Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Observations on the state of downtown and lack of housing make for contribution to public comment period of Council session

Former resident Suzanne Neumann spoke to Prince Rupert City Council
on Monday, providing the city's elected officials with some comments from
someone viewing the city through visiting eyes

The summer season brings many former residents back to the community, whether to visit with remaining family and friends, or just to seek out some of the familiar haunts of the past and an opportunity to see how their old hometown is faring these days.

For City Council on Monday evening, Ms. Suzanne Neumann, a former resident of the city, one giving some thought to making a return in retirement, took advantage of the public comment period to outline some of her recent observations for Council.

She spoke a length on the state of the downtown area and the lack of affordable housing for would-be returnees hike herself.  On some of the positives that she had observed from her tour, she made mention many amenities that are offered in the community and how it has a wonderful vibe.

However, she did provide Council with some views from outside the City Hall bubble, outlining that as a retired person and one who would like to retire to the community, she was discovering some issues when it comes to finding adequate and affordable housing that would be suitable for her.

"We were looking for places to live and there's no like a condominium  complex and what was really quite devastating is driving down or walking down Third Avenue and the place used to be vibrant ... it used to be such a different city there  was so much activity and now there is just nothing"

As part of her notes Ms. Neumann observed that some of the now vacant buildings in the downtown area could be re-purposed towards housing use to create community in the downtown area.

She also highlighted some of the concerns that she has heard from current residents, particularly when it comes to such areas as Health care, which she said is a key factor for retired people to think of when they look to find a retirement community.

As for how potential retirees might view what the city has to offer, she asked what the city is doing to lure new residents to the community.

"I would like to take this opportunity as a courtesy primarily just to ask what if anything the city is doing to attract baby boomers. Who could really increase the potential property tax base for the city and generate activity back in the city"

Mayor Brain outlined some of the steps that the City has in mind to
address the state of downtown and housing in the community

Her comments provided an opportunity for the Mayor to revisit some of his frequent conversation topics of years past whether it be through his Hays 2.0 presentations; or more recently the work of Redesign Rupert, outlining how change is coming to the community.

Mr. Brain also observed how the City is hoping to repatriate former Rupertites like herself, recounting some of his own personal history for her as an example of people who have returned to the community.

He provided her with a thumbnail sketch of the recent four day Redesign Rupert sessions, speaking of the "team of experts" that the City has hired to help them achieve their goals.

"We are bringing the entire community together to essentially mobilize action  around housing, around new downtown, waterfront development. Because we know for sure that over the next ten years there are going to be 2,500 to 5,000  new jobs coming to Prince Rupert that are Port related. 

Which means we need to build 5,000 new units of housing, which means that we know that there will be 5,000 to 10,000 more people moving to Prince Rupert over the next ten years." 

July 26 -- Council members share their enthusiasm for Prince Rupert's future, following four day planning session
July 18 -- Partnerships will blaze the trail towards a new look as part of the 2030 Prince Rupert Plan

Mr. Brain also noted that Council realizes that there is a need for housing, listing off the number of housing approvals that Council had granted in the past, though noting that few of them have yet to be developed as of yet.

"So if we're going to have this kind of growth, well we need a livable community, and we need seniors housing, we need youth housing, we need low income housing and we need homeless shelters and homeless housing as well.  

So, in the last couple of years, we have approved I think about 300 units of new housing development. But one of the challenges with Rupert is that we're up in the north, we're isolated, we have muskeg, it's a challenge to develop. So we're working on new policies to try to get incentives for seniors housing and things like that."

Those thoughts on housing did seem to skip over some of the past discussions that Council has had with some developers in recent years.

Discussions and negotiations which in some instances found that the City and those looking to develop housing in the community weren't necessarily on the same page when it came to expectations.

Two high profile developments that never came to pass included the Kanata School lands project, an ongoing point of controversy for SD52; as well as the large tract of executive style homes that had been proposed for the area directly adjacent Park Avenue and the BC Ferry Terminal.

As well, as the Mayor noted in his commentary of Monday, some of the condo projects once proposed for the community have yet to break ground,

That is a situation it seems that has evolved as the once frequent talk of hyper economic development drifted off as the many proposed LNG projects for the region fell off the radar for Prince Rupert, with Kitimat now the centre of attention for that economic development in the region.

Last year we explored some of those past themes on housing,  and as things turn out over one year later, those articles make for a good review as to the status of many of those once promising housing projects.

While a few did make it to the finish line, or are about to be finished; a larger number of the proposed developments have either stalled or been abandoned completely.

May 2018 -- City's approach to housing leaving many gaps when it comes to affordable options
March 2018 -- In Prince Rupert; Housing approvals, don't always mean housing starts

As for the health service issues raised during the conversation, Mr. Brain observed that Council continues to work with Northern Health to try and retain services in the community and are looking to increase those options in the future.

And that is a theme that Councillor Barry Cunningham has been warning the city about, frequently calling for Council to make sure that Northern Health is aware of the level of service that the city wants to see in the community.

The Mayor wrapped up the exchange with Ms. Neumann by expressing confidence that within the next couple of years, the community will see new housing development, improvement of the downtown area and further advancement of their goals for redesigning the community.

"So we're definitely in a place of mobilization around these issues now, and it is sad to us to see Third Avenue the way it is now, but we're taking action by partnering with the Port and DP World and other partners here to  make sure that we all can band together to make a livable community"

You can review the current of the discussion from the City's Video Archive starting at the 27 minute mark.

For more items of interest related to themes of Housing and Health see our archive pages below:

Housing in the Northwest
Health in the Northwest

A wider overview of Monday's City Council Session can be explored from our Council Timeline Feature as well as our Council Archive Page.

Further background on Council Discussion themes can be found from our Council Discussion archive.

To view the most recent blog posting of the day, click here.

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