Affordability within REACH
Calgary company creates homes for Saskatoon’s poor
Saskatoon’s working poor will share the benefits of a groundbreaking project in the Prairie city being put together by a Calgary developer. Stoneset Equities Ltd. will build a 28-storey, mixed-use tower in the heart of downtown Saskatoon right near city hall.
The 250-unit Stoneset Lighthouse building will include 120 units on six floors for affordable housing.
They will be utilized by The Lighthouse Supportive Living Group, which attempts to provide housing for those in need.
The city sold the site of the project to Saskatchewan Housing for only $1 to pave the way for the development — and all it wanted in return was the inclusion of 100 police parking stalls into the building’s parkade.
Not only was the city generous with its selling price for the land, it also made a bylaw change to allow more height to the modernistic building to accommodate more units.
It is also prepared to work with Stoneset to ensure timely passage of both the development and building permits required.
“We were asked by the mayor if we’d be interested in developing a residential project in the downtown in response to the need for both affordable and market-priced housing there,” says Stoneset chairman
and CEO Tony Argento.
He estimates the hard costs associated with the highrise will reach $85 million.
Phil Richards, city manager for Saskatoon, says the development follows the vision council has for the city’s future.
“Council has a philosophy, much like other cities in Canada, that a strong city needs a strong downtown and to have a strong downtown you need more people living in it,” he says.
Currently, there are two refurbishing projects under way in the core area, one which involves the conversion of a Bay department store into condos.
Stoneset Equities Ltd.’s project is similar in some ways to what the Mustard Seed wants to do in Calgary — find homes for those with jobs, but who can’t afford housing.
“(Saskatoon) is very progressive in its thinking,” says Argento. “By integrating the affordable suites into the development, we feel it will give those residents a feeling of worth and pride of ownership.”
In addition to the other 130 market-value condominium units for people working downtown or those looking for a lifestyle change, there will be a small commercial component at ground-level.
Argento hopes to have the required permits in time to break ground late next spring or early in the summer. “When we were approached to put in the proposal, the idea was that the Lighthouse group needed to relocate its affordable housing component, and required 120 units — but to maximize the site, the city wanted to see higher density,” says Argento.
“We put together a proposal where we could hopefully combine affordable housing and condominiums into (one) project. There's a lot of capital costs required, and if you put in the
density you're go- ing to recapture the cost.”
As much as there is a need for affordable housing in Saskatoon, there is a similar hunger for condominiums, Argento adds. There is high demand for new housing because of a near zero vacancy rate in a market where there is very little product available downtown in this city of 200,000.
“We’re still months away from being under construction, but we’ve already sold some of the market-priced penthouse units for more than $1 million,” he says, adding that prices for market-value suites in the building will likely come in at about $300 per square foot.
The Saskatoon project is the first urban market high-rise developed by Stoneset, which was incorporated by 2006.
“Most of us involved with the company have done large projects in previous lives,” says Argento. “And we all have a common goal to create projects that have a positive impact on society.”
Argento has a long history of being concerned with preserving and protecting the environment — and so it is with the Saskatoon development, which he says will be at least a goldlevel LEED project.
“Energy conservation is a key to our projects — we want to keep our impact on it to a minimum,” he says. “To that extent, we will be storing water for irrigation and other non-potable uses in below-ground cisterns, there will be rooftop gardens, low-flow appliances and solar technology.”
More than a decade ago, Argento was a partner in ASH — Autonomous & Sustainable Housing Inc. — which was involved in the construction of a totally sustainable home in the northwest community of Scenic Acres. Among other things, the demonstration home was used to test various insulation methods, heating, greywater components, and solar heating and cooling.
Stoneset Equities brings together shareholders with various projects and creates opportunities for investment and ownership in what Argento calls value-added real estate projects.
The company is actively involved in buying and developing properties in Canada.
While it prepares to move ahead with construction in Saskatoon, Stoneset is also continuing development of a recreation property in Invermere, B.C.
“We saw a need for a fourstar hotel and convention centre in the Columbia Valley,” says Argento. “And Vista del Lago is the result.”
Located on five hectares of land in downtown Invermere, the mixed use development has been approved for 144 hotel rooms, 570 condominiums and 45,000 square feet of commercial space.
At the beginning of August, development permits for the second and third phase of this trendy project were approved by the District of Invermere.