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Controversial New West affordable rental housing project proceeding to public hearing

Signup for speakers begins May 13
Rendering of a proposed development on Sixth Street that's heading to public hearing on May 31.

An affordable rental housing development that’s divided many community members is heading to a public hearing later this month.

Aboriginal Land Trust Society is proposing to build a 96-unit, six-storey rental housing building at 823 to 841 Sixth St. The project is intended to house members of the Indigenous and Swahili-speaking communities.

In order to proceed, the project requires an amendment to the official community plan to change the land-use designation from residential-infill townhouse to residential-multiple unit buildings. The sites also need to be rezoned from single-detached residential districts to comprehensive development district (823 to 841 Sixth St.), which would be a new zoning district that’s unique to this site.

For months, supporters and opponents of the project have made their feelings known about the proposal through virtual open houses, virtual appearances before city council and the city’s advisory committees, a petition from people opposing an amendment to the land-use designation in the official community plan, signs on lawns in neighbourhoods across the city and letters and emails to city officials. Supporters have urged the city to support the project, saying it will provide much-needed affordable housing during a housing crisis and is an appropriate location for the building, while opponents have voiced concerns about locating a six-storey apartment next to single-family homes, amending the official community plan to make that happen, and adding traffic to the narrow lane running between homes on Fifth and Sixth streets.

On Monday, council gave first and second readings to official community plan amendment and zoning amendment bylaws, and forwarded them to public hearing. The public hearing on the project will take place virtually on Monday, May 31.

City clerk Jacque Killawee said the city will have additional staff working on the night of the hearing to ensure the city can answer technical questions and resolve any issues that may arise. She said the city encourages people wishing to speak at the public hearing to sign up in advance at or by calling legislative services, as this will allow herself and Mayor Jonathan Cote to move quickly and effectively through the individuals who wish to speak at the public hearing. 

The city will begin accepting signup requests on Thursday, May 13 at 8:30 a.m.

 A staff report states the residential-multiple unit buildings designation in the official community plan includes provisions for council to consider buildings of up to six storeys in certain circumstances, and staff believes that’s been achieved with the project for a variety of reasons. That includes its location along a major transportation corridor, proximity to services such as shops, schools and other services, provision of new affordable units, and creation of housing for members of the Indigenous and Swahili-speaking communities.

Changes made

According to staff, the applicant has taken steps to address the transition to the neighbouring properties.This includes decreasing the building’s height to four floors on the east and west sides, where it is directly adjacent to single-family homes and locating the building “as close as is reasonable” to Sixth Street, in order to maximize the distance from houses across the lane.

“The applicant has indicated that further reductions in the building size would be hard to achieve without a loss of affordable housing units, which would reduce the competitiveness their application for provincial funding,” said a staff report. “Staff has explored further reduction of the building size with the applicant and BC Housing, and advises that the current configuration of the building balances achieving a transition to adjacent properties (via stepping the building and moving it toward Sixth Street) with achieving enough affordable housing units to support the requirements of their funding application.”

From the time the application was first presented to the city, the applicant had stated the project is reliant on funding from each level of government, including the city.

A May 3 report to council stated the applicant has applied to have this project funded by BC Housing through the Community Housing Fund. It noted BC Housing does not expect to fund off-site costs “over and above” the typical costs included in the subdivision and control bylaw or other similar development charge bylaws.

On Monday, council directed staff to inform the applicant the city would provide a grant of $631,000 toward the off-site servicing and infrastructure costs for the project, subject to approval of funding from BC Housing and council’s approval of the rezoning and OCP amendment applications. Council directed staff to fund the grant from the current 2021 city budget, as follows:  $100,000 to be reallocated from the electrical utility; $115,000 to be reallocated from the engineering capital plan; and $416,000 to be reallocated from the affordable housing reserve funds in the capital plan.

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus

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