The Town of St. George has voted to approve an amendment to allow residential uses on the second floors of its downtown stretch.
A public hearing and third and final reading of the bylaw were held on Jan. 11 at a regular council meeting, where the amendment to the bylaw was passed, according to town CAO Jason Gaudet.
"We have a very great need for housing and rental space in St. George so allowing some of the properties to allow rental apartments in the area would be a big help to a lot of people in St. George and the area," said Pat Wilcox, Realtor for Fundy Bay Real Estate.
Wilcox, who's been a Realtor in St. George for 30 years, said Charlotte County is in a "crunch" and there are not many properties on the market. She said there's a need for affordable housing for the working-class person.
Xander Gopen, planner with the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission, discussed the amendment at the public hearing on Jan. 11. St. George's C1 downtown commercial area didn't allow for residential uses under four units and on the second floor unless they are grandfathered in. Therefore, a building or development permit can't be issued for the residential use, he said.
The main reason for this amendment is connected to a resident's request for an exterior staircase to second floor residential use in zone C1. The previous zoning bylaw's restrictions on new second-floor residential use couldn't allow the new development. C1 covers mostly Main Street in St. George.
Gopen noted in his presentation to council that some policies in the municipal plan state that the town should be increasing residential opportunities. In addition, he said the town's the municipal plans stated mixed used developments in the downtown area should be encouraged as long as the first floor is dedicated to commercial, office, institutions or retail space.
"You want to have mixed uses, you want to have residential uses in that downtown commercial zone, you just don't want them on the ground floor," he said in summary.
Town CAO, Jason Gaudet, said there are several residential units in the second floors of the downtown commercial zone which have existed since before the first zoning bylaws in the '80s and been grandfathered in ever since. He said this amendment makes those units conform to the zoning bylaws.
"This pairs with the reality that is there ... [The amendment] doesn't say that Main Street is going away."
He said he's not sure if it will help the need for housing in St. George.
According to the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission’s 2020 Municipal Housing Study, in which St. George contributed 41 entries, 43 per cent of respondents experienced higher than average difficulty finding the right home and 67 per cent found there was an extremely low availability of rental housing. Nineteen per cent of respondents consider their shelter costs in the town unaffordable.
That study collected data from landlords and renters in Grand Manan, McAdam, Campobello, Blacks Harbour, Saint Andrews, St. Stephen, St. George and Harvey. The study surveyed 352 residents made up of 85 renters and 267 homeowners. A total of 80 landlords were also spoken to for the study.
The service commission held the study by forming a working group with representatives from Vibrant Communities Charlotte County and community developers working within Horizon Health.
Gopen said the request for the staircase brought up some more issues that the commission will "definitely" be looking at.
"We'll be thinking more about this. [For example] how to structure the downtown with mixed uses [and if] are there other types of uses? But those are bigger questions and should be looked at more fully."
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Caitlin Dutt, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal