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Kitimat council rejects C-10 rezoning application for Strawberry Meadows

Close vote reflects concerns over light industrial uses in residential neighbourhood
Council has denied a rezoning application of two lots on Loganberry Avenue (foreground) from residential to C-10 Agriculture Commercial, over concerns the potential uses are more aligned with light industrial, an issue carried over from previous C-10 rezoning across the street. District of Kitimat photo

Kitimat council has denied a rezoning application in Strawberry Meadows over concerns that the intended uses in the residential neighbourhood far exceed the limits of the requested C-10 Agriculture Commercial zoning and instead align more closely with light industrial activities.

Developer Jack Oviatt, who owns properties at 182 and 190 Loganberry Street, sought to change the zoning to C-10 commercial agriculture, which typically supports amenities complementary to a residential area.

Also, the Strawberry Meadows neighbourhood’s original developer stated he’s received several inquiries from potential buyers about using the land for commercial purposes. He argued that the undeveloped lots could not be marketed for residential purposes due to their proximity to three C-10 properties across the street—properties he was also instrumental in having rezoned to C-10.

“There are a lot of home-based businesses and small businesses in Strawberry Meadows,” he said, speaking to council at the May 21 meeting prior to the vote. “The application before you tonight is about supporting small business.”

Council devoted significant time to a lively debate on the application but ultimately voted against it, in line with staff’s recommendation to do just that.

The C-10 Agriculture and Commercial zoning permits uses that complement residential zoning, such as agriculture (including greenhouses, nurseries, boarding kennels or stables), detached residences for business operators, local retail trade, commercial recreation and veterinary hospitals.

READ MORE: Kitimat council debates new rezoning proposal for small homes in Strawberry Meadows

However, the rezoning application proposed an expansion into uses more aligned with industrial zoning, which staff argued is inappropriate. These proposed uses included yard operations associated with commercial operations, office and shop facilities, maintenance and repair of vehicles and heavy construction equipment, operation and dispatch functions required for commercial operations and the operation of a construction business.

Council had debated the application at an April meeting but delayed their vote to allow staff to get clarity on the intentions for the properties. That still left council with many unanswered questions as to the precise intent for the lots.

Councillor Graham Pitzel led the motion to deny, citing the Official Community Plan (OCP) rules that call for the preservation and separation between industrial land and neighbourhood units in the neighbourhood.

He expressed concern over the proposed uses, and cited previous polling of residents for the neighbourhood plan, which clearly indicated that residents do not want light industrial activity in the area.

“This basically does not belong in a residential neighbourhood. It belongs in an industrial area like Service Centre or Forest Avenue,” he said.

However, Councillor Mario Feldhoff defended the application and moved to approve an alternate motion provided by staff.

“To call this light industrial is pushing it,” he said, citing similar operations in other neighbourhoods like Cable Car, with small shops and equipment to operate a maintenance operation. “This [vote] is about small business protection.”

He argued that the district is potentially pushing these businesses out of town to Thornhill, despite a recent report to council highlighting the desperate need for spaces in town to support more operations like those proposed

Feldhoff noted that the application was for only two lots, relatively removed from the concentration of residential dwellings. Denying the application, he said, is to “make a bogeyman out of small businesses that want to serve our community.”

The alternate motion would have set limits on the types of commercial uses and established guidelines for the scope of development to preserve the community’s residential appeal.

“We can find the right balance,” Feldhoff said. “It will clean up some of the problems we have now [with lack of appropriate lots] and demonstrate Kitimat is open for business.”

Councillor Michelle Martins joined those in opposition, saying the approval would be a cumbersome endeavour for staff, dangerous for residents and contrary to the neighbourhood planning.

She called for patience as district staff work on a downtown revitalization plan and efforts to fast-track site remediation rules, which will likely free up space for land uses similar to those being applied for.

“I would rather see how these initiatives develop and put our efforts into them, rather than rezoning a residential area… it’s a Band-Aid solution,” Martins said.

Responding to claims that the properties could not be marketed for residential purposes due to the C-10 sites across the street, Martins suggested the district buy the lots for desperately needed affordable housing developments.

Mayor Phil Germuth also voted against the application but indicated he could be swayed if the future owners were to present clear and limited plans, allowing council to vet any proposals and debate their merits.

He pointed to the current C-10 lots on Loganberry Street that appear to be overstepping the allowed uses. These lots are frequently referred to by councillors and residents opposed to further expansion of C-10 zoning in Strawberry Meadows, due to the movement of heavy machinery and large trucks in an area with no pedestrian infrastructure.

“To zone something to C-10, the chances are someone’s going to buy it then go and do something completely different. We’re stuck with it, and worse, the people of Strawberry Meadows are stuck with it … seeing what we’ve had happen before, I just can’t support it,” Germuth said.

At this point, Oviatt interrupted from the public gallery, inviting the mayor to question him directly as he is still both the owner of the lots and the applicant.

In an extremely rare move, with no vocal objections from council, Germuth granted Oviatt the chance to speak to his concerns. However, the mayor’s pursuit for answers quickly ended when Oviatt could not clearly state whether he or someone else would be the end-owner of the properties, nor their specific intended use.

Oviatt continued, however, reminding council there were no registered complaints against the application in the district report.

He also challenged Councillor Graham Pitzel for having a conflict of interest in the vote, as he owns property in Strawberry Meadows. A brief verbal confrontation ensued between Oviatt and Germuth, ending when the mayor reminded council and staff that they are not obligated to answer Oviatt’s unsanctioned line of questioning.

The application failed in a 4-3 vote. Mayor Phil Germuth and Councillors Michelle Martins, Graham Pitzel and Gerry Leibel voted against, while Councillors Mario Feldhoff, Terry Marleau and Edwin Empinado voted in favour of the rezoning application.

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