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REPORTING · 27th August 2014
Walter McFarlane
Mayor Joanne Monaghan had to tap the gavel twice at the Committee of the Whole Meeting on Monday, August 25th, to call order in the Council Chambers. Another housing proposal had come forward, proposing 14 units of townhouses, each with a secondary suite built above the garage.

The proposal is for a building on either side of the street. Each building would have 7 town homes and each townhome would have a secondary suite built above the garage. It would make for 28 units of housing on a 4090 square metres of land.

Paolo and John Rigoni were present to explain what Blueberry Gardens is all about. Paolo Rigoni explained he and his brother were born in Kitimat. John Rigoni still lives here and Paolo lives in Calgary.

“Over the past few years, we’ve become aware of the changes that have occurred in Kitimat in regards to affordability, whether you’re a renter or a potential home buyer, it’s become very expensive. It’s become out of the reach for many people. Some of us are fortunate enough to land a high paying job, but a lot of people in our community, who have lived here for a generation or two, it’s become out of reach for them,” said Paolo Rigoni.

He explained they have had conversations with BC Housing and are attempting to advance a project for new affordable rental housing. It took them some time to find land which would be suitable for their project. They found the land was held by large corporations and it is not available so that project fell flat.

The next goal was to create affordable housing which would not be there to rent out. However, the problem is figuring out how to enable people households which make less than $90,000 to own their own home.

Paolo Rigoni told Council that traditionally, a child would grow up, get their education, get a job, live at home until they had enough money and go buy a house with a 5%-10% down payment.

“We don’t want our children to live with us forever, we want to help them out. I personally have two girls and I don’t want them living with me when they’re 25, 30 or 35 years old,” said Paolo Rigoni. “There are a lot of challenges for that in Kitimat right now due to the high cost of housing.”

The Rigonis explained to Council they did their research to find out what an affordable house would look like in Kitimat. If new house was worth $500,000, the total household income would need to be $111,520 per year to live comfortably.

He pointed out the Baxter Landings sold for around $300,000 and said they required a household income of $74,840 per year for a family to live comfortably.

“There are many families in Kitimat that earn less than $75,000 per year. Not all families have landed a well-paying job at Rio Tinto or have someone at KMP for now. These families, if they don’t already own a home, they were renting. Some of these renters are still renting but many have been evicted due to renovations, not just once or twice but on several existing apartment buildings in town,” said Paolo Rigoni.

He stated the Shell project will have more workers than the KMP project and be built over more years. He added that if neither LNG project proceeds, they will withdraw their proposal. “It’s being proposed in anticipation of future needs,” said Rigoni.

He stated that many of the young families have been displaced by the boom and have moved back in with their parents. He expected this to last until the boom ends and the prices come back down, which could be seven or more years.

Rigoni explained they found a parcel of land which is on Blueberry. The land is adjacent to Quatsino Street and across from the Quatsino Apartments.

“We didn’t want to go further up into Blueberry Ave. because then you’re completely surrounded by nice custom homes and people moved to that street for several reasons and, I think one of those reasons is they love the privacy and having their home on an acre of land. They want space around their home, they love the trees. For them, it’s their dream home and we don’t want to step on toes. We don’t want to take away from that,” said Paolo Rigoni.

He expressed he would be outraged if he lived next to such a project. He wanted to find ways to work with the people who live around the area to minimize the impacts from it, such as a high privacy wall or fence similar to what is being built around Jack Oviatt’s construction.

“What we propose to do there is put two sets of buildings and each building would have 7 attached town homes. The key to home affordability is to increase density because it is the land is going up in value in Kitimat, the land is skyrocketing,” said Paolo Rigoni.

He expressed they will make the units affordable through a method which has been used in other parts of BC. 7 Units will be sold at market. The remaining units will be sold at a 20% discount to people who could not afford the higher price. He suggested this would take away the need for a down payment.

“There are many developments proposed in Kitimat right now and they all have objectors. All of their objections come from the immediate neighbours and generally, this is ‘Not in my backyard syndrome.’ People know there’s a need for affordable housing in Kitimat but they don’t want it near them because they want it somewhere else,” said Rigoni.

He expressed the Alliance Church is proposing to create affordable housing, but, when they reach the same stage as their plans on Blueberry Street, the neighbours will be in the Council Chambers voicing their opposition.

“If we let all opposition kill any rezoning or going to higher density, we don’t solve this solution,” said Rigoni.

Councillor Phil Germuth suggested a tree buffer rather than a fence or wall. Germuth also asked if the bank would support getting rid of the down payment. Rigoni explained they expect the banks would ask for a co-signer and some mortgage insurance.

Councillor Mary Murphy pointed out different banks take different risks. Some are successful at getting mortgages without a down payment. It depends on the person applying and the bank. She said there was a huge issue with housing in the community and none of the proposals have been seen in a favourable way by the public.

Murphy asked if they had met with BC Housing. She was told they had when they were thinking of putting together a rental property. Rigoni told her he was disappointed in BC Housing for not doing any action after meeting with Mayor and Council. Mayor Joanne Monaghan expressed BC Housing were waiting to make a decision after the Housing Study comes out on September 9th. She was reminded there is a lead time on developments.

Goffinet pointed out the secondary suite could be used by the home owner to get the money they need to help pay off the mortgage. He asked how banks could be assured that the money for the rental would be there. He expressed he was concerned, if the room was not rented out, the low income families would be bankrupt.

The response from the Rigoni’s is the mortgage would be about $1750 a month. The rest of the costs would be utilities. He stated the KMP has driven up demand on houses. There would be no guarantee that the suites would be rented out, but the demand will come with the LNG projects. The units will be preferred as they will be new and luxurious. They are willing to help the homeowners find tenants.

Feldhoff thanked them for helping to find solutions to the challenges in Kitimat. However, he was concerned because it was a huge change for what is zoned in strawberry meadows. He suggested fewer units. The response from the Rigoni’s was it was the same problem other developers are finding in Kitimat, the cost of building has escalated because construction workers are attracted to the high wages at the projects.

Feldhoff asked if they approached Civeo or the city for land, both of whom own land in Strawberry Meadows. The response was they were not successful with Civeo and the District land was long and narrow and would not suit their needs.

They pointed out to Councillor Empinado that the city has put aside money to encourage homeowners to build secondary suites. If the city lets this project go ahead, it would save the taxpayers money.

The Blueberry development was also up for OCP amendment. There were two options recommended by staff, approve it or deny it. Councillor Mario Feldhoff looked for a third option. He made a motion to put it on hold until they can get some recommendation from staff on District owned land in Strawberry Meadows and some comments from the ACP.

“This zoning proposal is much different then what we’re being faced with in other parts of the community, where a neighbouring street is being rezoned or an area where a buffer is being opened up. This is one lot in what is arguably an upscale neighbourhood,” said Feldhoff. “One lot with a very, very significant change in what’s being proposed.”

He said he’d be concerned over what is being proposed if he were a neighbour, but there is a housing challenge in Kitimat right now. He also suggested waiting to see the recommendations in the housing action plan in September. He applauded the Rigoni’s for moving things forward but he was concerned about the people living on Blueberry.

Councillor Rob Goffinet pointed out they put off around 250 units until they see the housing study. It will be briefed to Council on September 9th. Then, they will learn what the dynamics of Kitimat’s housing needs. He again applauded the Rigoni’s for looking at what the Council has heard is an affordability problem; although he was not certain if this properly addressed the issue.

Councillor Edwin Empinado stated he had a lot of concerns and questions which needed to be answered by staff.

Councillor Mary Murphy thanked the Rigoni’s for coming forward with a proposal. “I really appreciated it. I know it sounds sometimes like we’re dragging our feet trying to please everybody instead of putting the process forward so that it can follow the natural plan where people can have their input, come in front of us and tell us whether they’re for a proposal or not, although all of these studies that we have already in front of us have told us that we have a problem and that we have a crisis on our hands. I don’t mind waiting for the beginning of September to have another study tell us that, what we already know, that we have a crisis on our hands. I don’t mind waiting till September so I support the motion,” said Murphy.

The motion was called and carried.

“Cranberry Residents are outraged,” said Kimberly Wasyleski after the meeting. “[We] do not want a multifamily building on our Strawberry living. We bought these small acreages because we wanted country living in town.”

The residents of Blueberry Street pointed out there would be no buffers, no parking and no vision with this new development. They all invested in their property and they were offended by the comment that their homes were not as upscale as the homes which were down the street from them.

“Am I any less then, that I couldn’t afford to buy [an expensive] home?” asked Lisa Medynski. Wasyleski stated she could decide to put an expensive home on her land in the coming years.

Manuel Leite of Remax, who also lives in the neighbourhood, explained the developers would not be able to control whether or not the buyers are going to rent out the townhouses. In addition he stated: “If you look at the actual detail of the plan of what they are proposing for those units, Nobody would even want to buy those things.”

Leite explained of the 85 units of housing listed, which is available for sale right now. 41 of these units are less than $200,000 - $300,000, 60 of those units are under $350,000. 80 of those units are less than $500,000. This means there are only 5 houses which are over $500,000.

“Kitimat is full of duplexes and fourplexes and lots of low housing. For years, we had bungalows and duplexes for $60-$80 thousand, people didn’t buy them,” said Leite.

Wasyleski stated she canvased Cranberry and Blueberry and it was a resounding no from most of the residents. The residents expressed Council was wasting time with their decision. It was explained the land is currently zoned for institutional use, for buildings similar to a church.

There was a suggestion to approach other townhouse developers and offer to sell them there Strawberry meadow lots… because they are concerned that no one else would want to live next to the proposal.

Leite expressed their houses had to be 40’ from the property line. The Developers are asking for 6.5 feet from the property line. They will be applying for various variances as a part of their process. The residents want to know how close is too close.

They were also concerned this would set precedence for Cablecar as well. Nothing would stop people from buying a piece of land with a trailer on it, ripping out the trailer and building townhouses on it.

Wasyleski stated when she went to Monaghan with her plight, the Mayor gave an indignant response, suggesting Wasyleski find another spot for a low income housing project for the people who were living on the street.
'Country Living, Close to Town' reads an old brocure from Strawberry Meadows.
'Country Living, Close to Town' reads an old brocure from Strawberry Meadows.
Comment by Rory Brown on 5th September 2014
First of all Bill, they are not both local, Paolo lives in Calgary. Secondly, you don't live in the neighbourhood. If they are allowed to do this, whats next? Apartment buildings built between two new homes on Dewberry? A trailer park on Elderberry? And what they are calling low-income housing is a joke. Take a look at the Remax listings. There are roughly 40 houses for the same or less than what the Rigoni's are going to be asking, and the young people they so despretly are wanting to help can't afford them.
Shouldn't be a Problem
Comment by Bill Vollrath on 31st August 2014
If council approved the rezoning for PTI and their 2000 man camp, they aught to approve this rezoning for a couple of local boys to build some townhouses. The plans look great! Ample parking is planned...4 cars per house...even the income suites get parking off the street for 2 cars...and it's all in the middle of the complex, out of view from Blueberry street. This could really give some young families a chance to get into the real estate market and buy houses. In order to get the 20% discounted ones, the buyers will have to show their T4s to prove that they are in need of low-income housing so they're not going to be snapped up by out-of-town investors and rented out to workers. The regularly priced ones might...oh well, anyone can rent their house out. The stretch of properties that are technically part of Strawberry Meadows, along the edge of the main road (Quatsino) are not anywhere near "upscale" or "country living." There are 3 apartment buildings, a bunch of fourplexes and another townhouse complex right across the road and the road is quite busy. That's my 2 if it matters. And just a side note, the Rigonis have not renovicted anyone.
The Residents Should Get What The Originally Paid For..
Comment by Larry Walker on 28th August 2014
When this subdivision went on stream, all the rules and zoning were laid out for all to see. Council should not tinker with them after the fact. People bought their land knowing just what was and what was not allowed. If the land in question is zoned Institutional, so be it.
cater to the locals not the construction workers
Comment by Ian on 27th August 2014
All these people who are trying to build "affordable" housing are only catering to the construction workers that make over $500 a week in living out allowance. Those workers have a place to stay. Its called a camp. If they don't like it, get out. These workers chose the camp live, deal with it. Not everyone in this town is reaping the benefits to make the high dollar that these construction jobs are paying. I think the town has forgot that there are a lot of people working min. wages jobs and only make, if their lucky, 1500 dollars a month, and we except them to pay over $1500 a month in rent and tell them this is affordable housing. Come on people. Give your head a shake. Its all about greed at this point.
Read between the lines
Comment by bill on 27th August 2014
People, please do the math. This housing is not affordable. This is a trojan horse, purchase price is over $360,000 and rental units should fetch $1700/mo???? This is greed, I support low income housing, not wolves in sheeps clothing! Ps the Rigonis own Midtown apartments in Kitimat, how many have they renovicted??? Just curious
blue berry country living ?
Comment by j.s on 27th August 2014
its nice to see the rigonies with an idea that would be adressing the low income houseing problem in kitimat .there is already apartments and condoes all over that area this town is for everybody poor or rich, that area is far from being in the country so to speak its right next to the city centre of kitimat.