Conversion of hotel to apartments clears hurdle

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

It wasn’t unanimous, but Slave Lake town council has approved a zoning change that would allow the Northern Star Hotel to convert a part of its facility to apartments. To do that, council had to first approve the addition of ‘hotels’ to the Urban Village District; then pass the zoning change. That followed a public hearing on Oct. 5, at which nobody from the public had anything to say.

However, members of the public did show up at an earlier open house hosted by the owners of the hotel. Council heard it was well attended, questions were asked and people, “seemed pleased with the answers.”

The background on the project is this: the government has $4.5 million earmarked for ‘affordable’ housing in Slave Lake. The Regional Housing Authority was planning to use it to build an apartment complex on 6th Ave. NW. That was until the government decided to seek proposals from private industry on how to use the money to provide low-cost housing.

The group that owns the Northern Star (Slave Lake Accommodations) was the only one to respond. Its idea is to convert about half the hotel into apartments. A representative assured council at an earlier meeting that all safety concerns would be met, and the uses would be strictly separated.

At last week’s meeting, councillor Julie Brandle was the lone dissenter. Having done “a lot of research,” she said she was “not a fan” of the Urban Village concept. It is generally used in big cities, she said, and “I don’t think it really works in our town.”

She informed her colleagues she would be voting against the proposal, and in fact did that.

The other councillors made a point of explaining their support.

“We’ve been chasing this housing project for a long time,” said Darin Busk. “I’m glad to see something come to fruition.”

Councillor Rebecca King said she was undecided before attending the open house, but came around to favouring the proposal.

Mayor Tyler Warman acknowledge the project as being “uncharted territory for rural Alberta.” But if you don’t adapt, you die, he added, and praised the hotel owners for being “willing to try something new.”

Ash Arora, representing the ownership group, tells The Leader to expect to see renovation work commencing in November. Phase I of the project, he says, should last about three months. That’s of course depending on the company applying for and receiving a development permit for the work.

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