February 28th, 2024

Is mixed-use development the answer?

By COLLIN GALLANT on May 12, 2022.

Ground-floor commercial with apartments or condo could be the answer for adding development and population along growth corridors in the City of Medicine Hat, which is considering a new high-density residential land district. This building, currently under construction on the Southeast Hill, shows off a style of development the city is seeking, though on a smaller scale.--News Photo Collin Gallant

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

City planners are proposing ground-floor commercial buildings with floors of apartments or condos above could help drive development and help reach urban intensification targets in a new “high density” mixed-use zone.

That would also allow much taller buildings than are allowed now, but could be used on high traffic routes, adding residential units without the cost to service suburban subdivisions.

“It takes advantage of something like a busy street,” planning superintendent Robert Sissons said when the potential new zone was introduced April 14. “People may not want to live right next to the road, but it’s perfect for coffee shops or store fronts.”

A public hearing on whether the definition of the zone should be included in the city’s land-use bylaw will be held at Monday’s city council meeting. No land is currently being rezoned at this point, but the style of building is popular in commercial development elsewhere and aligns with city goals of brown field redevelopment and maximizing existing transportation and utility systems.

“I’m having a hard time seeing the downside,” said Coun. Andy McGrogan at the municipal planning commission meeting where it was introduced.

Per sector of land, the building style – including more than the four-storey limit currently in place – could add more residential units per hectare than Medicine Hat’s only true skyscraper, Mayfair Manor on Fifth Avenue downtown.

That dates to the 1970s and was allowed under older land development rules, but planners say the industry is pushing for the mixed-use model proposed.

They have fielded specific inquiries over recent years, and building codes now allow wood-frame construction of buildings from six to 12 storeys, making them less expensive to build.

The “high-density” mixed-use zone designation would allow higher-density residential and mixed commercial-residential properties to be built, likely on infill or redevelopment projects throughout the city once re-zoning occurs.

Currently, the separate medium-density residential, mixed-use and downtown mixed-use land zones allow a maximum building height of four storeys (or six if underground parking is included).

In a high-density districts, setbacks may be relaxed, with off-street parking below or behind.

The style would also add units at an array of prices if development proceeds.

“As a nation we’re talking about affordability, and this would open the door to condos developments,” said Sissons. “We want to drive density, but at the end of the day it’s a matter of (housing) choice for our citizens.

“It’s not new, but it’s timely right now.”

Municipal Development Plan amendments approved last year call for intensification nodes throughout the city. Those locations would be considered for multi-storey buildings, typically with ground-level commercial space and living units above.

Improving the sites is a main strategy to increase the tax assessment base without bringing on new infrastructure costs.

Nodes, also called urban transects in planning documents, are described at Northlands in Crescent Heights, Downtown to the Maple Avenue Bridge, the Hospital area and the Trans-Canada Way, including portions of Dunmore Road, Strachan Road and Thirteenth Avenue. Intensification corridors could be Maple Avenue, Division Avenue N. and S., along with Kingsway Avenue.

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