The greater part of Monday’s council meeting was spent in final deliberations over the rezoning of 2530 St. Paul St. to allow a duplex instead of a single family dwelling permitted to have an attached suite.
After a public hearing and some debate, council approved the new zoning and adopted the bylaw, reversing the decision they made seven months ago when council denied the request.
Developer Kevin Fairweather, who owns the property and has worked for a long time with the city on plans to build small, affordable units in this prime area of Rossland, attended the meeting and was supported by comments from Mike and Janet Fairweather, as well as builder Cezary Ksiazek.
Both Mike Fairweather and Ksiazek noted the affordable housing issue caused by limited land.
“Building permits are high, taxes are high,” Ksiazek said, noting that Castlegar is booming but Rossland is not because costs here are higher.
“We have to do something special with land,” he said.
Neighbour Garth Flemming asked, “What is affordable housing? I’d love to live in a finished apartment with no yard! The big thing for me is the safety issue on the street.”
Flemming repeated comments that council has heard many times by now: Kids frequent these streets on their way to and from school, it’s a bus route, neighbours in the area sometimes have friends over that congest the street with parked cars and, in the winter, cars often slide down Fifth Avenue.
Other neighbours, notably Katie and Bruno Brall, raised similar concerns, arguing that a duplex — rather than a single family home with a suite — would worsen the safety problems.
Ksiazek said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek: “In Poland, we have very big density, but nobody kills each other. I think one duplex, maybe we should be OK?”
Council seemed, in general, to agree with this point of view.
Coun. Kathy Wallace acknowledged the safety concerns, but said “I continue to feel that the safety concerns that have been expressed are separate to whether the home built on that lot is a single family home or a duplex. I do not think the duplex should be denied because of them.”
She also pointed out to those who opposed Fairweather’s plans for parking off Fifth Avenue, that the lot’s original driveway came off Fifth Avenue.
Countering some question about whether this neighbourhood was the appropriate place for densification, Wallace said, “There are other assets in that neighbourhood that make it a very good place for this duplex,” giving the bus, school, community garden, and proximity to downtown as obvious examples.
Coun. Kathy Moore said, “it’s important to pay attention to the [safety] concerns,” and requested that staff continue to consider creative ideas and solutions.
Coun. Jill Spearn recalled council’s “mandate,” and the great effort that went into crafting the Official Community Plan and Strategic Sustainability Plan. What is council doing “if we’re not going to walk the talk?” she asked rhetorically. “We get with the program and we do it, or we get rid of all those documents and go back to 1950.”
Spearn pointed out that congested streets (“whatever that means in Rossland”) have to be dealt with as facts. “Parties going on, visiting going on, that’s life in Rossland.”
She also countered some neighbours’ comments that predicted accidents as a consequence of the duplex. “We don’t want to predict accidents,” she said, “we can predict accidents all over Rossland; every corner there’s an accident waiting to happen.”
Spearn may also have hit the crux of the opposition when she commented, “change is tough.”
Coun. Laurie Charlton remained adamantly opposed to the rezoning, claiming council was “trying to jam a square peg in a round hole,” with a variety of variances that may be required for Fairweather’s plans to go ahead. Charlton may have gone overboard when he suggested a house with a secondary suite “is likely more affordable” than a duplex unit, but he was quickly rebutted by Wallace who noted, “the duplex is something that allows someone to get into ownership of a home in this setting.”
Coun. Hanne Smith, though in favour of the duplex, was also “troubled by safety concerns.” She has spent time with staff discussing various options and concluded, “The design presented is the one that’s been vetted by all our staff after serious consideration of all these safety issues. I asked about one-way or other traffic signs. All those issues have also been thought of by staff in great detail.
She suggested a “proactive” approach to the corner in question. “Something, whatever staff can do,” she asked.
Mayor Greg Granstrom then weighed in with his reservations, noting first that “staff is very aware of all safety concerns and are more than proactive on these issues. I think any safety issue can be handled here.”
He continued on a different slant: “What are we doing? We have an infrastructure designed for single family lots and we’ve quadrupled the infrastructre requirements on that lot.” The mayor argued that a similar increase in density all over town would not only increase the tax base, but could overload existing infrastructure.
The mayor argued that “overdensification” could lead to costly upgrades at the expense of all Rossland taxpayers.
Spearn responded, “I don’t think we’re quadrupling anything.” To be clear, the lot was originally zoned for a single family home, was split into two single family lots, one of which is now re-zoned for a duplex — this seems to be a little less than a tripling of the lot’s originally zoned density.
Spearn continued, “Having too high a density in Rossland isn’t achievable, or even possible. [The mayor’s argument] doesn’t apply here, with all due respect. We’re trying to move towards a diversity of housing stock [that is affordable for] all kinds of socioeconomic ranges in our community.”
Wallace qualified her own opinion, “this community may at some point decide we’re overdensifying, but we haven’t reached that point.”
Granstrom returned to his point: “This one isn’t going to overflow the sewage treatment plant, but where do we stop?”
“What does a proposal like this do to existing housing stock? We’re opening the door. We’re changing neighbourhoods forever,” he said.
Moore answered, “Where do we stop? I don’t think we’ve started yet.”
“We’re a community of single family homes, we don’t have a lot of diversity,” she said. “We’re in an economic downturn. Here’s someone who wants to build an environmentally interesting project. I look at this as quite an innovative land use opportunity. There are a lot of people looking for this kind of home.
“We need to start somewhere,” Moore said, “and I don’t think we’re going to be overrun.”
Furthermore, “The neighbours came about safety,” Moore said. “
“We don’t have to worry about ‘ruining the neighbourhood.'”
Spearn said things have changed “drastically and radically” since the 1950s. We are a different world, and we’re a world we have to take care of.”
“We’re not going to call this a mistake,” she said. “It’s one lot in Rossland, we’re not changing the fabric of our community by trying this.”