City touts development flexibility
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.
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.