Moore says the project planners want to hear from the public about the project at a meeting in early March. Photo: John Boivin

Affordable housing project moves ahead; public to review plans

Details to be finalized for project on old Emcon lot

Rossland residents are going to be asked just what they’d like to see in a housing project designed to ease the affordability crunch in the city.

The project, sponsored by the Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society and City of Rossland, is set to be built on the old Emcon lot off Columbia Avenue.

“This is going to be a big project for Rossland, so we want to get everybody’s thoughts on it,” says the city’s mayor, Kathy Moore.

The preliminary concept plan for the project is a four-storey, mixed-use project. The ground floor portion will be non-residential, commercial use. The second, third, and fourth storeys will consist of up to 36 residential units, comprised of a mix of studio, one, two, and three-bedroom units.

There’s only a rough price tag set on the project — somewhere between $6 million and $9 million. Moore says that’s because the design, and what’s going to happen to the first floor, hasn’t been finalized.

“It’s still kind of early to talk about hard-and-fast numbers because we don’t have a hard-and-fast design,” she says. “Will it be 24 or 36 units? Three or four stories? That’s also what we want public input on. Do they think that’s a good mix? There are a number of things we’ll be taking input on.”

One thing that is certain is the project will be to create some affordable housing stock in the city.

“Rossland is an affordable community in comparison to places like Vancouver,” she says. “But for some people, who are working in service jobs or hospitality jobs, or in retail, any of those jobs that are more on the lower-end of the pay scale, it’s really hard for them to find an affordable place to live in Rossland.

“And as a community, we want to maintain a diverse range of income levels in town. We don’t want to be just an enclave for rich old folks.”

The housing would not only be open to lower-wage workers.

“It’s also open to retirees who have worked here too. So we are trying to get a full range of the population that meets certain income requirements (which we have not figured out yet),” she says.

“So it’s for people who have jobs, who are working the community, or who have worked in the community. Basically, our friends and neighbours.”

The city won’t put tax dollars into the project. However, as the owner of the land the building will go on, and as a potential anchor tenant in the main floor, it does have a stake in the development. Whether city hall should be moved to that location is another idea to be discussed at the upcoming public meeting — something that would affect taxpayers.

But the project won’t go ahead without funding commitments from the Columbia Basin Trust and BC Housing, she emphasizes.

The main point of the meeting is to get input and ensure people understand the project and the history of the lot, says Moore.

“Part of it is to help the public understand the need,” she says. “And people tend to not like change. There was quite a bit of resistance when the skatepark went in, but once it went in and everybody saw how much the children love it, we see no complaints about that.

“So we are thinking that’s going to be the same response to this.”

The size of the proposed project — three or four stories — may put off some viewers too, until they consider the neighbourhood, says Moore.

“People may say ‘oh my God, that’s a big building,’ but I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” she says. “It’s going to be about as tall as the peak of the arena next door, and across the street there’s the large RSS school. So it’s not like it’s going to be a Sears Tower looming over everything.”

The Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society has launched a search for a project manager for the development, and has been working with an architectural firm from Vancouver to develop initial plans.

“The city is not a developer, so we are not taking this on with our own staff,” says Moore. “We turn to professionals so this project is a success.”

The public meeting is scheduled for March 5 at the Miners’ Hall in Rossland.

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