Members of the public will soon have the opportunity to share their perspective on the proposed rezoning of the town-owned LB Warner site.
The 2.4-acre Main Street site houses the Bulkley Valley Gymnastics Club and the former Ministry of Highways works yard, currently being used for storage.
At their March 26 regular meeting, Smithers Town Council gave first and second readings to a staff-supported OCP amendment and rezoning bylaw for an approximate 1.5-acre portion of the site, with Coun. Lorne Benson opposed.
If adopted, the OCP amendment would change the designation of the site from civic/community use to mixed residential and the rezoning bylaw would “pre-zone” the site from public use zoning to medium density residential.
The proposed changes do not include the Gymnastics Club area.
According to town planner Deepa Chandran’s report, the site, if rezoned, can support up to 36 dwelling units.
“Smithers Community Services’ recently approved 15-unit BC Housing project is a potential lessee of the LB Warner site, while the remaining land may be leased to various stakeholders in tune with the demand for [medium density residential] lands,” the report reads.
Remediation costs “as high as $750,000”
The former works yard was remediated in 2003 to its current community use/commercial standard. However, in compliance with the Environmental Management Act, further investigation and remediation will be required to change the land use to residential.
“Site remediation may be necessary prior to the final adoption of the rezoning bylaw,” reads Chandran’s report. “Investigation and remediation costs will be significant, as high as $750,000 based on recent estimates.”
Benson said he is concerned about the costs to be borne by the Town. While Chandran’s report mentions collaboration with other agencies, such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and province, for funding, he said they don’t know how much support they will actually receive.
“I’m not sure that affordable housing is necessarily the right choice for that property,” he said.
“I think the province has to step up. I think this is their responsibility to take care of affordable housing.”
Coun. Gladys Atrill and Mayor Taylor Bachrach begged to differ.
“I do think as the local government we have a part to play,” Atrill said, adding that local governments can offer land to help address housing needs in their communities.
“We have heard time and again the way to have a healthier community is to make sure the people are properly housed.”
Atrill added she is not opposed to lobbying other levels of government for funds.
Bachrach said he thinks the need for affordable housing is widely-recognized within the community, especially affordable rental housing.
According to Chandran’s report, less than 18 per cent of all dwellings in the community are apartments, which meet the major portion of rental housing demands.
“There’s an unprecedented investment in affordable housing throughout the province and I think we have an opportunity in Smithers to capture as much of that investment as possible. That’s why I support moving forward with this,” Bachrach said, adding that the central location of the site works well for low-income individuals who may not have access to a personal vehicle.
“I can’t really think of a better site than the site that we’re talking about in terms of its location in the community.”
Either way, Coun. Frank Wray said he thinks “council made a right move to go to a rezoning so that we can hear from the public.”
After an advertising period, Bachrach told The Interior News he expects the public hearing will take place on April 23 before their regular council meeting.