Former school site will be the site for new homes

The vacant three-acre site on Swift Current's south side will be used for a new affordable housing development project. It will require the relocation of a City yard waste collection site, which is currently located here.

A vacant former school site on Swift Current’s south side is set to be developed as a new housing area that offers affordable homes to families.

Council members approved a memorandum of agreement with a developer for the purchase of the former St. Joseph school site during a regular council meeting, April 19.

The developer Sidney Tams will purchase the three-acre property at a price of $310,00 to create 24 lots that will accommodate 20 single-family homes and four four-plex units.

City General Manager of Planning and Growth Development Marty Salberg told the meeting the asking price covers all City expenses on this site since it acquired the property in 2015. The empty school building on the site was demolished in August 2016. The City created a concept plan for the site and there were several discussions with potential developers, but it did not result in any offers until this proposal was received from Tams.

Council members expressed their support for the proposed development, especially since it will offer housing at a price of $300,000 or less.

Mayor Al Bridal noted it is about 20 years since the previous affordable housing development took place on that 6th Avenue West.

“It was really the last affordable new housing we've had, and so this was one of my big pushes when I was elected mayor to find a way for the city to get some affordable housing,” he said.

Councillor Leanne Tuntland-Wiebe was excited about the agreement with the developer for several reasons.

“I'm really excited about it, having a developer contact us, showing enough confidence in the economy to propose new affordable housing and I love that it's on the south side,” she said. “We have to give the south side projects, which we are doing this year. That makes me very happy.”

She noted that past property development cost makes up a significant portion of City debt, and in this case the developer will be responsible for all costs related to the housing development. The developer will enter into a servicing agreement with the City, which will require that the developer is responsible for the costs and installation of all infrastructure in accordance with City standards.

“Sometimes it seems that we'll never be able to pay down our City debt,” she said. “This is one way to do that. Even though it's a small start, it is a start.”

Councillor Ryan Plewis said it is good to see something will be happening on this vacant space in the heart of the city.

“Development is great,” he mentioned. “I like to see that happening and the City is really in no worse position with this agreement than we would be otherwise. We're not collecting any taxes on developed lots there at the moment and this is the way we get to that end solution.”

He also supported the use of a different housing development approach that does not require additional City debt, because over $20 million of the current debt is related to property development.

“So I'm glad to see there's a bit of a different model here for property development than we've seen in the past on the back of debt and I like that a lot about this report as well,” he said. “I have absolutely no problem with the fact that we're doing some inventive things with our development policies. In fact, not only do I not have a problem with that, I'm a great big fan of using tools like this to encourage development in our community. We've talked about this as a council, what tools we can use to encourage development, not just in residential and not just in infill, but to attract new industry and do different things.”

The agreement with the developer requires a deposit of $31,000 and the payment of the remaining $279,000 on a possession date of Aug. 1 or earlier.

The City has already developed a concept plan for the site, which included a public consultation process. That plan provided for 34 dwelling units, including two four-unit multi-family dwellings, six three-unit multi-family dwellings, and four semi-detached dwelling.

The proposed housing development by Tams will therefore look quite different from the concept plan. As a result, the agreement with the developer includes a requirement for a development application with a new concept plan and a public meeting with the neighbouring property owners.

“The public meeting is to make sure all the citizens around that area know what's going in there, because it is a different concept than what the last public meeting was,” Bridal said. “So it's really just making sure the citizens in the area know what's happening to down the block from them.”

Salberg noted some of the details in the City’s concept plan for the site will still be useful to the developer, for example information about servicing and capacities for the engineering design. He also felt the proposed housing development will still fit in with the needs expressed by the community during the previous public consultations. They indicated support for affordable housing, for mostly single-family units and some multi-family units, but not for large apartment style complexes.

“So I think this type of project that's been proposed fits as well as it can almost within what the neighbourhood expects,” he said. “However, it is important that the neighbourhood be apprised of what's going on prior to a backhoe showing up and not knowing.”

A distinctive feature of this agreement with the developer is the incentives to ensure that the housing units can be offered at an affordable price. The developer will qualify to receive the five-year tax assessment exemption in the City’s inner-city housing initiative policy if the homes are put on the market at a maximum price of $300,000 plus GST and PST. This will amount to a benefit of $8,000 per home sold that will be paid directly to the developer.

The agreement also includes the provision of a five-year tax assessment exemption for the developer for the four four-plexes. This is the first time that the City will have such an arrangement with a developer as an incentive towards affordable housing.

The agreement specifies that the developer will not receive this benefit if the houses are more expensive. In that case, the five-year tax assessment exemption will be granted to the new homeowner. The developer will also not receive this benefit if undeveloped lots are sold to a third party for development.

The engineering design for the installation of water and sewer services will help to keep development costs down. All services will be installed along the lane that will run down the centre of the housing development. There will be no driveways or garages on the 2nd Avenue SE side of the development to avoid any safety concerns, because this street is a main thoroughfare in the neighbourhood. Salberg therefore also anticipated the construction activities will not result in any traffic disruptions along this street, but there might be some impacts on traffic along 3rd Avenue SE during construction.

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