One month after it was originally scheduled, second and third readings for rezoning Dairy Road Park in Bellevue to multi-family residential took place July 13 at the MDM Community Centre.
A second public hearing for the motion was held during the meeting to accommodate residents unable to attend the first public hearing back on June 8. Dozens of Bellevue residents voiced their opposition to the motion at both hearings, as well as at a rally at the park, and in a signed petition.
Despite the pushback, council unanimously approved rezoning Dairy Road Park to make way for a proposed residential housing development. The property is owned by Trilogy Real Estate Group, a developer with tentative plans to build about 20 townhouse units. The goal is to price the units at under $300,000 so more people living and working in Crowsnest Pass can afford their own homes.
Many residents who opposed the rezoning acknowledged the need for housing but argued the location selected in Bellevue did not actually solve the problem.
“Ultimately, it’s not a working-poor option. The working poor that we really need to address in this community are not the customers for these houses,” said Ian Crawford.
Mr. Crawford said the municipality should instead look at rental properties indexed to income near amenities since low-income families often lack transportation.
The lack of public transportation, he added, made a development in Bellevue too far removed from the services families would need.
“Bellevue doesn’t have any amenities to speak of for those people,” said Mr. Crawford. “This really doesn’t meet the needs for the largest group in our community that needs housing.”
A park in the centre of the community also made a major difference for residents’ mental health, said Teena Freeman.
“Sitting on my front step when I couldn't walk, I would hear the kids playing,” she shared. “I’d see the seniors walking. I saw mothers and kids, and it changes your whole outlook when your mind’s not working right and you can’t get the right medication to figure out what’s wrong or get to counselling to help.”
Barbara Janusz, a Coleman resident who owns a rental property across from the park, said another issue was the municipality failing to properly notify residents living adjacent to the rezoning. The Municipal Government Act requires letters be sent to neighbouring property owners whenever rezoning is being considered, which did not occur for Dairy Road Park.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been prejudiced in this process by not having received that notice,” Ms. Janusz said.
Council recognized the mistake at the June 8 meeting, which was part of the reason voting on the motion was postponed. K
Though the majority of participants spoke in opposition to the development, a handful of younger families were in favour of the attainable-housing development, including Tanner Murphy.
Mr. Murphy works for Ashcroft Master Builder, the home-building company teaming up with Trilogy Real Estate. He currently commutes to Crowsnest Pass from Lethbridge for work because he couldn’t find a closer living arrangement.
“I do have a young family, and we are looking to buy a house. I don’t want to go and buy [something] that isn’t my price range that’s 100 years old because it’s unreliable — it’s going to fall apart and I’ll put more money into it than it’s worth to me.”
Stephen Amonson, president of Trilogy Real Estate, said three employees and their families were forced to live in RVs to be close to work, while another five commuted every day. The problem, he continued, was widespread among other industries.
“In our Lethbridge operations, we have 10 different families in the past two years that have purchased homes and they commute on a weekly basis — four on, four off — to go to Sparwood to work at Teck and the different mines in that valley because they could not find affordable housing any closer,” Mr. Amonson said.
Those opposed to rezoning the park, however, argued that addressing the housing shortage should not remove Bellevue’s right to recreational space.
“It took me a lot of years of hard work to be able to afford my first home,” said Kirsten Perry. “That is absolutely part of the journey of growing up. It’s not a right to own a home.”
Council’s decision to vote for the development while facing a gymnasium full of residents opposing it was not easy, said Coun. Marlene Anctil. Ultimately Coun. Anctil said she felt rezoning the property was the right thing to do because it was “what’s best for the entire community.”
Trilogy Real Estate’s willingness to compromise and still provide green space around the development was admirable, she added. The developer has adjusted its preliminary plans to only use two-thirds of the property for housing while keeping a third for a green walkway and park.
“I think that’s great because a lot of the developers would just say ‘Suck it up Sally, this is what we’re doing,’ ” Coun. Anctil said.
With a lack of industry in the municipality, encouraging the housing market was one of the few ways the municipality could grow, said Coun. Dave Filipuzzi.
“I don’t think we’re going to attract too many jobs here. Our jobs are in B.C.,” he said. “How do we grow this community? How do we attract people here?”
The province offloading policing costs while decreasing grant support, Coun. Filipuzzi added, left the municipality with additional expenses totalling $500,000 for 2021. Since 83 per cent of the municipality’s tax revenue was residential, the options were to raise taxes or increase the number of residential properties.
Although recognizing tax revenue was part of the decision, Mayor Blair Painter said the central reason the property needed rezoning was to address the housing shortage in Crowsnest Pass.
“We need attainable housing,” he said.
The mayor pointed to recent social assessment studies that indicated 15 per cent of residents couldn’t afford their homes.
The municipality had also engaged in a lengthy and in-depth public consultation process in the creation of its municipal development plan, which identified the need for high-density residential housing and even suggested rezoning the Dairy Road Park.
“If you’re that much opposed to it, it would’ve been nice two years ago to get some comments on that,” Mayor Painter said. “But we didn't get that, so it’s in our plan.”
For Coun. Lisa Sygutek, voting to rezone the park was the conscionable thing to do.
“Are you really comfortable knowing that you’d rather have the green space than 21 people having somewhere decent to live? If you can look at yourself in the mirror and think that’s OK, good on you, but I can’t,” she said.
“That’s why I'm going to vote in favour of having the development, because I feel that it is my social responsibility to take care of all the people in this community.”
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze