Council considers incentives for housing developers

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Talks are ongoing with developers

INNISFAIL – Town council has gone through the opening round of potential strategies the community could use to attract private developers to the community to turn around its stagnant housing development market.

And while it is highly unlikely the town will turn to financial assistance programs for potential homeowners, including those in partnerships with other levels of government, there is interest on council to look at public – private partnerships to help support housing priorities.

“There’s lots of successful models out there, private – public partnerships providing some types of incentives to developers to at least get them started,” said Coun. Jean Barclay following council’s Agenda and Priorities meeting on June 4 when it was presented with an administration report on strategies to attract private housing developers to Innisfail. “We need to look at it from an investment standpoint from the town’s perspective. I am pleased we are having the discussion, and not just saying,’no, everything is black and white and this is the way we’ve always done it, let’s keeping doing it that way.’

“We need to be competitive with other communities,” added Barclay.

The administration report, presented by town planner Meghan Jenkins, was welcomed by council at its regular meeting on June 4 as an important first public move to jump-start housing development in town. The issue is a key priority in the town’s Strategic Plan, as well as being a top issue of concern with community citizens during last October’s municipal election.

Jenkins’ report noted the 2017 Housing Discussion Paper identified various existing ways for influencing and supporting development projects. However, the report also stated there was no current policy to assist administration about “specific mechanisms” to trigger development.

Her report suggested incentives could be used to stimulate development interest, including the creation of new housing units through tax deferrals and fee reductions on off-site levies and connection charges. As well, said Jenkins’ report, the town could consider contributing funds towards the cost of necessary infrastructure such as lift stations, roads and water lines to stimulate construction in various development areas, an idea that would reduce upfront costs for developers, and offer favourable terms of repayment.

“I think we can do that. It may cost us a little bit money up front to get it spurred on, to get it going,” said Mayor Jim Romane, noting the town could also help developers with in-kind contributions.

“It’s not a donation. It’s just to help them and encourage them, some interim financing I guess for them in a way,” he said, adding that is how the off-site levy system works. “Off-site levies are the costs the town has initiated or has paid out to get the property in position for development, so there are costs in getting that. That would be the same in putting in a lift station or helping them with deep services.”

While council did not give administration specific direction on where it wants administration to go with a final plan to attract housing development interest for the community, it did want staff to come back with a follow-up report, one that would narrow the focus on what council thinks are good ideas and ones that are best tossed.

“We are trying to narrow the focus but also at the same time (we are) working with developers right now as we speak,” said Romane. “Todd Becker (CAO) and his staff are meeting with them and hopefully we don’t have to come up with a lot of these things and we can get some of these developers working again for us and we don’t have to focus that much on it ourselves.”

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Johnnie Bachusky

Johnnie Bachusky joined the Innisfail Province as editor in 2013. He covers Innisfail and Red Deer County news, police, crime and municipal politics. He is also a photographer and columnist.