June 23rd, 2024

MDP discussion centres around hotel conversions

By Tim Kalinowski on May 20, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

City council passed second reading of its new Municipal Development Plan during this week’s regular meeting, but not before engaging in discussions on how local hotels should be converted to residential dwellings in the future.
Most of these discussions centred around “Policy 60” in the new MDP draft document which states the City will: “support potential options for owners to convert existing motels and hotels, by exploring the concentration of these uses and the implications of supporting their conversion to residential uses (including, but not limited to, supportive or affordable housing) in relevant Area Redevelopment Plans.”
Coun. Blaine Hyggen expressed concern about the inclusion of the bracketed statement “including, but not limited to, supportive or affordable housing,” and made a motion the entire Policy 60 be struck from the draft MDP document. He said he felt including this statement gave City staff too much discretionary power when it comes to rezoning transitional housing and supportive housing in converted hotels as permitted uses instead of city council being the final arbitrator of such decisions.
“It would just put council more privy to what is happening when (a proposal) comes around,” he said, “rather than having a policy and then it’s a surprise over the wall and council finds out about this, and there is really nothing they can do to address some of the communities’ concerns. It’s not that we can’t do it, I do support looking into this, but I don’t want to have it as a policy, and I don’t think it is needed.”
Coun. Jeffrey Carlson responded that this was not his understanding of Policy 60, and asked staff if the policy would give them carte blanche to pursue supportive housing in hotels without council knowledge or final approval?
City manager of planning and development Maureen Gaehring confirmed the policy as worded would in no way prevent council from making final decisions on any rezoning proposals for hotels or motels. She also confirmed the policy could be removed and would not likely impact the way the MDP would be implemented once approved. She pointed out studies which showed Lethbridge was over-serviced for hotels as a city, and many of the older buildings especially could be rezoned for residential if somebody wanted to buy them in the future.
Hyggen said many residents had contacted him to express their discomfort with Policy 60, and he would still feel better if it were removed to allay confusion about what the policy means.
Hyggen’s amendment was defeated 6-3, with only Councillors Joe Mauro and Ryan Parker in support.
Hyggen then proposed a second amendment to change the words “including, but not limited to, supportive or affordable housing” to “limited to permanent affordable housing and residential housing.”
Carlson felt this was worse than removing the policy altogether as a sort of predetermined “NIMBYism” (Not In My Back Yard) included in such an important planning document, and said he would support removal of the bracketed statement “including, but not limited to, supportive or affordable housing” to help allay community confusion over the policy, but would not support tying the hands of future councils and future applicants for rezoning in this way. A majority on council felt the same way, and Hyggen’s second proposed amendment was defeated 6-3, with only Mauro and Parker supporting the motion.
Carlson then put forward a motion to remove the bracketed statement “including, but not limited to, supportive or affordable housing” altogether from Policy 60 to make sure the intent of the policy was clear–which is to provide a framework to allow current commercial hotels and motels to be converted into residential housing of all different types through the new MDP document if the owners wanted to sell and their buyers wanted to change the use of the properties they had bought.
Carlson’s amendment passed 7-2, with only Hyggen and Mauro opposed.
While the Policy 60 debate was perhaps the most intense of the nearly two hours of discussions on the new draft MDP during Tuesday’s city council meeting, there were several discussions among councillors about the proper relationship between the City as a corporation and local developers. Coun. Jeffrey Coffman brought forward several amendments which softened the language of certain policies from “ensure” to “promote” when it comes to developer directives in the MDP.
For example, during the public engagement process leading up to the discussions on Tuesday, several councillors expressed their concerns that local developers seemed to be developing many areas of the city simultaneously without filling in existing developments first. The draft MDP had originally proposed under Policy 15 that developers must ensure “new neighbourhoods shall be substantially completed before the City invests in new areas. Residential Outline Plan areas that are under development at a time per sector is limited by the following, ” before going on to prescribe the specific developments to be completed first in all areas of the city.
Coffman’s amendment suggested developers would just have to “consider” the City’s concerns and essentially do their best to finish one area before developing another without it being mandated by the document itself.
This and other similar amendments proposed by Coffman passed unanimously.
One which Coffman lost was in his proposed amendment to get rid of the requirement in the MDP for developers to have to construct a certain amount of kilometres of cycling lanes going forward, and instead have developers submit plans for constructing those kilometres of lanes if a ridership study of an area supported it.
Coun. Belinda Crowson supported having both required kilometres and a ridership study included as valuable measures in the MDP, and proposed an amendment to Coffman’s amendment which simply added “cycling ridership” to the existing policy without deleting “kilometres of cycling lanes” from the main motion as Coffman had proposed. This passed by a vote of 6-3, with Coffman, Mauro and Hyggen opposed.
At the end of Tuesday’s MDP deliberations, council voted unanimously to approve second reading as amended. The draft document with the amendments will be the subject of a future public hearing so residents can have their say one more time before third reading.
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

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