The City of Armstrong has moved ahead with a plan to create affordable housing at the expense of some parkland.
Council voted 6-1 in favour of rezoning a city-owned parcel on Adair Street, located behind the Nor-Val Sports Centre at the rear of Memorial Park, from park to multi-use residential. This will allow a maximum of 80 affordable rental housing units to be built on the site, something Armstrong sorely is lacking according to a housing needs study.
Council made the move Monday, Jan, 25, after reconvening a public hearing on the matter that originally started and was adjourned Jan. 18. The original hearing had a total of nine members of the public speak regarding the bylaws, but mostly about the proposed project.
On Monday, 22 new letters were received, as was a six-page report for council in favour of the rezoning prepared by city planner Dan Passmore. Seven people spoke on the project via Zoom including Elizabeth Gustafson, whose property backs onto the site.
“I’m a long-time resident and the woods there provide a buffer zone between nine homes and the sewer ponds,” she said. “Removing the woods will be devastating to the wildlife and will be more vulnerable to the ponds. I’m worried about the height (proposed project could be four storeys and feature two buildings). Where are the people that are going to live in them? I’d consider this if this was made for families.”
A number of citizens spoke and wrote vehemently against the proposed development, questioning the size of the proposal, or whether there’s enough infrastructure to support though nothing has been determined as what will actually be built on the site.
Speaking in favour of the project was Ryan Nitchie, who believes the city should play an active role in encouraging and supporting diversity within its housing inventory.
“The city has, by precedence, participated directly and indirectly in supporting various forms of housing in our community,” said Nitchie, citing examples of Heaton Place, Three Links Lodge and the Legion Homes. He also pointed out the city did not support a multi-family residential application for Wood Avenue.
The public hearing lasted 37 minutes. Council’s debate lasted one minute longer.
“I sense, from what I’m hearing, the community as a whole is in favour of affordable housing, it’s just location, and size and all that sort of thing that goes along with it,” said Coun. Gary Froats. “The important thing to note tonight is we’re not talking about form and character or the size of buildings. All we’re doing is setting some zoning. The structure, number of units, how it will look is down the road. This probably should have been rezoned many years ago…We need to look long and hard at what we put in there.”
Coun. Jim Wright was the lone opponent on council. He said he was disappointed the piece of property will no longer be parkland.
“I was a bit torn at the beginning with regard to the need for affordable housing, then when I looked at the property and saw the parkland there, yes, Memorial Park is developed the most but there is parkland,” said Wright. “Technically, it’s property we can’t replace. I can’t support the motion. There are other properties, smaller, granted, but that would mean affordable housing would be fewer units in a more desirable place and closer to the community.”
Mayor Chris Pieper, who celebrated 32 years since being elected to Armstrong council on the weekend, and is a life-long resident, said everyone’s home in Armstrong was green space at one time.
“This growth has enabled our schools to grow and prosper and all of our clubs to survive,” he said. “If we cut development, we wouldn’t have clubs. We wouldn’t have amenities. The only amenity we’d have is a four-lane highway to Vernon to do our work there. This rezoning will allow the process to be sustainable as we go forward.”
Coun. Paul Britton took issue with residents fear-mongering over this and a number of issues, including spreading misinformation, he said, over this proposal and the one planned for the Royal York Golf Course.
“They make it sound like we’re removing all of the parkland and that’s definitely not the case,” said Britton. “The accusations by people against mayor, council and city staff of wrongdoings and not being transparent, or making serious errors in judgment and breaking community trust, we put a lot of time and effort into this. We’ve always tried to keep the best interests of our community in the forefront.
Britton said the city does have the infrastructure to move forward with affordable housing on the site.
The city made affordable housing its No. 1 priority – voted on unanimously by council, as Britton pointed out – for its 2021-2025 strategic plan.