By Natascia Lypny, LEADER-POST SEPTEMBER 8, 2015
Despite it conflicting with city policy, the mayor, a city councillor and downtown business association are on board with a housing corporation converting land into a parking lot - at least temporarily.
The Regina Planning Commission last week approved a request by Namerind Housing Corporation to demolish a former provincial government building on the 1800 block of Lorne Street and turn it into a parking lot as it plans a major affordable housing complex.
The non-profit organization has a grand vision for a two-tower, 11-storey complex with 170 units, a grocery store, daycare and office space.
It also purchased land from the city, to the north at Lorne Street and 11th Avenue, for the project.
But before it can begin building up, Namerind has to contend with a derelict building on half of its property that is driving up its tax bill.
"Really, knocking it down gets the whole process started and reduces the tax burden while we get ready for the construction to begin," said Namerind CEO Robert Byers.
The demolition and parking lot setup will cost an estimated $2 million, said Byers, but the 76 stalls will bring in revenue for the organization, known for its social enterprise approach to affordable housing funding. So, too, will the parking spots Namerind took under its control on the parcel it bought from the city.
Open parking lots like this are discouraged under Regina's official community plan and the downtown neighbourhood plan, but city administration recommended the approval of this particular lot because it "views this proposal as a step toward a redevelopment of this site and the property to the north."
While Regina Downtown Business Improvement District executive director Judith Veresuk agreed large surface parking "doesn't really make for a vibrant, active pedestrian area" and "it's not something that we would endorse in all locations of downtown," she is confident in Namerind's plan coming to fruition.
She said her organization supports the project, seeing as it addresses a need for housing in the downtown. The project also takes care of a vacant building, she added.
Coun. Shawn Fraser is in the same boat.
In the past, he criticized a case of an affordable housing building torn down on Hamilton Street for future development. Operating under a permit similar to Namerind's, it has since sat as a parking lot. The Hamilton Street permit expires in March.
He said the city's parking policies need to be considered with nuance.
"I think in this case, on the balance of considerations, allowing this to be a parking lot, to me, seems like a step toward more affordable housing," he said. Mayor Michael Fougere emphasized how the parking lot permit will be temporary and flexible enough to allow Namerind to prepare the two parcels of land for construction.
Fougere called Namerind's project "ambitious" and "complex," but stressed he saw "no reason to think that it won't go ahead."
Byers echoed that Namerind is committed to fulfilling Regina's affordable housing need. It alone has some 700 families on its waiting list.
He said this would not be another case of a stagnant parking lot: "This is different."
Byers hopes to see excavation and construction of the site begin in 2017.
The application for the temporary parking lot goes to city council on Sept. 28.
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