Public hearing postpones development

Smithers town council postponed rezoning of the Christian Elementary school property to consider comments made at a public hearing.

Council unveiled their 2012-216 five year plan and budget highlighting council’s direction on a number of infrastructure projects over the current term.

However, the focus of the evening was on councils decision to postpone the rezoning of the old Christian Elementary school for a housing project until they can sift through the information received during a public hearing Tuesday night.

“This budget puts a high priority on fixing the roads,” said Mayor Taylor Bachrach. “Everyone’s aware of the challenges we face and the current condition of the roads for many people isn’t acceptable.

The reality is that we haven’t been investing enough in the maintenance of our roads and streets. This council has chosen to tackle that issue and to make some progress on getting on top of the problem.”

Though the budget still need to be adopted by council it has clearly set out a path to focus more time, effort and money to the badly damaged roads that seems to be a continues issue for council especially after the tough winter.

However, council also held a public hearing into the rezoning of the former Christian Elementary school on Walnut Drive from a P-2 to R-3 designation. Recently Kevin Stunder, Managing Director of Aurora Resorts Inc.

The same developer currently completing the Watson’s Landing project, proposed a 30 unit housing development on the Christian school lands that has the potential to breath some much needed life into the stale site.

“We’re hoping to build a product you don’t see in Smithers,” Stunder said.

“It would be two to three stories, elevator access, shared gymnasium, shared lounge area and some really neat green spaces.

“We want to evaluate a couple potential things we could do to make it an amenity rich project.”

This is the second time in a month council has dealt with a similar situation.

Two weeks ago council approved the rezoning of a parcel of land on Third Ave. to an R-3 designation to accommodate another medium density housing project.

Considering Smithers lacks R-3, medium density zoning, council seems to be looking to approve the rezoning in the hope of better diversifying Smithers’ housing market.

“I think [this project] meets the criteria and seems to be consistent with the OCP,” Bachrach said.

“Like any process there are a range of views in the community but I think it’s fair to say in the balance there has been quite a bit of support for the project.”

However, after hearing a number of concerns about the possible increased traffic around the area, despite Ministry of Transportations approval of the traffic flow density, council decided to postpone making a decision until they look at all the possibilities for more access to the site.

“We expected to be approved last night,” Stunder said.

“I do respect some of the concerns, that there is some way to figure out and have the town better understand discussions I’ve had with neighboring properties.

“In my opinion that’s not a reason for any decision to move ahead to be delayed.

“I think its good the town is looking at these concerns, two weeks isn’t the end of the world but it does defer work for several people by two weeks.”

Still as the need for alternative, affordable housing becomes an increasing priority for council, projects like these that remain consistent with the OCP, will become more common and require the direction of council.

“I think the type of density and the type of people it may attract, we may see more people walking and biking, it may not be all automobiles,” Councillor Mark Bandstra said.

“I think it’s good to stop and think and dwell on it before we make a decision. But I don’t think we should fear it.”