Rosslanders got their first look at a construction project aimed at easing the housing crisis in town … and one that may also be the home of a new City Hall.
The Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society and the City of Rossland held a public open house last week to inform local residents of the rezoning for a proposed mixed-use project.
The city and the society have partnered to receive funding from BC Housing to build a four-storey mixed-use building on the western portion of the vacant site located on Third Avenue between Spokane Street and Washington Street — the old Emcon lot.
“The project utilizes vacant land that was remediated to improve and activate the block as a vibrant gathering place for civic activities and a new home for members of the workforce in Rossland,” say documents provided by the city.
The intention is to use the ground floor for a purpose-built, 10,000-square-foot City Hall with flexible spaces for community use. The three upper floors will provide 37 apartments for working individuals and families.
“[F]or the purposes of this project, [eligible tenants] is defined as people who work in Rossland with annual household incomes ranging approximately from $30,000 to $70,000,” say city documents.
“Home ownership is not attainable for many modest income working families in Rossland,” it continues. “If supply of rental housing continues to be limited, this may mean that young families or year-round employees of local businesses are unable to live in Rossland.”
Planning, design, confirmation of funding, and construction are expected to take place over the next three years.
New City Hall
The anchor tenant for the new building will be the City of Rossland.
The old City Hall on Columbia Avenue has lived past its usefulness, says the city, not even considering the partial collapse of the roof in 2017 which made the space unusable.
“City Hall was previously a medical office and was retrofitted for the city, but space and flexibility is limited and overall inefficient,” say the documents. The city’s temporary office on LeRoi Avenue “is also functionally and physically inadequate for staff and council use.”
The city says combining housing and civic uses in Midtown is economic and efficient use of former industrial lands while leveraging provincial dollars for housing.
“The city already owns the site, so there is no land or leasing cost, and it will continue to own the land when the project is complete,” says the city.
The intent is for the city to retain ownership of the land and entire building (including the ground floor). The Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society would enter into a long-term lease for their units in the building.
To secure the funding, a select number of units would also be long-term leased to BC Housing who would then enter into an operating agreement with the society to operate these units seamlessly with the rest of the residential units.
Cost to taxpayer
But it’s not so easy pinning down just how much the taxpayer will be on the hook for the project, says Mayor Kathy Moore.
While the entire project cost is ball-parked at $15 million, the City Hall portion would be a little under $3 million. Those numbers are ballpark because the project hasn’t gone out to tender yet.
But it doesn’t mean taxpayers would be on the hook for all of that.
“BC Housing and Columbia Basin Trust are the funding and lenders of the housing portion of the project,” says Moore. “The part the city is involved in is the first floor. And for that, we have reserves, we have insurance proceeds from the existing city hall, and we’ll have other property we’re planning to sell.
“So we don’t actually know,” she says of the final cost. “If we are going to use the proceeds of property we may sell, we don’t know what we’ll get for that. We don’t know what the insurance payout will be,” she says. “There really is information we don’t have just yet.”
Other funding sources, like from the provincial and federal governments, could also bring down the final price for taxpayers.
At least the city won’t have to jump through a lot of hoops to fit the project into its existing plans.
“The current designation in the Official Community Plan is mixed use which is for lands generally with commercial uses on the ground floor and apartment-style residential on upper floors,” says the city description.
The city plans to create a new Comprehensive Development zone that permits a mixed-use building with residential units and ground floor spaces for civic use.
The site is currently in the rezoning phase.
The project is expected to take place over approximately 18 month months. Construction is expected to begin in 2020 and completion is expected in late 2021 to early 2022