Friday, September 18, 2015

City Council's Masonic Hall debate highlight's industrial land use issues

Former City employee Bob Thompson
provided a number of thoughtful
observations on zoning for
Council on Monday evening
Zoning issues in all their forms of late seem to be providing for some of  the most challenging work for Prince Rupert City Council this year.

Over the last six months or so, Council's work on zoning for residential areas has provided for no shortage of discussion, but little solution to this point, when it comes to forward momentum on the residential side of the debate over housing.

And as we learned during the course of Monday evening's discussion on the Masonic Hall rezoning issue, the industrial files are proving to be just as challenging as well.

A comment by retired City employee Bob Thompson perhaps captured the current dilemma facing Prince Rupert City Council on the issue of industrial land development, with the former long time member of the City workforce providing a key observation at Monday's Public Hearing session:

"the planning issues, you know I was really happy that we do have a zoning bylaw and a Quality of Life plan ... to set a plan like that and put the effort into those things and design a town the way you think it should be and then to start changing it every time there's pressure to change it ... I don't think that bodes well ... I think what's going to happen is you can really destroy a town by making the wrong zoning decisions."

Indeed, the apparent necessity to rezone a building adjacent to a park designed for the smallest of the city's children and on a street with an elementary school not too far down the road, does seem to suggest that the city hasn't been able to get a grasp on the apparently growing need for light industrial space in the city.

The decision to approve the Masonic Hall for warehouse use, is just the latest of zoning issues that have highlighted the rather piecemeal approach that council has taken on the issue of late.

In recent months, City Council has shifted the parameters for existing zoning twice, most recently to allow an auto impound yard to be located in the Yellowhead Centre area, which while not receiving much in the way of public feedback, did highlight some of the shortcomings when it comes to available light industrial space and outlined the concerns of those that live nearby as those kinds of proposals move forward.

The other notable change in existing rules came for a property of land at Frederick and Highway 16 to allow for the establishment of the Quickload operation at the former Canadian Freightways yard, that application had featured some strong opposition and a few hard feelings about the city's way of handling things from School District 52, which at the time owned the tract of land immediately above the property in question.

Should this kind of spot rezoning take place on a frequent basis, the time may soon arrive when the current zoning regulations might be considered more of a suggestion, than a hard and fast approach to civic development.

That brings us back to the discussion of Monday night, where Mr. Thompson provided some fascinating insight into zoning concepts and other issues on transportation, city planning and land use.

As well Mr. Thompson also addressed a number of inquiries from Council, noting for the Council members that he had provided a more comprehensive written review for consideration as part of the Monday evening Public hearing process, something that one hopes that all members of Council hav had some time to take advantage of.

For those that haven't seen his presentation to Council, you can review the highlights from our Council timeline.

It also is part of the Monday evening broadcast of the Council session, you can catch up on his talking points starting at the 45 minute mark, his tutorial takes about half an hour.

While the City suggests that the space is currently tight when it comes to potential light industrial development, there does seem to be a range of land options available that might fit the bill, if only the city could find someone interested in actually developing it for that purpose.

Within the City limits, in the downtown core, are any number of empty lots, some featuring the ghosts of former buildings, or spaces of land which have never been rebuilt on.

In other pockets of the city can be found more empty space, locations such as along Park Avenue which features long stretches of still undeveloped land .

Much of which perhaps offers some room for re-purposing and rezoning for the kind of short term storage solution that Council considered on Monday, few of them in close proximity to residential areas or community parks.

Anyone who has travelled through the Industrial Park recently, has probably noticed a number of new warehouse type buildings have popped up in that part of the City and there would seem to still be available space there should anyone be inclined.

As well, there's the land along Wantage Road that was once a trailer park but has been vacated for a number of years sitting idle seemingly to be used as a Major Project staging area one day.

Likewise the old golf course location could make for a possible option, it most recently was proposed as a location for a large work camp should industrial development in the area ever arrive.

In the year leading up to last fall's municipal election, Mayor Jack Mussallem and his Council reviewed the light industrial issue a number of times.

And in fact, it was a theme that City Planner Zeno Krekic highlighted for Council back in July of 2014,  part of his Land Inventory Review of the time. Considering that not much has happened on the topic since that time, maybe it's time to go back over the old notes and slides to look for some solutions.

If the City were inclined, perhaps they could approach the Prince Rupert Port Authority about a shared approach to development, taking note of the Port's recent investigation of a potential Intermodal Rail/Truck yard on South Kaien Island.

And of course, there is Watson Island, that land of so much intrigue that remains in legal limbo, even as remediation work continues to take place on the old pulp mill site that once made for the region's economic base.

Should the City ever solve the legal quagmire that it finds itself in on that file, some of their light industrial woes could probably be solved. Until then however, the light industrial land crunch appears to be something that the city will have to try and solve

The problem at the moment, for the most part it appears that no private investor group is sufficiently confident in the local economy to develop the large amounts of land for light industrial use.

A situation which for now finds City Council suddenly having industrial uses encroaching on residential areas, something which as Mr. Thompson pointed out quite correctly on Monday, is not exactly the kind of approach to zoning that you want to take in a city.

For more items related to Prince Rupert City Council see our archive page here.

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