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REPORTING · 22nd September 2014
Walter McFarlane
Kitimat City Council had two public hearings concerning housing developments on Monday, September 15th. The second concerned the Riverbrook Estates Zoning in the Kildala area, behind Konigus Street, but would connect to Liard and Nadina.

This rezoning will increase the number of units which could sit on the lot from around 80 to 217. The plan is to build 101 units of Townhouses, 100 units of apartments in two buildings and 16 single family dwellings.

Shaun Graham from Liard Street was the first to speak and he brought up several concerns. He was concerned about the density of Riverbrook Estates. He was also concerned about the number of vehicles which would be traveling on the street, because he was told there would be 2 car spaces for each unit and this would add up to 400 cars using Nadina and one of the Liard streets as access points for their neighbourhood.

He asked Council if the sewer system would be able to handle the number of units proposed. Finally, he stated something needed to be done about the dust coming off the Dyke Road. The forest which is already there acts as a buffer for it. However, Graham told Council the dust was blowing in earlier that day and was already atrocious. He suggested cutting the trees out will make it very dusty and the homes would be coated. He advised Council an option would be to pave the road at a great expense.

“The economic value of the homes in our area have gone up substantially within the last 5-6 years. In 10 years’ time or 15 years’ time, what will happen to the economic values of those homes? It could go up, it could go down,” said Graham.

He asked about what happened to the Traffic study. Germuth told him the Traffic Committee were not quite opposed to it, there were some concerns which needed to be addressed.

Murphy asked staff to answer the question about the sewer capacity. Tim Gleig, District Engineer stated the sewer would tie in on Nadina. While it would add a fair number of units, a previous study expressed it would probably be adequate.

Leonard Kerkhoff, the Developer, was next and he ran through a quick PowerPoint presentation to alleviate the fears of the community. He told the Council the development was within 15 minute walking distance from the Downtown core. He expressed the dust from the dyke would be a concern whether the density was increased or not so the dust should not have an impact on the proposal.

He added they are building 50 units now and the rest of the 217 units later, if the market continues to be there. The other units will be built 50 at a time. They will be available for industrial need which will work to prevent renovictions as industrial workers are ‘stealing’ the housing from local residents as costs go up.

Kerkhoff showed the Council illustrations of what the buffers between the existing streets and the new homes would look like. He showed them what the cul-de-sac at the end of the middle Liard and the entrance to the town homes is expected to look like.

He presented the results of the Traffic Impact Study. “If you look at the results of the traffic study, it’s not as many vehicles as you would assume,” said Kerkhoff. “[The Traffic Study] shows that the roads are very much sized for that kind of volume and there are no problem with the interchanges as they are. They did suggest adding some sidewalks and connecting to the bus routes for pedestrian improvement but the roads themselves are adequately sized.”

He compared the roads to the Partridge/Pintail area where there are similar numbers of vehicles using one exit. He told Council those streets work.

He moved on to density. If they reduce density, it increases the costs of the units. He stated the duplexes being proposed for Strawberry Meadows would cost up to over $500,000 by now, a sign which has been there for 6 months advertises them as $430,000.

“We’re trying to keep it under the $400,000 price range for everything we are offering on the site,” said Kerkhoff. “By keeping everything small and tight, it keeps the price tag down.”

He told the Council they are working with BC Housing in regards to the affordable housing side of things.

Kerkhoff presented Council with facts and figures about the current available housing in Kitimat. 85% of the houses which are available are 35 years and older. 13% are 15 years or older and 2% were built in this century. The people moving into Kitimat want new houses and there is nothing on the market.

Germuth asked if any of these are going to be rental units or if Kerkhoff plans to sell them. “I don’t see how you’re going to help the rental of people being renovicted because there is no way they would be able to afford one of these either,” stated Germuth.

“No, but they’ll be able to stay in their place because industry could rent in these instead of those other places where they are being forced out of,” replied Kerkhoff.

Goffinet wanted to know what demand/demographic they were targeting with the development. Kerkhoff expressed the housing is not a product for construction workers. They would be looking at targeting engineers who are traditionally not housed in camps. Then, they would target permanent residents rather than transient workers.

Murphy stated there was a possibility for a third road leading out of the subdivision which connects with the Dyke Road. Empinado asked if Kerkhoff was aware of a suggestion from the housing committee which has asked for 50 units to be affordable housing and all of the housing be accessible. The response was no.

Germuth pointed out, when Kerkhoff bought the land, it was zoned for 80 single family units. Kerkhoff was not guaranteed to get the zoning at the time. He asked Kerkhoff what he would do if they did not get the zoning from Council. Kerkhoff expressed he would reflect what the market needs. They could put expensive homes in but they would not be affordable.

“We want to increase and hit a greater market. Bring in more people, serve more people with a limited amount of land that Kitimat has available; there is not a lot of development land in town. Putting in low density is not a good use of land,” said Kerkhoff.

Germuth suggested there might be another option for a cheaper cost. “Manufactured homes are a lot cheaper, they are still nice and you’re saying that what people want now is really tight and packed in together. Maybe that’s good for now but you’re selling these now and then you’re out of here. We have to deal with this down the road and who is going to want to live in there once the construction boom is over,” said Germuth.

He was then cut off by Councillor Mary Murphy and Mayor Joanne Monaghan for ‘debating with the public.’

Feldhoff wanted Kerkhoff to expand on the affordable housing apartment building. Kerkhoff replied they have talked with BC Housing about who would buy the property. They are putting together an option to purchase the land at cost. It could take 18 months to determine the need for low income housing and buy the land.

Kerkhoff construction will not build on this land until the 18 months are up, BC Housing declines or they sell it. If BC housing goes ahead, they would build the apartments and do anything they had to do to improve the land.

Germuth pointed out there was land available in Kitimat. There was a lot of land which is out there and zoned for multifamily but has not been developed. He expressed this land which has already been zoned includes Forest Heights, Nalabila, Smith Street and other areas which have not been developed such as Imatra Heights and Haisla Hill.

He was cut off by Monaghan for ‘Debating again.’ Germuth argued he was stating a fact. There were no further questions.

Ilona Kenny from Swallow Street stated she is speaking as a realtor. She stated she attended a meeting where it was suggested that Kitimat change it’s branding from Alcan. They changed the branding to the Port of Kitimat and this opened the door for new business and new people coming into town. She said new housing is required.

“We have a lot of people who come in from out of town who are going to live here, not rent, live here, and they are looking for new housing. We can show them the nicest renovated bungalows or what have you and they turn up their nose and say: ‘this is very nice, but it’s still an old house.’ They don’t want house that they perceive as a problem somewhere in the future. They want the new housing. They want the new house warrantees, they don’t want any headaches with the houses and they want, to not have a lot of maintenance problems that they have to deal with. Their time is limited. They work more hours now than they ever have before,” said Kenny.

She told the Council that people are working more and more hours and their quality of life means they are not working on their day off. They are spending it with leisure activities. Kenny said she was in favour of Riverbrook as it would be moving ahead in phases and it would become a community within the community.

Empinado asked how many houses were on the market. She told him there were 93 houses on the market. Goffinet stated there were three developers proposing over 100 homes right now. He asked if they would meet the demand for housing.

“I think a lot of those houses are being bought before they are even being built and it goes to show that people want new builds. They want the home warrantee, they want low maintenance and they want higher standards then what they see in the older homes, which is unfortunate because a lot of the older homes have been renovated, they are excellent, but it’s not what the people want and they tell you when they call you: ‘I want to see the newest home you have…’ ‘Umm… Umm…,’” said Kenny.

Germuth asked there were families with children moving to town and if they were looking for yards. Kenny replied there were families moving into the town and they could quite possibly want a yard, some bring swing sets and some go to the park. However, the children were involved in organized sports or playing video games.

Bill Kearley from Blueberry wanted to know who was going to be the realtor for this development. He stated he had not heard anything about strata development and he expected it to be $324 per month per unit.

“I don’t think there is anybody in town who is against growth and development. But there have been a few ridiculous ideas come forth lately in over density that we do not need. It’s all about developers coming into Kitimat, cashing in and walking away, hopefully without any leaky windows,” said Kearley.

Kearley stated Kitimat’s population was once at 12,000 to 13,000 people, now it’s at 9,000. Monaghan corrected him to make it 10,000. He said there was adequate room in town before they need to start concentrating developments.

At this point, the Councillor’s interrupted Kearley’s presentation to ask questions. Kearley expressed he did not mind because he was going off the cuff.

Feldhoff wanted his viewpoint. “It is true that in the past, we had more people living in our community. But I believe it is also true, it’s been pointed out by our planning staff that the average home back in the 60s had more children than the average number of people per household was quite a bit greater. Now, we’re seeing fewer people, people are having fewer children on the average for the same kind of population. The old housing stock is inadequate and we had another speaker earlier saying he’s looking for something, he can’t find it. What do you say to those people?” said Feldhoff.

Kearley agreed but there is no need for the proposed density. He asked Council not to disrupt the lives of the people who have been living in Kitimat for years.

“There is lots of land, and again, these people coming into town, they want to cash in on the potential here and walk away. If we end up back down at 10,000 or 12,000 people in town, most of these units are going to be empty. Who is going to maintain and upkeep. We’re going to have a Detroit on our hands, with too much concentration and nobody to fill the void. It’s just a gross insult to the citizens of this town to be packing these units into these places when we have so much more land available for development, already zoned for what they are looking for,” said Kearley.

Murphy stated Council was being accused of not handling growth effectively several years ago. She told him there were no homes being built and no projects moving forward. Now, they have projects moving forward and need to address the growth. She added the projects could not move forward without final investment decisions.

“You have to move forward with some vision. We cannot be sitting here in a reaction mode. You have to be proactive, thinking about it in advance,” said Kearley. “Let’s think about this before we jump into these high density, completely unrealistic ventures by people coming into town, cashing in and walking away. There is no benefit to the community with that scenario whatsoever.”

Another person got up to point out new was the way to go and the District was putting incentives in place to develop suites. He asked what would happen to the aging stalk if people kept focusing on the new. He stated they could become dilapidated, but he wanted the view point of Council… or Kerkhoff. He was reminded Council was not allowed to debate.

Murphy told him Council was working on the housing issue and there is a density bonus from the Council. They directed staff to come up with a proposal and take it to developers.

Germuth stated his idea: “Kitimat was designed for over 20,000 people in our existing town site. My idea is that we still have a lot of areas that haven’t been developed yet. My idea is that developers aren’t doing that because there are no [final investment decisions] and there is no need for those houses yet. Once we know we are getting that growth, my idea is they will come forward and they will put their developments forward in what those areas were zoned for rather than cram everything in.”

He received a round of applause.

The final presenter was Collin Hogan, an agent for the developer. He said there were good points made on both sides of the issue. He said Kitimat is a single family town. The houses are accustomed to large lots. He sees diversity in other communities and the large lot is not good for everyone.

He suggested people are not accustomed to town homes but they are a stepping stone for a small family with one child. He stated they are trying to create a community which they feel is not very dense, it has verity and it is located close to services.

Hogan told Council the prices are continuing to rise. Their development group is willing to take risks, which is what entrepreneurs do. They are starting with one small piece which they think will make sense, and if they are wrong, they will pay the price. If there is no demand, they can make changes to the plan at that point or give up entirely.

Council was asked if they want to extend the hearing. Feldhoff suggested extending the public hearing for a future time. There has been a lot of input but it has not been before the public as long as the Kingfisher development. Germuth agreed, he wanted to negotiate with the developer to try and take out a couple of rows of townhouses and have some more diversity in the neighbourhood.

A motion was made to keep the public hearing open. The motion was called and carried.