By Trevor Busch
Industry and other stakeholders have identified one of Taber’s key deficiencies as a lack of affordable housing development. With that in mind, town council has been actively engaged in tackling this problem. In late 2018, they approved a concept plan for a northwest project, tentatively referred to as Taber North.
“We have some preliminary engineering estimates for a first phase, and also servicing of the land on the east side,” said planning director Phyllis Monks. “That’s kind of tentatively proposed for 2021, but we haven’t really determined yet where we’re going to be getting all of the funding from, whether there’s grant opportunities, or partnering, or how we’ll move it forward. But for 2020, we’ll be finalizing that outline plan, and doing some engineering for a first phase — which would probably be the development of a manufactured mobile home community. We’re looking for attainable working housing for the region, so if we start with that first phase then at least we can start addressing some of those immediate needs.”
The town currently owns 82 acres of land located in the northwest sector along 50th Street, with 60 acres to the west and 22 acres to the east. Two years ago this month, council approved a plan to borrow $2 million to allow for the purchase and development of the 60 acre parcel, which was acquired for $1.2 million with a further $800,000 allocated for site development.
In the town’s 2021 capital budget, an Affordable and Alternative Housing Project has been earmarked for $3,994,000 from reserves, but Monks reports the town is also seeking funding from other sources.
Referred to as ‘Taber North’ in town planning documents, that is probably only a placeholder title until consultations get underway.
“It’s still ’Taber North’ in the very preliminary draft drawings,” said Monks. “We’ve kicked around a few different names, and we’ll probably when we get a little closer to having that final draft outline plan we’ll probably take several options to council and see what their thoughts are, and maybe we’ll hear from the public if there’s some creative names for it. We haven’t really figured out how we’re going to finalize that one yet, but I don’t think it will stick with ’Taber North.’ We’ll probably try to find something a little dreamier.”
Administration engaged Brown and Associates Planning Group to assist in a visioning workshop with council to determine a concept for the area that will facilitate providing affordable housing options meeting the needs of industry and the town.
“Council takes their time in making sure that what they’re spending their money is the right thing, so it has to go through that whole process. We think it’s important,” said Monks. “We’re working with industry and our community partners, and Taber and District Housing (Foundation). We’re partnering in lots of different ways, and we want to ensure that if there is a lack of affordable housing, then that gets addressed. And council has directed us to find ways to address the needs of our community, so we’ll keep partnering and finding ways to do that.”
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Company, housing is considered to be “affordable” when a household spends less that 30 per cent of its pre-tax income on adequate shelter. One idea that has merit is being formulated by TDHF for an affordable housing complex.
“We’re working with Taber and District Housing, we’re looking at possibly some of our land in the downtown,” said Monks. “Council has given them the direction to put together a proposal — a more solid proposal — and then bring that back to council so they can take a look at that, and help them move forward with possible grant opportunities, and supporting them in that way.”
Strengths of the subdivision area have been identified, including proximity to community amenities, the river valley, trails, and employment opportunities, minimal utility setbacks or constraints, and direct access to 50th Street. The area presents opportunities for economic growth, housing diversity, expanding the trail system and creating a strong connection with the M.D. of Taber Park and Oldman River.
“Once this outline plan process gets finalized, there’ll be a variety of housing out there. The Phase 1 direction that we’re getting from council is that modular dwelling type of opportunity, just to be able to address the most immediate needs. If we’ve got new industry that needs housing, then we’ll be able to address that quickly. Our local developers in town are doing their part to try to bring some more competitive products onto the market. There is no one answer to the affordable housing issue that many communities are facing. Taber is continuing to work with our partners to provide options, and than can only be proactive and beneficial for the community.”
Preliminaries are still being finalized, and the public will be given input on what the community might like to see in the subdivision.
“Just trying to deal with the practical aspects of it, and then bring that back and and say does this still meet with your concept, council? What does the public think of this? Is there enough green space? Is there a good buffer between the other uses in the area? Is it what you imagined you were going to see, and what are your thoughts? I think that will be where it gets exciting for people, to see what’s on this, and could I live in that community. Because that’s our goal, to make it a livable and attractive community.”
Upcoming public consultation on the project will be vital, asserts Monks, and the municipality wants to hear from its citizens and industry on what they would like to see.
“We’re going to see actually a lot of public consultation in the next little couple of months — not just related to that project. Planning is going to be very busy this spring and summer. We’ve got the outline plan, and then in association to that we’ve got the Northwest Area Structure Plan, which will require some amendment to reflect what’s going to be in that outline plan. We have a potential school development that may come to fruition on those east lands, still in very high level area. The next few months you’re going to see several open houses coming up.”
Monks argues citizens have a lot to look forward to in Taber in 2020 on the development front.
“We’ve got new industry coming to town, we’ve worked on a few successful land sales, so that’s a great opportunity. Developments that have so far been stagnant look like they’re going to start moving again. We see that in Westview with that R-4 lot, and with 56th Avenue coming through, we’re going to see some development in that area. We’re going to complete a census this spring, so we can understand the growth that’s in our community and use that for economic development, but also for our community partners. We’ve got our partnerships with the chamber and Taber and District Housing that will bring some good things to our downtown. We have groups such as Trail 77 and Communities in Bloom who were both recently at council, who have got some great ideas — Communities in Bloom always do amazing things. The Trout Pond, the new campground, that’s coming this summer. 56th Avenue will also have pathway that will connect to the Trout Pond, so we’ll be able finish that loop on our pathway system. So it’s going to be a really busy, exciting summer, providing some good amenities for our community.”