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Market driving development, not needs of people: councillor

Coun. Keith Page asked city council and city staff to make a commitment during an Aug. 17 regular council business meeting in council chambers to stage a workshop to deal with the disparity between the type of housing development in the city versus the actual needs of Nelsonites.

The current nature of development in Nelson is not serving the needs of some of the people of the city, one city councillor claimed during a recent elected official’s meeting.

Keith Page asked city council and city staff to make a commitment during an Aug. 17 regular council business meeting in council chambers to stage a workshop to deal with the disparity between the type of housing development in the city versus the actual needs of Nelsonites.

He said the workshop needs to create policy that deals with how council targets the development of housing where the need actually happens to be.

“Because right now the market is driving development that is not servicing the need that we are seeing on the streets of our town,” he said.

“Or at least there is segment of those people that are simply not being supported through the development as we are just letting it happen now.

“The houses that are being built are not always meeting the need and that’s why we are seeing the problem just getting worse and worse,” he said in regard to the escalating price of homes in Nelson and the scarcity of rental accommodations.

The request arose out of a council discussion to approve a strata request for a property at 616 Railway Street. In accordance with the Strata Property Act, strata title conversions are required to obtain council approval when the applicant “wishes to include in the strata plan a previously occupied building.”

Coun. Nicole Charlwood wondered how the nature of the application upheld the precepts of the Strata Property Act, with council required to consider the priority of rental accommodation over privately owned housing.

The Railway Street property would be all privately owned housing, she said.

“My understanding is that there is no rental threat here but I just wanted clarity that there is nothing keeping the owners of this building to rent these new units,” she said.

The question spawned a debate on the responsibility of the city to direct the nature of development in Nelson.

Page wondered if there could be a condition imposed on the property to require one of the five strata’s to be a rental.

“This Act is to prevent rental properties from being stratified and being turned into private, which isn’t the case in this development,” said city manager Kevin Cormack.

The request was to stratify 616 Railway Street with an existing residential and commercial use, asking to renovate an existing building with one residential unit and two commercial units into four residential units and one commercial unit.

The four residential units and one commercial unit were to be strata-title converted separately.

However, Cormack cautioned taking a municipal tool and imposing rental conditions on a different type of development. He said a rental-first prerogative could be achieved through zoning and good policy work across the board, instead.

“This doesn’t seem like a policy approach to rental housing,” he said.

But there needs to be a policy tool for council to achieve a better playing field for affordable housing in the city, said Coun. Rik Logtenberg.

“It seems to me that with the decreasing rental stock in Nelson — you don’t want to do it on a case-by-case basis — … there should be a policy in place to increase the density of rental units in Nelson,” he said.

He wanted to see more solid policy on vacant housing and properties purchased for investment purposes.

“Do we have a policy level … or can we put something in place that does ensure that units like this are occupied?” he asked.

Mayor John Dooley said part of the idea of Railtown was the live-work notion that was originally mapped out for the area, to bring more people to live in that neighbourhood.

“I think when we develop these ideas for particular parts of our community, it’s one thing to maybe revisit them, but maybe we need to revisit the whole thing, rather than taking on one project at a time,” he said.

“This thing is meeting what we requested for Railtown.”

Cormack said the city did not have any tools that require strata owners to live in that property.

“Certainly what I am hearing is what is our policy on encouraging rental properties, and are there any other policy tools we could be looking at,” he said.

“If that is what you are looking at, I wouldn’t hang this particular development up on that but certainly you can give direction to staff to look at that.”

He pointed to the city’s very “liberal” attitude in encouraging rental and creating rental properties: allowing up to three residences on a single family lot; creating a robust suite policy; and laneway housing policies.

Cormack suggested Development Services could come forward with budget and proposed priorities, including a workshop on housing development toward the end of drafting council policy.

We have unprecedented development going on now and … if there are some gaps we are not fulfilling they should be brought forward,” he said.

Charlwood said she just wanted to point out that in the city staff report on the strata application part of the sustainability objectives was written that the development was to provide a mix of housing choices.

“And I think that part of what you are hearing from us tonight is that this project is not actually meeting that goal,” she said.

Forward thinking

The 616 Railway Street property is 947 square metres and contains an existing building originally built in 1899.

The building currently contains residential and commercial uses and is zoned MU3 — which allows for unlimited density, within the prescribed height and lot coverage maximums and the provision of commercial uses at-grade.

The proposed strata plan would create five strata properties, including two new residential units.

Speaking of stratification

Strata title conversion, also known as stratification, is the creation of individual legal units when an existing building is involved.

The Strata Property Act gives municipalities the ability to protect rental housing from being converted into private ownership by requiring council approval for existing buildings applying for stratification.

Under the Act, council is required to consider the following when making its decision whether to approve a proposed strata conversion:

• the priority of rental accommodation over privately owned housing in the area;

• any proposal for the relocation of persons occupying a residential building;

• the life expectancy of the building;

• projected major increases in maintenance costs due to the condition of the building; and

• any other matters that, in its opinion, are relevant.

Source: City of Nelson staff