City touts de­vel­op­ment flex­i­bil­ity

Medicine Hat News - - HOMETOWN NEWS - COLLIN GAL­LANT cgal­lant@medicine­hat­news.com Twit­ter: CollinGal­lant

A vic­tory by a home­builder who chal­lenged city re­stric­tions that pre­vented a new front-fac­ing garage be­ing built on the South­east Hill is be­ing hailed by coun­cil mem­bers as a fur­ther sig­nal City Hall is open to de­vel­op­ment.

An­other coun­cil­lor how­ever, says such guide­lines pro­tect the char­ac­ter of older neigh­bour­hoods and shouldn’t be wholly dis­carded.

This week coun­cil re­ceived the re­sults of a Sub­di­vi­sion Ap­peals Board hear­ing that over­turned a plan­ning depart­ment de­nial of an ap­pli­ca­tion to in­clude a drive­way and front garage at 359 11th St. SE.

How­ever, the owner and de­vel­op­ment com­pany suc­cess­fully ar­gued to the ap­peal body that the lot was bet­ter suited to the con­fig­u­ra­tion and the mar­ket­place wants such fea­tures.

Coun. Jamie McIn­tosh told coun­cil that new con­struc­tion in older neigh­bour­hoods is a strate­gic pri­or­ity for coun­cil.

“It’s what we’re striv­ing for,” he said, be­fore ask­ing ad­min­is­tra­tors if more dis­cre­tionary power is re­quired for plan­ners to OK such plans and avoid ap­peals.

Com­mis­sioner Stan Schwartzen­berger said the depart­ment is up­dat­ing the over­ar­ch­ing Mu­nic­i­pal De­vel­op­ment Plan, with fi­nal­ized amend­ments com­ing next year, and some flex­i­bil­ity will be ex­plored.

Coun. Robert Du­manowski said he felt the de­ci­sion was “right for the right rea­sons” but coun­cil should be cau­tious about re­mov­ing re­quire­ments.

“We have to be care­ful about erod­ing (de­vel­op­ment con­trols),” he said.

“We have over­lays for a pur­pose and we shouldn’t start do­ing away or cherry pick­ing them. It’s a cau­tion­ary tale for me.”

Coun. Phil Turn­bull said rules are meant to evolve and should be ex­am­ined.

“It’s im­por­tant that cit­i­zens know that ‘no’ isn’t al­ways a no,” he said.

Specif­i­cally to the site, the rule is that on es­tab­lished blocks to only al­low front drives when 60 per cent of the homes on the block al­ready have one. That is to “be sen­si­tive to” the ex­ist­ing look of the neigh­bour­hood and other prop­erty own­ers.

Front drive­ways also re­duce on­street park­ing and are gen­er­ally not in line with con­cept of “walk­a­bil­ity” that forms a ba­sis of lo­cal land-use plan­ning pol­icy.

The block in ques­tion fea­tures 40 per cent front drives, though fewer garages and mainly park­ing pads or car­ports.

The con­trac­tor, Jasper Homes, ar­gued that the 60 per cent thresh­old would be met if two homes on ad­ja­cent av­enues were in­cluded in the cal­cu­la­tion.

The board agreed, stat­ing in its con­clu­sion that front drives are in de­mand in new subdivi­sions, don’t im­pede neigh­bours and should be con­sid­ered for in­fill in re­sponse to “mar­ket de­mand.”

While the 60 per cent re­quire­ment is in place for “es­tab­lished neigh­bour­hoods” fur­ther re­stric­tions are laid out in the River Flats Re­de­vel­op­ment Plan. There, a new garage can­not face for­wards if back lane ac­cess ex­ists.

NEWS PHOTO COLLIN GAL­LANT

A now-va­cant lot on the South­east Hill can be de­vel­oped with a front drive­way and garage af­ter a lo­cal builder chal­lenged city plan­ning reg­u­la­tions. The rule, meant to pre­serve the gen­eral aes­thet­ics of a neigh­bour­hood, states that such fea­tures are al­lowed on in­fill projects if 60 per cent of houses on the block have the same.

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