A rendition of a proposed six-storey apartment complex called The Highmark, to be built on 11th Avenue in Castlegar (seen at centre, on the hill). City council has given its blessing to the building’s height.

A rendition of a proposed six-storey apartment complex called The Highmark, to be built on 11th Avenue in Castlegar (seen at centre, on the hill). City council has given its blessing to the building’s height.

Six-storey apartment building gets go ahead in Castlegar

Council unanimously agrees to let project on 11th Avenue be taller than normally allowed.

While it’s still a long way from breaking ground, Castlegar city council has unanimously agreed that an apartment complex proposed for 11th Avenue can be six storeys high.

Council voted Monday to allow the building to be taller than what’s normally permitted under the neighbourhood’s zoning. The decision overruled a staff recommendation to deny the variance request.

“You can tell council is excited about this project,” councillor Dan Rye told the developers during the meeting. “Hopefully we will see shovels in the ground in a year or so.”

Although neighbours had concerns around the building’s size and its effect on parking and traffic, council felt those issues were outweighed by the need to increase the city’s rental housing stock.

“We need to say we are serious about implementing our housing strategy and welcome developers who present projects that meet our strategy,” Mayor Kirk Duff said. “That’s the message we are sending here. It’s exciting stuff.”

The project, to cost an estimated $15.2 million, is expected to see a 70-unit building known as The Highmark go up on the site of another development that stalled more than 20 years ago at the foundation stage.

Eighty per cent of the units will be considered “affordable” housing and the rest will be rented at market value. Affordable in this case means at or below the median household income, which in Castlegar is $68,800 per year or $5,700 per month. Bachelor suites would start at $700 per month, two-bedroom units at $1,435 per month, and two bedroom plus a den at $1,742 per month.

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“I am on board with the project as you’ve [presented],” councillor Maria McFaddin told the developers. “Thank you for investing in Castlegar.”

McFaddin said she sympathized with affected neighbours, but noted other apartment buildings are nearby and even if the building was smaller, it could still end up blocking their view.

“Is aesthetics more important than our housing crisis? We need housing and we have to make some concessions to get it,” she said. “There may be better areas for six storey buildings, but that is not the proposal in front of us. We can’t wait for perfection, we just need housing.”

The variance will allow for a 62-foot (19-metre) tall building, rather than the maximum height of 39 feet (12 metres) otherwise allowed. Council also agreed to a second variance that will let the building have fewer parking spots than required. The plan calls for 81 covered parking spaces alongside and under the building.

Councillor Bergen Price said he knows some of the neighbours and appreciated their concerns, but felt “fortunate that we have an opportunity to do something fantastic that will improve the city. Get it done big and bring as much traffic downtown as we can. I’m excited to have the opportunity to vote for this.”

Councillor Cherryl MacLeod said she was “sorry to take away the view. But we’ve had two major employers tell us they can’t retain employees because there are no rental units. There is a huge need.”

The project still has several hoops to go through before construction can begin, including a traffic study, a site-specific amendment to the official community plan, and a development permit.

Deanne Collinson, who is working on the project along with her father, Ed Collinson, and fellow developer Ken Umbarger, said they also need to secure financing through Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

CMHC requires the total rental income be at least 10 per cent below the average rates for the area and that at least 20 per cent of the units be priced at or below the city’s median household income. Both of those things have to be maintained for at least 10 years. Collinson said CMHC’s involvement is critical, otherwise they will have to rethink the project.

“We know Castlegar is desperate for rental units and we want to be part of the solution,” she said. “Our plan is to fill a need and in order to do this, we’ve asked for some concessions [from the city].”

The first storey is to be below street level, resulting in a five-storey building as viewed from 11th Avenue. Collinson said increased height and density was the only way to make the project affordable for them and she further argued the smaller footprint will allow more green space and greater setbacks.

She presented data for a scaled-down version with five storeys and 62 units but said that further reducing the project to four storeys would make it unfeasible because they would have to add underground parking.

Collinson said in addition to constructing the building, they will act as property managers with a resident manager on site.

Kelly Waage, who lives across the street, told council she was less concerned about losing her view than with potential parking and traffic problems. She worried cars will end up parked on both sides of the street, making it hard for snowplows or other large vehicles to get through. The developers said they expect to have agreements with tenants to minimize the number of parking spots required.

Construction is expected to begin sometime next year. Although the developers live in Kelowna, they have local roots: Umbarger grew up in Oasis and Ed Collinson was raised in Blueberry.