Monday November 24, 2014

Council rescinds zoning change to Second Street

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City council rescinded a proposed zoning bylaw amendment for four lots on Second Street northeast, that would have rezoned the lots from residential semi-detached to Central Business District by contract.

There were over 15 letters of opposition received from property owners in the area, many of whom filled the council chambers to standing-room only on Monday night, as they awaited for the decision to be made.

By rescinding the zoning change, council is allowing the developer to have continued discussion in regards to his proposed development, and get the opinions of the neighbourhood on what kind of development would be suitable, before submitting a new proposal to council.

Coun. Winston Bailey excused himself from the discussion on the proposal, due to conflict of interest.

Martin Tuschek, one of the developers for the modular-built apartment complex proposal, did express that he was willing to have continued discussion. Turschek had representatives from Guerdon Module and Wilhem Construction with him, as they are the preliminary design and construction companies approached for the project.

However, he noted that design changes to the proposal “does cost a lot of money, and is a pretty big set-back.” He had hoped to have the zoning approval, before moving forward with the actual design phase.

“The four houses on those lots were all built before the Second World War, they are small, and they in need of constant repair,” said Tuschek. “There is only so much revenue that one can get from these rentals.”

“Our goal was to bring a little bit of downtown to that neighbourhood, while still keeping the character of the street,” added Tuschek. He added that much of the central downtown core is already reaching that area, and that he felt the project would address an issue of growth in the city.

Tuschek spoke about a few changes that were already made due to feedback received, noting that they were now looking at a maximum of 48 units, instead of the initially proposed 60.

One of the reasons that the developers applied for Central Business District by contract zoning was to maximize the projects economics, as well to keep their unit prices down.

The recommendation by staff in the planning and development department was to approve the bylaw amendment, as “this area is designated primarily for residential development; much of which was established over a century ago and has seen gradual renewal and intensification.”

“The project, while ambitious in its height and density, is consistent with policy and regulations. Adopted city development policy is in support of high density, multi-family infill of this area and the transition of the current land use to uses like the one by the ‘Weyburn Estates’.”

Coun. Dick Michel noted that he strongly opposed the rezoning of the four lots, and he felt it would spoil the neighbourhood. He also voiced concerns for parking in the area, which was also the concern in many of the letters of opposition from Second Street residents.

Coun. Rob Stephanson urged council to be very careful in their wording, as he did not want to limit any other future development in the area. “Most people here don’t like this proposal, but I am interested to see if there is any development that would meet with approval.”

Ron Jeffery, one of the residents on Second Street, discussed some of his views on the proposal. “We have many concerns, not the least of which is the very size and height of the proposed project.”

“It is shocking to say the least in this neighbourhood. It will detract from the stateliness of the Court House, which is a point of beauty at the end of Third Street and Prairie Avenue,” said Jeffery. “We love our neighbourhood and are proud of it, and hate to see it changed so dramatically.”

Jeffery quickly noted that city council shouldn’t close the door on any development in the area, but felt that a better proposal that aligned to the appearance of the neighbourhood could be found.

Mayor Debra Button voiced that she didn’t like the original proposed plan, since she didn’t think there was a lot of thought put into the plan. She supported rescinding the zoning bylaw amendment, since it would allow more time for the developer to change his designs and come back to council.

“I do appreciate that these developers are here, ready to invest in our community, and if there is something that you can put there … and that you can work with the majority, then we would welcome you back with a new proposal,” said Button.

“Weyburn does need affordable housing, and we do need places for people to live, but I would like all parties to have a chance to work together,” said Stephanson. “We are open to business, but city council is also open to consideration to the concerns of our residents.”

A few residents still had opinions to voice, after the zoning bylaw amendment was rescinded. Kevin Ziolkowski, who owns apartments in the same area, stressed that city council has to be careful before approving any kind of development on Second Street, due to the limited parking in the area.

He also wondered what the current vacancy rate was for Weyburn, questioning if the city needed more condos or apartment buildings.

Bailey MacDonald brought up a few other concerns that might impact the residents on Second Street, that would apply to any development that might be approved in the future.

She asked, “does the existing infrastructure such as water mains and sewers have the existing capacity for the apartment complex? If the current infrastructure cannot handle the additional load would the cost be passed on to taxpayers or would the developer be required to pay for the upgrades?”

Another question from MacDonald was, “will additional garbage collection services be required? How will these costs be covered?”

Martino Verhaeghe, director of planning and development,  did verify that any infrastructure upgrades would be the responsibilty of the developer. He also noted that apartment buildings and condos have their own private garbage collection.

In addressing the question “is there truly a need for this proposed development,” Verhaeghe  noted that as markets grow, they expand and they contract.

“In the long-term, we are going to need higher density in the downtown area, we are going to need more higher density in the city overall,” said Verhaeghe.

“Maybe we don’t need it next month, or in the next year, but in the next 15 years the downtown core will need expansion.

“The ‘Weyburn Estates’ proposal is consistent with our official community plan, which directs higher density development to this area, as an ideal expansion of downtown, and the lands that are likely to be included in the expansion of the downtown fringe,” added Verhaeghe.

“Although more dense than adjacent development, this area of the city has seen continual intensification of residential uses for over 25 years, and the proposal was a logical expansion of the central business district over the long term.”

Coun. Mel Van Betuw noted that Weyburn was very fortunate to have developers who could come to the city, and could look at several locations, saying it was a tremendous asset for the city. He also felt that an alternative proposal could be found.

As the zoning bylaw amendment was rescinded, there is no future date for any public hearings, and the proposal is back in the hands of the developer.

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