Why I Voted to Approve An Apartment Building in Clovelly Trails

Note from Dave: This is an extended version of a speech I gave today in Council explaining why I voted in favour of a proposal to build an apartment building in a neighbourhood where people didn't want it. The proposal was rejected 6-5.

It's long, so here's the basic point: I listened to, considered, and researched the concerns of residents and felt that this proposal would not have the impact feared, and in fact was better than the alternatives.

Your Worship, there has been so much outcry from the residents of this neighbourhood that I have spent quite a deal of time analyzing this proposal for a 71-unit apartment building.

When I first saw this proposal, I have to admit I was pleased to see yet another option for housing in our city. It came upon us as we were preparing to launch our Housing Business Plan, which aims to create a diverse mix of housing options throughout the city, thus enabling people to afford housing that matches their incomes.

However, many valid concerns have been raised by residents about having this development so close to their home. Almost 200 people attended a public meeting on a very dark and rainy night, over 400 names were hand-signed to a petition, and countless individual emails have been written to myself and my fellow councillors.

In light of this intense public reaction, I did what I always do: I wrote a blog post. I laid out the situation as clearly as I could, shared it as widely and actively as I could, and asked for public feedback. The comments were many, and they were wide-ranging.

Here are the main concerns I’ve heard during this extended back-and-forth: Clovelly Trails residents own housing not compatible with this proposal; there is a fear of reducing property values on homes that residents have spent a lot of money investing in; there will be a potential increase in number of children, putting strain on local schools; there will be a strain on infrastructure; the proposal was not in the original plan; and of course the most pressing concern: Traffic.

I’d briefly like to touch on these points, as I considered them thoroughly and I don’t think residents have been given enough explanation of the potential these possible impacts.

First and foremost, Your Worship, I’m looking at this proposal in the context of our current housing situation and the growth trends and projections for our city. Housing costs in our small city rival those of Calgary, Alberta, and residents across the spectrum - students, retirees, seniors, young professionals - are struggling to afford a place to live.

Our response to this issue is to encourage a diverse mix of housing options to make sure that everyone can have a place to live. While in some cases this means encouraging typical “affordable housing,” it also means encouraging higher-end rental opportunities like the one we’re discussing today.

Our city is growing, and is projected to grow for quite some time.  We are following a strategy to growth that encourages “intensification” which means making use of existing pipes and roads instead of “sprawling,” which would mean more maintenance and service costs, thus raising taxes. This proposal fits the bill.

With respect to concerns about parking, the proposal provides 91 spaces for 71 units because that is the standard requirement for a building such as this for much of North America. It’s a standard for a reason: when people live in an apartment building they are more likely to have one or less cars and use public transit. It is safe to say that these spaces will be sufficient and it will not lead to on-street parking; in fact this development will likely bolster our efforts to expand bus service in the area.

There is also a very evident concern about the type of people who will be living in this new building. However, the City cannot - nor should not - dictate what type of people can or can’t live in a community based on their income level. With this in mind, though, we can make strong predictions about what type of people will live in certain types of dwellings, so it’s important for me to address worries of affected property value.

There is no evidence whatsoever that this type of development will negatively impact property values or time on market. Even “less desirable” developments such as social housing have shown no impact in case upon case across Canada and North America.

But this is not social housing. This proposal is a market response to a dramatically increasing number of retirement-aged professionals. The building and its units are designed to attract people who are used to a higher standard of living but may not feel the need to spend as much of their reduced retirement income on property taxes and maintenance costs.

Because this market is huge and there are so few other developments to meet this specific demand, it is extremely likely that this is the type of people that will live in the apartments. This implies quiet neighbours; limited car ownership and off-peak daily trips; and a negligible increase in school-going children, if any. This alleviates many concerns raised.

There were several other concerns that are typical worries and questions that arise when a new development is proposed. For the most part these can be satisfied by the fact that the developer has made many adjustments to their proposal to reduce impact on the surroundings including: a large buffer between the building and the neighbouring homes, a thick barrier of trees, and tall privacy fencing. As well, the building has as an appealing, high-quality design.

There is one concern, however, that gave me great pause, and that is traffic levels. There is already a lot of traffic on Stavanger Drive. Journey down the residential portion of the street and you’ll see children playing, families walking, and a general vibrancy of a thriving neighbourhood. It is indeed striking that we have a main thoroughfare passing through such human activity.

However, virtually any new development in this area will add vehicles to the flow. This plot of land is already zoned to accommodate a very wide range of developments. If another proposal came in matching one of these options, it would be approved internally as long as it met infrastructure requirements and other standards. Some of these options include a car wash, a shopping centre, department store, an eating establishment, a hotel, a recycling depot.. the list goes on.

The question, then, is How much traffic will the development add, and how does that compare to the other options already allowed on the land? I believe that many of these existing options -- those already allowed under our Plan -- would likely have a much greater impact on traffic than this apartment building. So to reject this proposal on the basis of traffic impact alone would be irresponsible.

Some residents are frustrated that the City is diverting from the existing plan for this proposal. The fact of the matter is that the vision for the subdivision was created by developer and not enforceable by the City. However the City does control general zoning, and the suggested change from commercial to residential is based on the fact that this proposal fits in the infrastructure capacity of that particular lot.

In other words, when I made my decision, I saw this as an opportunity to approve a development that will actually fit very well in the neighbourhood. There may be somewhat better options (some have mentioned a park or a catering business with low traffic impact), but these options are both unlikely to be proposed and worse options are in fact more likely to be proposed.

Your Worship, I understand the concerns of the residents of this neighbourhood. I especially appreciate their passionate engagement on the issue. And I very much consider citizen input as a foundation component of making a decision that will affect the surrounding area, and in turn the entire city.

However, it is my duty to assess the possible impacts of a proposal based on all input - including thoughtful comments made by residents. So upon deep and extended reflection, and in my capacity as a councillor at large, I am confident that this proposal will not cause near the impacts concerned residents fear, and that is why I’m voting in favour today.

Written by Dave Lane at 22:45

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