City council voted to allow a zoning change that will permit the conversion of an old motel along the highway into 24 affordable housing rental units.
The issue came before city council on Monday evening as a full gallery of affordable housing advocates lined up in support of the zoning change for the old Heritage Estates Motel at 362 Van Horne St. S.
While there was palpable public support for the project, city staff had some reservations about approving the zoning change from Highway Corridor Commercial to Comprehensive Development, citing concerns over flooding from nearby Joseph Creek, the lack of pedestrian services and the fear of setting a precedent.
A public hearing before the vote featured submissions from the developer, Community Connections Society of B.C., Salvation Army, United Way and affordable housing supporters. No one spoke in opposition to the zoning change.
“I think we’ve heard from people in the community that are in the business, it’s a crisis — a housing crisis, so it’s not just a want, it’s beyond a need when it gets to the crisis stage,” said Coun. Wayne Price, during discussions before the vote.
“At the end of the day, I’m totally in favour of this. During the election and for the last number of years, we’ve been talking about what’s right for the community — this is what’s right for the community and the timing is absolutely right now, there’s just no question about it. We’re in crisis and I think we have to be responsible and take some action.”
Coun. Norma Blissett sympathized with city staff concerns over flooding, a lack of setbacks, and setting a precedent for future motel conversions.
“They’re valid, and in an ideal world, they would have more weight, but at this point, I think we need to move ahead with this,” Blissett said. “No, it’s not ideal, but I think it’ll serve the community well.”
David Derkatch, the developer for the project, is planning on redeveloping and renovating the building that will see kitchenettes in all units, as well as individual hydro meters, improvements for fire prevention and an upgraded electrical system.
Originally build in 1969, with additions in the 1990s, the Heritage Estates redevelopment will feature 23 bachelor suite units along with a three-bedroom, two bathroom owner suite. All but three units are accessible at grade level for barrier free entry.
With the approval of the zoning change, the developer will bear the cost of a 300-metre sidewalk that will connect from the building to 1st Ave, however, the city is responsible for winter maintenance.
Jason Wheeldon, a local real estate agent representing Derkatch, told council his client is willing to have a flood mitigation plan in place that includes building a berm along Joseph Creek, and agreeing to indemnify the city in the event of a flood.
Housing advocacy groups highlighted the need in the community, which has a vacancy rate of 1.3 per cent.
“Simply put, we really just need more housing in Cranbrook,” said Erin Pan, Homeless Outreach Coordinator with the Community Connections Society of B.C.
Nancy Lemire, with the Salvation Army, voiced her support for the project as well.
“It would close the extreme weather shelter tonight, if it opened,” Lemire said, of the Heritage Estates proposal.
Bill Barger, representing the United Way East Kootenay, said local problems are going to need local solutions.
“A converted and upgraded motel is not social housing, but it’s going to be 23 more units that we have today that we didn’t have yesterday,” Barger said. “It’s going to take some of the pressure off the affordable and social housing societies in town. They have hundreds on their waiting lists; this is just a drop in the bucket.
“We have to stop depending on the provincial and federal government to bail us out because they have failed. We keep waiting for that money to come down, we keep waiting for a housing plan, a federal one, it’s just not happening. We have to take the initiative ourselves.”