Monday, September 25, 2017

Our Beloved Hillside

Council passed an Area Revitalization Plan (ARP) for the Hillside neighbourhood today. There’s been some misinformation and half truths shared about the plan, so I thought I’d give little more context here as well as my reason for voting in favour.

First off, take a read of the plan yourself here. You can find out about the development of the plan here.

Over the last several years, there has been an interest from our homebuilding community in tearing down old homes in Hillside and replacing them with new developments, particularly multi-family units like duplexes and three-plexes. As the number of these units started to proliferate, Council thought it would be wise to put a pause on these developments and create a plan to better guide the future development of this community.

Hillside is a bit of an odd duck (my apologies Hillsiders!). When the neighbourhood was zoned decades ago, most of it was zoned “RT” or “Residential Transition” which allows for more multi-unit buildings than “RG” or “Residential General” zoning. One of the main discussions during the ARP process was whether we should change the zoning to block all multi-family from being built or just put greater controls on how and where it’s built.

There was quite a bit of interest from the community in creating the ARP. I attended the first open house where I was surprised to see the Hillside school gym filled by local residents. Residents were told there was going to be a steering committee formed to guide the plan. Eight residents signed up to be on the committee and for the next year volunteered countless hours as they worked with the Planning department to create the plan.

Throughout the year, there were several open houses planned to give updates and receive more feedback on the plan. Last month Council was presented with the plan that struck a balance between allowing some multi-family in certain locations, putting greater design and parking standards on new developments, and prioritizing areas for infrastructure investments.

The plan also did address areas of concern such as park and trail redevelopments, hospital parking, and giving Hillside a more visible identity. However, most of the disagreements hinged on the character of the neighbourhood and what to do about multi-family developments.

Why did I support the plan?

I felt that the steering committee (¾ composed of residents) did an excellent job of balancing competing interests. On the one hand, the plan identified certain areas that would be more ideal for multi-family developments (such as along 100 Ave) and put the most stringent design standards on new multi-family developments in the city. On the other hand, the committee recognized that there is a need for reinvestment so that old derelict homes are torn down and that the area doesn’t become even more of a haven for squatters and illicit activity.

Why not only rezone for single-family homes then?

The reality is that there was nothing stopping residents from tearing down houses and replacing them with new single-family homes. But we just weren’t seeing this type of reinvestment. If we were to completely not allow any multi-family, I don’t see how this would have changed the situation. I believe Council would have stifled reinvestment for many years to come and we would have seen the number of derelict properties continue to grow. This plan will ensure that there is an appropriate mix of single and multi-family housing and that any development coming forward will meet the highest design standards in the city.

What about the petition?

There was a petition circulated that had 130 of Hillside’s 2,500 residents opposed to the plan. Several of them came to speak to Council. I understand their frustration. Prior zoning allowed developments to occur haphazardly without any coordinated plan and that produced some questionable results. So I get why there would be fear of the ARP.

But the plan also found a lot support. It was fully endorsed by the steering committee who worked on it for a year. I also received many messages of support from residents who were pleased that Council is addressing many of the issues they have seen in their community.

As a City Councillor, I have to weigh all these competing interests and make a decision based on what I believe will be best for the City now and in decades to come. Hillside has such an important place in Grande Prairie’s history and I believe this plan will help ensure Hillside attracts a balance of reinvestment that all residents can be proud of in years to come.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this balanced overview of the situation, Rory. I hope is gets widely circulated!