February 28th, 2024

City ponders sale of storage yards for housing developments

By COLLIN GALLANT on March 9, 2023.

The city's Marshall Avenue yard, off Spencer Street, is seen from the Uplands community in Central Medicine Hat. The parcel and other city-owned land could be evaluated for housing projects in an effort to create a higher-density urban transect.--News Photo Collin Gallant

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

A push to promote sustainable growth in Medicine Hat may open up potential to sell off the city’s storage yards along Kipling and Spencer Street corridors for housing developments, the News has learned.

The issue arose at Wednesday’s meeting of the municipal planning commission, where initial approval to rezone vacant land next to he city’s fleet garage was approved.

Council approved the land donation for the Medicine Hat Community Housing affordable housing project in December, though the site – between heavy equipment storage, warehousing and a drug treatment facility – appears generally incompatible for residential development.

“We’re plunking it in the middle there, with no other residential around it. I wonder how this is an ideal site,” commission member Catherine Mackenzie asked this week.

She was told the area is noted as a priority intensification area in the municipal development plan, and there is potential for development in the short to medium term.

“In the next five to 10 years we see it becoming more of a neighbourhood,” planning officer Bryanna Rintoul said.

Commission chair Coun. Darren Hirsch also noted the apparent disparity in land-use, but said the issue is “chicken and egg” and the housing project is potentially the first “domino” to fall.

“I believe you will see more like-minded development in this area,” said Hirsch. “There’s potential if it does, because it is creating something out of land that has been dormant.”

The city of Medicine Hat is the major landowner in the area.

Beyond the fleet garage, there are municipal and other storage yards along for the parks department, and a utility department dispatch shop along roadway between Kingsway Avenue and College Avenue.

One huge parcel, technically known as the Marshall Avenue Yard (a stub street off Spencer Street) sits between a row of businesses and the Seven Persons Creek.

Those properties could eventually be evaluated marketed to private-sector development, said Rochelle Pancoast, managing director of strategic management and analysis, though there is no immediate timetable.

“There will likely be the need to take another look at the surplus and potentially surplus land in the portfolio,” Pancoast told the News.

Such an exercise would be similar to a 2019 effort by the Invest Medicine Hat office to evaluate the city land portfolio and sell off parcels deemed in excess of municipal needs.

That office, including the city’s land department, is being reorganized, and a new mandate would likely line up with a push for “purposeful growth,” meaning greater tax assessment boosting, without adding cost, by promoting redevelopment and investment along existing arterial roads and utility systems.

Spencer Street saw a major road realignment and water line upgrades in the past five years.

The Alberta government owns the residential detox facility on one side of the housing site, and the Canada Post mail depot on the other.

On the other side of the Third Avenue hill road (leading to the Southeast Hill residential area) sits the mostly vacant former Energy Division headquarters, and further down are the municipal works yard and office building, built six years ago.

The Canada Post warehouse was built after the city swapped land there for the downtown post office prior to construction of the Esplanade in the early 2000s.

The Community Housing site, which is the focus of a federal affordable housing grant, is located behind the only residential property not acquired by the city 40 years ago when the policy was to steer the area to blanket light-industrial uses.

Rezoning the 1.5-acre site, including portions of a short length of Fifth Avenue, a laneway and two lots facing Kipling Street to medium-density residential use, was forwarded to council for a public hearing and decision.

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