By Trevor Busch
The Town of Taber is pushing through preliminaries in anticipation of a new affordable housing development on recently-purchased land in the community’s northwest.
At town council’s April 23 regular meeting, planning director Andrew Malcolm suggested one of the first steps in moving forward with development of the land is the completion of a concept plan.
“Using the money through the debenture that was not going to the land purchase, we can essentially start moving forward with the actual design and servicing of the land. Once the concept plan is completed we’ll have a better understanding of the magnitude of cost.”
The concept plan should adhere to existing municipal policy and include council and public engagement, a subdivision design concept, and preliminary design for transportation, site grades, storm water and municipal services and utilities. Malcolm estimated the cost of the plan could be as high as $100,000.
Located directly south of the town cemetery and west of 50th Street, the civic address of the property is the 7000 Block of 50th Street. Following the satisfactory results of Phase I-II Environmental Site Assessments, on March 12 council authorized the purchase of the 24.3 HA (60 acres) of field land. According to administration, the intent of the purchase is for the town to take an active role in residential land development to create more opportunities for affordable housing.
The purchase of the land and all costs associated with development was not included in capital or operating budgets. The town is in the process of borrowing $2 million through a 10-year debenture from the Alberta Capital Finance Authority, with $1.2 million directed to the land and $800,000 allocated to the planning, design and initial development.
“I think this is a very wise recommendation happening here,” said Coun. Garth Bekkering. “I think it’s crucial and incumbent upon us to find out and hire some expertise regarding what we really need.”
The land is currently zoned Urban Reserve District for the purpose of protecting lands for future urban growth by restricting premature subdivision and development within the area. It is planned to include a 10 ha (25 acre) school and recreation joint use site, 10 ha for mixed and medium residential development, and roughly four hectares for roads and utilities. It is anticipated that the land could support approximately 240 to 300 residential units.
Coun. Mark Garner inquired if the concept plan would take into account efforts to mitigate High Intensity Residential Fire (HIRF) regulations, a contentious topic in Taber with the town currently considering a multi-million capital investment to relocate its fire hall to address the problem.
“Are we taking into consideration HIRF guidelines when we subdivide this land into smaller lots? We have an opportunity in front of us, instead of making lots tiny and having implications down the road with HIRF, to make these a little larger lots, and make them ‘HIRF-proof.'”
CAO Cory Armfelt, who has a background in planning prior to taking on the town’s top administrative role, suggested these considerations were too preliminary.
“That certainly can come up during the design stages, that’s a little bit too premature to have a conversation about tonight. We may be doing a mobile home community, or row housing that doesn’t require that sort of consideration for fire separations, or a bunch of residential lots. Until we actually get that concept down, we won’t really know what direction we’re heading.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas warned against council meddling too deeply in lot sizes if its professed aim of achieving an affordable housing option was to reach fruition.
“The whole purchase of this property was to identify including some low-cost housing. If we’re going to make country residential lots — larger than normal — then I think we’re beating ourselves with our own bat because we’ll have added costs in there and we’re not going to meet our threshold for low-cost housing. So we need to be very careful about the size of the lots.”
Malcolm appeared to agree.
“That’s really why the expertise on the types of housing is important, so that we can understand through the work that we’re doing with Taber and District Housing what’s missing. And then we can understand what’s feasible to be built within our current context, which includes HIRF.”
According to administration, this scale of residential land development is new for the town and existing service levels and staff resources within the planning and economic development department will be impacted as priorities and projects are shifted to accommodate.
Malcolm recommended against the town sole-sourcing the concept plan to MPE Engineering.
“We could use MPE Engineering, which is the town’s engineering company, but through talks with our public works department they probably just lack a little bit of understanding in terms of the market and what type of development we’re looking at.”
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to authorize administration to utilize the land purchase and development debenture funds to engage through an RFP process a planning/engineering consultant to complete a concept plan for the recently-acquired lands (SE 7-10-16-W4) with a civic address of 7000 50th Street in accordance with the Northwest Area Structure Plan. Mayor Andrew Prokop was absent from the meeting.