Affordable housing nixed

Opportunity waived: Faced with no proposals, city gives initial approval to foregoing chance to develop.

The city’s bid for affordable housing has gone bust.

At the Jan. 16 meeting of the city’s development and planning services committee, a staff recommendation that the city waive its opportunity to develop part of the former JL Jackson school site for affordable housing was given initial approval by council members present. Coun. Marg Kentel was absent.

Committee members agreed to forward the recommendation to the next meeting of council.

The decision was reached because no submissions were received in response to the city’s Oct. 15 request for proposals to develop and manage the one-acre site at 451 Shuswap St. SW. The closing date for submissions was Dec. 15.

With the city waiving its right to develop affordable housing, the school district is free to pursue other alternatives for the site.

However, the school district has been in the same predicament, not having received any development proposals.

Bruce Hunt, project manager for School District #83, reported in October that no proposals had come forward for the mixed-use plan for the site. The plan included commercial and retail space, as well as the possibility of new offices for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District and School District #83.

Hunt pointed to three factors limiting the viability of the commercial portion of the site: the approval of the SmartCentres development west of town, the expansion and renovation of Salmon Arm’s grocery stores, and poor economic conditions overall.

Still ongoing is a feasibility study looking into relocating the CSRD and school district offices. It’s expected to be complete in April, Hunt says.

“Then the board will sit down and look at the options again and the timing for whatever the balance of the property is.”

It’s been a long road for Hunt and the school district, of which the requests for proposals have been the most recent piece.

“Commercial – there were no takers, affordable housing – there were no takers, administrative offices – we have to get that sorted out.”

At Monday’s meeting, Corey Paiement, the city’s director of development services, noted that free land – which was what Salmon Arm was offering – does not provide an impetus to develop affordable housing.

Coun. Chad Eliason thanked city staff, Hunt, trustee Bobbi Johnson and everyone else who has worked on the project.

“What the deficiency in this is, while the city offered up land for free, we do not have an affordable housing policy. That policy may help reduce (development) costs… Government downloading has put this on the shoulder of municipal government where we never used to have to do it in the past. That’s a big cost.”