Council considers installing utilities for affordable housing project

·5 min read

Jasper Municipal Council discussed potentially approving the installation of utility services in connection with the Connaught Drive affordable apartments during its committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 23.

Utilities would be installed for GC, GB and GA parcels, or for just one or two of them. The parcels of land are located along the south side of Connaught Drive between Hazel and Willow avenues.

The go-ahead for the 40-unit apartment building is contingent on the success of a Rapid Housing Initiative grant application by the Jasper Community Housing Corporation (JCHC). Word about the success of the grant was expected by the end of February. If it doesn’t go through, other alternatives will be looked at.

Coun. Bert Journault said he’s not supportive of installing utility services beyond parcel GC.

“I don’t think it’s fair to the taxpayers to saddle them with that (because) that may not be used for a long, long, long, long time,” he said.

Journault asked if services installed in parcel GB would be recoverable from the developer.

Chief administrative officer Bill Given said if that scenario is presented, “Administration would be proposing that if there is private development that is able to benefit from those services then there should be some kind of contribution toward that. That would be a decision council would be involved in, of course.”

Deputy mayor Scott Wilson said the lots “may not be developed for some time but they’ll be developed quite a bit sooner if the services are there and they’re ready to roll.”

“If you’re looking at a lot and realizing you have to spend millions in services to start your project, I just can’t see anybody coming to the table,” Wilson added. “I think that’s a challenge currently. I think we have to make them desirable and developers will come.”

Coun. Jenna McGrath noted servicing these parcels was the first step to ensuring that affordable housing would be built in Jasper.

“When we were elected for this term of council, the single most important issue facing the community of Jasper was housing,” McGrath said. “This is our first opportunity as this council to ensure that housing has a possibility of being built in our community.”

McGrath added that the initiative is “absolutely necessary.”

“There are many, many people needing affordable housing in our community.”

Coun. Paul Butler emphasized how development was a priority.

“We have the wherewithal to recuperate whatever proportion we, as council or future council, would decide,” he said.

About GC only or GC and GB, or all three sites being developed, Butler said “I do respect the thinking that suggests if we’re going to be in the ground let’s do the whole thing and set ourselves up for future success on those sites.” Butler said he’s being cautioned by the question of what is realistically the near-, medium- and long-term demand for high-density housing.

He noted the JCHC has identified other areas in town as being suitable for other kinds of housing, and that there are other sorts of housing being needed in the community, such as more family- and senior-oriented housing.

Information provided by administration outlined how Jasper has systemic housing affordability, suitability, adequacy and risk of homelessness issues, along with a complex process for securing land to fulfil affordable housing needs. The town has had a 0.0 per cent vacancy since at least 2014 with approximately 37 per cent of residents overpaying for shelter.

Parks Canada identified that 46 new housing units have been constructed in the municipality since 2017 and that through the same period, 63 units were converted to condominiums, likely removing at least some from the rental pool.

Administration will present borrowing bylaws to council for approval at a future meeting. The bylaws would fund a maximum of $3.647 million towards these utility services.

Council will also decide whether to allocate $350,250 in the 2021 budget for upfront project costs, subject to approval of the RHI grant application.

The final decision on how to proceed about servicing the lot(s) will be back for a decision at council’s regular meeting on March 2.

Wastewater Treatment Plant

The committee of the whole recommended council direct administration to enter into contract negotiation with Aquatera Utilities Inc. for a ten-year operating contract of the Jasper Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).

Since Jan. 27, 2020, the WWTP has been operated by a contracted service provider (EPCOR) under a one-year service agreement. This agreement was extended until June 30, 2021 to complete the RFP process and ensure an orderly transition.

Final approval is scheduled to be mid-May of this year.

Canada Healthy Communities Initiative

Council will discuss a recommendation to approve the submission of an application to the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative for up to $260,000 for improvements to public spaces in town, at their March 2 meeting. The deadline for submitting an application is March 9.

“It’s a fairly flexible grant,” Given said.

There are three themes to projects: safe and vibrant spaces, improved mobility options and digital solutions.

Administration identified improvements that would fit under the safe and vibrant public spaces and improved mobility options themes.

The application could include:

Some projects are enhancements to existing funding and others wouldn’t go ahead without grant funding.

Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh