For a topic that wasn't on the Agenda, the discussion over a parcel of land along Park Avenue certainly dominated a lot of the conversation from Monday's Prince Rupert Council Session.
The discussion on the stretch of land one which overshadowed Council's review of some of their zoning plans as part of a release of data on the recent Bylaw/Zoning survey; as well as to adopt an amendment to create a new Special Housing zone related to supportive housing plans for the Raffles building at Five Corners.
Starting from those two elements, the topic of land use ebbed and flowed around the Park Avenue area for a significant part of an hour of a two and a half hour Council Session.
The topic was of most note for Councillor Wade Niesh who was serving as Acting Mayor on Monday, with the Councillor making a few inquiries as to how the zoning plans that are in motion to be adopted later this Spring will impact on a current proposal that is apparently still working its way towards Council's attention.
|A map of an area proposed for a Mirco Hotel as outliend
from the March 8th City Council agenda package
The area of interest for much of the discussion was a location where a proponent seemingly has plans to develop a Micro-Hotel, which would be located adjacent to the PJ's Market on Park Avenue.
As we outlined earlier this month, the original proposal for the new accommodation was pulled prior to a first look by Council back at their March 8th session, that as the proponent apparently looked to address some concerns from staff and to refine their planning for the proposed 120 room micro hotel project.
At the heart of the discussion, was what will be, if approved by Council, a rezoning of the land in question later this spring to that of Residential.
Something that would take it out of its current status of Commercial as the city looks to consolidate commercial activity in the downtown core area, and that's where the Monday night discussion heated up a bit.
With Mr. Niesh stating that he doesn't want to be driving away any business and noting how the project could be a partial solution to some of the city's current housing issues.
"I do feel that there is at every level of housing there is a need, and I think that a Travellers accommodation is just one more level of housing that will ease the pain ... I think if we want to see 2030 come to fruition, I think we need to have all levels of housing and I think a Travellers Accommodation is not a bad thing.
It's just going to relieve pressure over other housing. And so my concern is that we pass this zoning bylaw and it eliminates someone's current zoning, which allows them to build something that we're already currently working on. And I don't want to be a closed for business council and I don't want to be turning down housing"-- Councillor Wade Niesh speaking on land use on Park at Monday's council session
Towards the topic, Councillor Blair Mirau asked for some guidance from the contract planners from iPlan Ltd. and whether Council would have a chance to discuss any application on its merits for the land in question, with iPlan's Rob Buchan charting the course ahead for Council.
"If Council is of one mind on this now, or a majority of mind on this now, they should make a decision on this. If the bylaws go forward, the OCP and the zoning go forward as they are currently written, the micro hotel would not be a permitted use on that site.
Now they could apply for a building permit before the bylaw is adopted and with that building permit they would be able to secure their ability to build and develop that land.
That could be brought back to Council for a decision whether or not to withhold the building permit, Council would have a decision point at that point whether or not to allow it to proceed.
But failing a decision now and failing a decision on a building permit, the decision would be that they wouldn't be allowed to proceed." -- Rob Buchan from iPlan providing some background on zoning themes for Council
In a follow up comment, Councillor Mirau observed that he didn't think Council should be holding up it's wider ambitions for community development and their pursuit of the 2030 vision over one application
"I would much rather have that debate when that applicant comes for consideration I don't think we should be holding up a wholesale community wide zoning bylaw for the sake of one pending application ...
In the worst case scenario that they don't file their building permits in time, if their application doesn't come back to Council's table in the time it takes us to go do the Public Hearing and get public engagement, then they can still come back to us for rezoning, if they require it " -- Councillor Blair Mirau
As more of the council members and Mr. Niesh took the discussion further down the rabbit hole, City Manager Robert Long raised a few concerns for the Council membership to consider.
With the City Manager Speaking to the stream of discussion around the themes raised on the evening and how they might be a topic that is better served outside of the public Council session.
Such was his apparent alarm at the turn of the conversation, that the city's top bureaucrat made his points, not once, but twice, during the latter stages of the discussion.
"Excuse me Mr. Chairman, I mean we are clearly beyond a public discussion about policy, we are now talking about things which have legal ramifications for the corporation. If this is a discussion that Council wants to have we need to have it in camera, cause you are now affecting individuals as you just talk about.
We've gone through a very extensive process, we are at, we are at close to the end of that process to go to a public hearing, etcetera, etcetera . If you don't want to do that ... but to not do that because of an application which is not before you at this time, based on a bunch of information that you are gathering from the community. That may, or may not affect somebody's rights, property rights, is a subject for an in camera discussion.
With Mr. Niesh determined to carry forward with the topic at hand, the ongoing conversation brought about the City Manager's second cautionary note of the session which would follow minutes later.
"Mr. Chairman, please talk about specific applicants ... you are implying a particular application or not an application, you can't mix these things, based on what you've just said that will affect someone's rights"
As part of the background to the process underway, the city's contract planners, noted that the timeline for the required public hearings on the OCP and zoning Bylaw would be about a six week process ahead.
Something which would take Council into May at the earliest before any changes to zoning would be in place permanently.
What appears to be the main takeaway from the near half hour of back and forth on the topic is that any plans for such a project as a Travellers Accommodation in that particular area of the city, may be on a short clock for any prospect of consideration by City Council.
Whether the proposed development comes back for further review, or if it disappears into the files of past buildings that never made it to the construction phase, is something that will no doubt make for some further discussion outside of the public council sessions.
And if, or when it does return for consideration in front of the public, it will be catalogued through the upcoming Agenda pages for City Council.
You can review the full scope of the discussion starting at the 1 hour 55 minute mark of the Council video, the City Manager weighs into the discussion at the 2 hour 16 minute mark.
For more notes related to Monday's Council Session see our Council Timeline Feature.
A wider overview of Council discussion themes can be explored here.