By Trevor Busch
Taber town council is considering options to help promote the development of higher-density housing in the community for lower-income individuals and families.
At the council’s May 24 regular meeting, South Alta Trading Co. Ltd., the developer of Prairie Lake Estates, requested their offsite levy fees be waived for Phase 2. Subdivision TT-15-0-006, which includes Phase 2, was approved by the Subdivision and Development Authority on Dec. 21, 2015. The total offsite levy fees for Phase 2 have been calculated at $104,567.86.
In a written submission by Sid Tams to council on behalf of the South Alta Trading Co. Ltd, he indicated Phase 2 would be an entry-level housing development, located in the southwest sector of the Prairie Lake development, and is complete with connector roads, parks, and green areas. Subdivision TT-15-0-006 included both Phase 2 and Phase 3 in Prairie Lake Estates, and the $146,839.97 owed on offsite levy fees for Phase 3 were paid in full.
“It has been at least 30 years since any developer has attempted to build an R2 area in Taber, and we have figured out why. There’s no money in it,” said Tams in his submission. “In looking at different municipalities across Alberta, Canada and North America, several different approaches are taken to supply this very much in demand housing. They include provincial subsidies (not available in Alberta), local subsidies (possibly available in Taber) and federal subsidies (applied for but not available).”
According to Tams’ written submission, the communities of Coaldale and Lethbridge continue to provide new entry-level housing, and local governments have participated in the building of R2 housing by providing breaks on the development of parks, as in Lethbridge, or reducing or removing offsite levies, as in Coaldale. The submission went on to state that for the sixth consecutive year, Taber is on pace to build half as many dwellings as Coaldale.
“I have not asked for a reduction in any other part of Prairie Lake Estates, as I feel the town has been very fair to deal with,” concluded Tams in his submission. “However, I cannot justify building this phase from a financial point of view. We will not cut corners on quality to see this project through. People deserve quality development regardless of their financial position in life.”
If town council chooses to relax the offsite levy on this phase of development, from a process perspective South Alta Trading Co. Ltd. will be required to re-apply for the subdivision.
“I had a vision of building different neighbourhoods in one subdivision for all different kinds of income levels, all different stages and areas of their life, retired people as well as working folk, single people,” said Tams on May 24. “Phase 2, if you want to compete with cities like Calgary or Coaldale, or even Picture Butte now, to do entry-level housing our costs on it are $55,000 to $60,000 per lot. If you’re lucky that’s what you can sell it for.”
Town council does not have the authority to change a condition of the Subdivision and Development Authority. According to administration, council could pass a motion recommending waiving the condition of the offsite levy payment at the time of the Subdivision and Development Authority decision.
“There’s a further problem with that type of housing development,” said Tams. “If you look at Coaldale, they do it in spurts. But if there’s 24 lots that you need to build, it’s not like you’re going to sell 24 of these properties in a year or two. It takes quite a long time to fill them in. So my partners kind of put a stop to the project because there was basically no money in it. But we’d really like to continue with the project, because the town of Taber needs this kind of housing.”
Sec. 11.1 of Offsite Levy Bylaw 19-2015 allows the Town of Taber to reduce or forgive offsite levy fees.
“With Phase 2, I don’t plan to cut corners so that I can make this profitable,” said Tams. “But at the same time I’d like some buy-in from the town. If you go to Saskatchewan, they have funding for entry-level housing. The Canadian government does — we’ve looked at all the different options and couldn’t find it. So we’re here to ask the town. It’s been 40 years since we’ve had this kind of development in Taber, and neighbouring communities are eating our lunch because of it.”
According to administration, offsite levies are collected to be used for the expansion of municipal infrastructure, and reducing and forgiving offsite levy fees could impact the Town of Taber in future when the expansion of municipal infrastructure is required. Those costs will either be borne by all taxpayers if the offsite levy fees are waived, or by new residents if the offsite levy fees are not waived.
Coun. Randy Sparks questioned Tams about the threshold price for a development to be considered “entry level” housing, which Tams suggested is anything under $220,000.
“A lot of people have different opinions of what ‘entry-level’ is,” said Sparks. “Some people think ‘entry-level’ is over $300,000. I know there was a time when council of the day was very interested in having what they considered low-cost housing, but low-cost housing to some of the developers at that time was over $300,000.”
Tams was quick to point out that Sparks was right to suggest that there are few housing options in the community available for lower-income families and individuals.
“My target is actually to be under $230,000 in all 24 units. I’d like to get into the $200,000 range. We’ve done some work on what that means. Can a family that makes $42,000 per year afford a mortgage on this property? Yes. Which is part of the demographic of Taber. There is none in town, Councillor Sparks. Nobody builds them, because our idea in Taber of entry level is $300,000. You’re not wrong about that.”
Mayor Henk DeVlieger was largely supportive of providing breaks to developers that are interested in creating higher-density housing in the community.
“When it comes to the economics of the Town of Taber, it’s always been a battle to find economical housing, affordable housing. There’s a lot of people that make that kind of income, and they can only support a mortgage based on a property of that amount of money. It’s been a struggle, and I know in order for use to attract business, we have to have these kinds of properties available for people, otherwise it’s not going to happen. The cost has to come from somewhere, I realize that.”
DeVlieger went on to offer his unreserved support for the project moving forward if the town chooses to waive offsite levy fees.
“Personally, I think this request is quite reasonable from my point of view in order to make this happen. Because I can see the developer’s point — if there’s no money in it, or it actually costs money, what’s the sense of doing it? That’s why it’s not been happening in the past, because the cost is a lot higher for high density — you might not think so, but it is — because of all the extra costs that are involved just to create a lot. Personally, I would speak in favour of doing this for this subdivision, because I see it in the best interests of the town that we can create attractive lots where people can build an affordable home.”
For Coun. Joe Strojwas, a small shift in focus away from higher-income housing is vital for Taber if it hopes to compete on an even keel with its neighbouring municipalities in the area of higher-density housing.
“This is something Taber doesn’t have. If you look at Westview, the homes are all large homes there. There are no entry-level homes in town here. If you take a look at what sells, the lower end homes are selling way quicker than the higher priced ones. The employees at Lamb Weston that make between $18 and $20 per hour — a lot of them come in from different areas — if we want them to live here and own their own homes, we have to look at alternatives to create some entry-level housing. I realize everyone needs to make money, and that’s probably why no one’s getting into this here.”
Coun. Rick Popadynetz appeared to be favour of cutting developers a significant break on offsite levy fees rather an outright waiver, a suggestion viewed dimly by Mayor DeVlieger.
“I think it would still kill the project. That’s what I think,” said DeVlieger. “I think we need to be smart about it and give it a chance. I like to see this town grow, I like to see people that live on a small income have the opportunity to live in Taber, just as much the people that have a lot of money and can buy a $50,000-$100,000 lot. I’d like to see this happening.”
Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux cautioned council about making any final decision on the matter forthwith.
“I would like to do a bit of work on this myself. I’ve never heard of waving offsite levies in my travels and discussions. So I’d like to do a bit more homework on that.”
At their May 24 regular meeting, Taber town council voted unanimously (6-0) to receive the information provided by the South Alta Trading Co. Ltd. delegation and directed administration to research options other municipalities use to incentivise medium-density development, to be brought back to council for their discussion and review on June 13. Coun. Jack Brewin was absent from the meeting.