Fredericton may need more housing, but a proposal for a 19-apartment development appears headed for rejection after city staff deemed its location unsuitable for residential life.
Councillors gave first and second reading Monday to a resolution that would change the zoning of a property on Acorn Street to allow the construction of a commercial plaza.
But a second part of the resolution has councillors following a recommendation by the city's planning advisory committee that it reject the inclusion of 19 apartment units — five of which would be designated affordable — on the second floor of the building.
In an earlier report filed to the planning advisory committee, city staff also recommended the apartment part of the proposal be denied.
Staff acknowledged the the city needs more affordable housing options, but said the Acorn Street proposal "does not provide a suitable environment for residential development due to incompatible adjacent uses and the lack of supportive elements in the immediate area."
The decision comes as Fredericton is in the throes of a housing shortage, with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. pegging the city's rental vacancy rate at just 1.8 per cent as of last October.
A housing needs assessment done last fall also determined the city needs about 2,500 new affordable housing units about 1,500 new subsidized units.
Paul Dayton, head of Dayton Engineering, is the applicant for the proposal, which is to construct the building at 15-35 Acorn Street as part of an extension of the Bishops Gate Commercial Plaza.
Dayton, who made the application on behalf of a developer, said the initial business plan involved just creating an additional commercial building, but was altered to include apartments when the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to shut down.
He said he was hoping to have the property rezoned from business industrial to commercial, along with a zoning variance to allow the apartments on the second floor.
He said staff early on told him the application would have a higher chance of being approved if he included affordable housing units, so the plan was to designate five units as affordable under a CMHC program.
"So we said, well, we'll max it out, we'll give it the maximum affordability requirement, we'll give it the maximum environmental consideration with higher [insulation] values and low energy units," Dayton said.
"And so we took that angle as well as providing elevator and barrier free access throughout. So we tried to make it an attractive option for the city. It's unfortunate that they didn't see it that way."
Speaking to councillors on Monday, Marcello Battilana, the city's manager of community planning, said staff don't take the need for affordable housing lightly and debated whether or not to recommend the zoning variance.
"From our perspective at the end of the day ... this is not an appropriate location regardless if they're affordable or not," Battilana said.
"The condition of the areas is such that it's pronounced to be more of an area for industrial because there's business industrial zoning that currently exists and then there's the commercial component as well."
Battilana acknowledged the high-density residential development taking place on the other side of Bishop Drive, but added those properties come with sidewalks and parks to serve residents.
"This [Acorn Street property] is a bit of an island on to itself and doesn't really lend itself to kind of the immersive environment we want to put people in."
The resolution for the Acorn Street proposal will be brought back before councillors for a third and final reading at the next meeting on Aug. 8.