--whatever that means in Rossland. We have no idea what density really is... I do appreciate the sustainability piece and am leaning towards that because that has been our mandate as a council and has been our mandate since we rewrote the OCP (Official Community Plan) and the Visions to Actions documents. If we're not going to walk the talk then why do we have them? "
The developer, Kevin Fairweather, pleased with the result, although still smarting from delays he saw as unnecessary, has now begun the permitting process and will be submitting his development permit application to the city this week. If all goes according to plan, Fairweather hopes to start construction in three weeks.
During the public hearing prior to the start of Monday's meeting, eight people spoke on the project with an even split of four in favour and four against. The divide between the two groups was clear with one side citing safety issues and the other leaning on the City’s need for affordable housing and to live by the OCP.
"I'm a builder and I have young people coming to me when I have open houses and telling me the same story," commented Cezary Ksiazek. “They like the house, it's beautiful. They say. 'it's perfect, but we cannot afford it'. We have to do something and closer density helps young people. If we don’t do something they won't want to move here."
Renate and Garth Flemming, who live behind the site, both spoke against the project and questioned the need for such housing in Rossland as well as the suitability of the site in question.
"I'm totally into sustainability," said Flemming. "Is this the place to do it? I don’t think it is. What is affordable housing? Like Garth said, is this going to really be affordable and is there really a need for this? There is a study being undertaken right now and it's not finished. Do we need this is this something we need to push at this time in this town?"
Even with the new bylaw amendment in place, future applications for similar projects will still have to come before council for approval. The City is however working towards ultimately moving such decisions into the administrative side of operations as part of the new zoning bylaws currently in progress. A draft of that new bylaw will soon be available on the city’s website for public viewing prior to council debate on the issue.
Fairweather looks forward to a potential improvement in efficiency at the city and was disappointed that the matter had to come before council at all. The safety issue, as he sees, it has nothing to do with the duplex or what's built on the lot, rather the road setup itself and personal responsibility.
"Good for council, but it shouldn’t have taken as long as it did. This is eight months in the making and for what? In many municipalities you don’t have to go to council for this. It’s in the domain of the city planners and takes a week to change a zone around. The substance the neighbours were coming with, safety, safety, safety, I don't know what they were thinking. It’s not a ten-plex, high rise, Tim Horton’s or McDonalds going in.
“They are saying it’s a safety issue because it's a steep hill but like Kootenay Avenue or Columbia Avenue down into Park Street it’s just as steep, has no stop sign and no sun exposure. If we're going to have debates because of steep streets people will be coming to council on a daily basis saying their road is slippery. If the road is slippery, don’t go out or find an alternate route. It’s that simple. "
Mayor Greg Granstrom, in four monologues on the issue, was strongly against the project for two reasons. The first reason, one which had yet to be mentioned in public debate and discussion on the issue, was the potential down-side of infill development which could at some point require an infrastructure upgrade.
“What we have is infrastructure designed for single family homes. That infrastructure in the ground is carrying whatever it carries based on the load it was designed for. Now here we go...we’re talking about quadrupling the infrastructure requirements on that one lot. If we were to quadruple the density on lots in Rossland, not only would we all of a sudden recoup some tax money, we would also now be required to rip up existing infrastructure to replace it with larger infrastructure and that would be at the cost of all of Rossland. Not to the developer but to all of Rossland so we have to be very, very careful what we do here.”
The mayor was also concerned about change in town and potentially “destroying neighbourhoods,” even though the Official Community Plan (developed collaboratively with input from hundreds of locals) pointed to densification as a road forward for Rossland to help make our small city more sustainable.
“I understand infill is good. I totally understand that but what I am saying is we need to be awful careful about what we’re doing here. If we do it once it will be done way more than once. Are we changing our neighbourhoods? People came to Rossland for one reason. Did they come here to densify Rossland? No they didn’t. They came to Rossland because it’s a nice neighbourhood and why the heck would we want to change that?”
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