A preliminary concept drawing of the affordable housing project proposed for 314 Buller Street. (Checkwitch Poiron Architects Inc.)

LRCA’s affordable housing project moves to public hearing stage

A rezoning application for an affordable housing project being spearheaded by the Ladysmith Resources Centre Association is proceeding to a public hearing in the new year.

As part of the process, the Official Community Plan is required to be amended to change the property’s zoning from ‘Institutional’ to ‘Multi-Family Residential’ because 314 Buller Street is occupied by the vacant St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church.

The LRCA received $3.6 million in provincial funding on Nov. 13 through BC Housing’s Community Housing Fund to help in what’s expected to be a $8 million to $10 million project.

At a meeting last month, new town councillors had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the proposal to build 36 affordable housing units, which would house families, seniors and persons with developmental disabilities.

Outgoing LRCA president and town councillor Marsh Stevens recused himself from the conversation around the council table but told the Chronicle that applications for provincial funding were judged on land, zoning, or the ability to acquire it, and if there was a capacity to carry the project through to completion.

“I think it speaks to why we were one of the few successful ones in the CVRD. We had land and the organization is pushing 27 years old,” said Stevens.

“We’ve run the Extreme Weather Shelter for BC Housing coming up four seasons here, so they knew us, and just looking at this organization, this organization has the capacity to take this on and run it.”

Volunteers are credited with putting in a bulk of work that went into the successful funding application.

At the recent city council meeting in November where the rezoning application was on the agenda, architect David Poiron repeated that preliminary concept drawings won’t mirror the finished building design.

“The material for the building hasn’t been chosen in any way, shape or form. The purpose of what you see in front of you is to confirm use and density for the project because this is a zoning amendment,” he said. “We haven’t done design in terms of the materials of the building.”

If rezoning of 314 Buller Street is successful then the LRCA would submit a development permit application to be reviewed and approved by staff, the Advisory Design Panel and council prior to breaking ground.

On Monday, Guido Weisz, chair of the LRCA’s building committee submitted a letter to the town asking that its Not-for-Profit Rental Housing Development Cost Charges Reduction bylaw now also be amended.

“Social housing policy has evolved since that bylaw was created,” he told the Chronicle, commending the municipality for adopting the bylaw years ago. “In particular, the province now has included housing for moderate income individuals as part of their social housing portfolio.”

Weisz points out that given the bylaw’s definition of low income housing, the LRCA may only be eligible for DCC reductions on 70 per cent of units for the Buller Street project.

That’s because to receive funding from the province through BC Housing’s Community Housing Fund, 30 per cent of the units in the building must be for “moderate income” earners.

“There’s some really good reasons why the province has done that. One is that they have a policy of addressing the missing middle,” he said. “It helps create mixed-income communities which some literature suggest are more healthier and stable.”

Weisz estimates that if the LRCA didn’t qualify for the full DCC reductions it could cost the project $80,000 to $100,000.

“I brought the letter to ask the town to look at it…to make it aware that there are some incongruencies between what are now the social housing policies of the province, and this bylaw,” he said.

“It’s really important for us to look at the financial viability. It’s also important for creating an environment that’s inviting for future affordable housing projects to occur in Ladysmith.

While a date for the public hearing has yet to be set, work continues for the LRCA in the interim.

A construction management firm has been retained to help with next steps.

“Probably through a two to four month period over the winter really get down to the nitty gritty of costs,” Stevens said.

“Really drilling down into the minutia of it to get the budget rock solid.”

The LRCA purchased the Buller Street property with money bequeathed to the non-profit from the late Pat Edge.

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