The City of Fredericton wants to encourage new housing in traditionally commercial areas, just one year after council rejected a proposal mirroring what staff are now trying to achieve.
Tianchen Liu wanted to construct a two-storey building on Acorn Street, with a commercial plaza on the ground floor and 19 apartment units on the second floor to provide housing for the workers at his restaurant businesses near the intersection of Bishop Drive and Hanwell Road.
Following recommendations by city staff, Fredericton councillors rejected the part of the proposal that included the apartments, over concerns about the lack of sidewalks on that street and access to amenities.
Now the city says it’s pursuing flexible zoning rules that would allow apartment units to be created in buildings currently zoned commercial in select parts of the city, including the site of Liu’s proposal.
“I feel like that’s exactly what I was trying to do, but but I guess back then they didn’t realize that in Fredericton, we kind of need those kinds of apartments, which is affordable,” Liu said.
“I just feel unfortunate because this only happened a year … ago, and they changed their mind, which kind of sucks.”
City planner Frederick Van Rooyen said staff are moving forward on a “workforce housing” initiative that would see commercial corridors granted a “zoning overlay” that would allow residential units in buildings zoned for commercial use.
Those corridors include areas along Prospect Street, Bishop Drive and St. Mary’s Street, he said.
“We’re trying to find ways, more innovative ways to encourage more affordable housing and more rapid housing,” Van Rooyen said.
“And so right now our commercial centres and corridors really provide an opportunity to better utilize … underused spaces, or vacant spaces where there’s an opportunity to provide that residential intensification, especially in in mixed-use forms.”
Van Rooyen didn’t directly answer a question about why city staff recommended rejecting Liu’s proposal about a year ago.
“It’s about creating the right environment that’s pedestrian-orientated, that’s pedestrian friendly, that has the right conditions and amenities for people to live.”
No one would want to live on these three streets. They’re high-traffic.– Matthew Hayes, tenants’ rights advocate
Van Rooyen said city council still needs to approve the recommended changes to the city’s zoning bylaw and municipal plan before they can be enacted.
There could be some good and some bad with the city’s new push to allow residential units on commercial properties, said Matthew Hayes, a sociology professor at St. Thomas University and spokesperson for the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights.
He said many parts of the commercial corridors currently aren’t pedestrian-friendly, and with the new initiative might come a push by the city to change that by upgrading sidewalks and improving transit.
He said new housing in the city’s commercial districts would also satisfy some of the need for more affordable housing, while accommodating for people who want to live close to where they work.
But Hayes also sees the change as one that could effectively push low-income earners to less desirable parts of the city, and create pockets of “stigmatized” housing.
“No one would want to live on these three streets. They’re high-traffic,” Hayes said.
“You know, in the case of Bishop Drive, there’s a lack of sidewalks, facilities. Part of the neighborhood is still being built. Prospect Street is a difficult street to walk on … because there are busy parking lots that people are are going into and out of.”
Hayes said if council wants to address the affordability of housing in the city, it should focus on implementing rent control.
“They should be pushing the province to bring in … rent control, and to do it yesterday.”