Why aren’t they building here?

Town council hopes waiving development fees (and deposits) will make a difference

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake’s town council is trying to figure out what is keeping developers from responding to the acute need for rental housing in the community. It likely isn’t the town’s fees for development, which council heard at its June 4 meeting are ‘mid-range’ as far as similar towns in Alberta go.

The same goes for security deposits on development permits. Not only are they not an obstacle to development, advised long-time town planning and development expert Laurie Skrynyk, they go a long way towards compliance and greatly reduce the amount of enforcement the town needs to do.

Nevertheless, council is so keen to do something – anything! – to break things loose, they pretty much went against Skrynyk’s advice and voted to waive development fees and the deposits, across the board, as a trial.

It wasn’t unanimous.

“I don’t think we should remove the deposit for lower-end stuff,” said Councillor Steve Adams.

That was based on a couple of factors. What we really need are the high-density, multi-unit (I.e. apartment buildings) developments, Adams said. And Skrynyk had assured council that the companies who build such projects aren’t bothered by deposits; on the other hand, they also aren’t the ones who tend to fail to comply with the terms of their development agreements. The problems are more with the smaller stuff; hence the imposition of the effective deposit system, about 15 years ago.

But Mayor Frankie Ward was for the all-in approach.

“I say let’s try it,” she said.

Councillor Kim Hughes agreed.

“Every dollar counts,” she said, also proposing a review after six months.

“Let’s start with the fees and see the reaction to that,” said Adams.

“I’d love to see the deposits waived and see what happens,” Ward countered.

Skrynyk had told council that before the deposit requirement was put in place, she and her staff spent a lot of time running around trying to enforce the terms of development agreements. It was, “the least likeable part of my job,” she said.

Skrynyk said she’d talked to some ‘high-density’ developers on the subject, and the subject of the deposits “never came up as an issue.”

Given the clear need for such housing, “I think it’s insane we haven’t had an apartment development,” Adams said.

Adams asked Skrynyk if she can try to find out from the developers she’s in touch with, “why they aren’t building here.”

Whatever the reason is, council is willing to forego some revenue as an experiment, even at the risk of creating, or re-creating, the enforcement nightmare that formerly existed.

Said Mayor Ward, “I’m tired of doing the same thing over and over again (and hoping for a different result).”

As for the six-month review of the new, fee-less development regime, Skrynyk said it would be 18 months before she’ll be able to properly assess the impact.

Council made and carried two motions: one to suspend development fees and deposits, from June 5 to Dec. 31. The other one was to have administration prepare a “comprehensive report” on the anticipated effects of the suspension of development fees.

Back in the day…. an apartment building going up in Slave Lake in 2013. Nobody seems willing to build them these days.

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