Housing projects need density for population growth

With the city’s near-to-zero vacancy rate, how will the city be able to handle a sudden influx of people

With the potential for the Pacific NorthWest LNG project to get off the ground with up to 4,500 jobs during peak construction and up to 330 long-term careers, a housing shortage in Prince Rupert just became much more obvious.

Work camps will be built to absorb much of that influx, but those hundreds, or thousands, of people who come for work may bring a friend, a family member and entrepreneurs may come to start up a business.

With the city’s near-to-zero vacancy rate, the loss of high-density buildings, such as 100 low-rent apartments that burnt down in 2004, and the challenge of developing on a rocky, hilly island ­— how will the city be able to handle a sudden influx of people?

“It can only be good if we start seeing new residential construction going up in the city because it’s so desperately needed,” said Keith Lambourne, managing broker at Royal LePage Prince Rupert.

Housing prices will soar if there is little supply and tons of demand. “Which is why it’s so important that we get new built construction and why it’s so important that we get more density in our housing stock because geographically we haven’t got a choice,” he said.

Lambourne sees density as vital for future housing projects in the city if the population rises to 20,000 or 25,000. The population will go up regardless if Pacific NorthWest LNG goes through with its liquefied natural gas project on Lelu Island.

There are 200 more longshoremen to be added to the roster once the Port of Prince Rupert’s container terminal has expanded to add three cranes. AltaGas may go forward with its propane export terminal on Ridley Island next year, and if it does that is another 200-250 short-term jobs and up to 40 permanent jobs.

Having higher density developments may be the answer to an influx of people, but the city has sent a different message to one of the developers. Bryton Group has plans to rezone the Kanata School site from a public facility zone into a multiple family residential zone.

In September 2015, the public and council viewed Bryton Group’s site plan for the multifamily residential development that could create up to 270 new housing units. There would be nine three-story buildings on the site, with 30 two or three bedroom units. Last year, prices for the large units were expected to cost $250,000.

The project remains at a standstill because of rezoning complications with the City of Prince Rupert — due to its high rate of density.

In the March 7 council meeting city planner Zeno Krekic suggested a mixture of single and family residential zones to loosen up the density, based on council’s wishes.

Last week, Mayor Lee Brain stated in an email that “City staff have requested further application information based on revisions to the proposed development, and is currently awaiting a response. Council remains interested in the proposal and will consider it once the new information is submitted.”

The complications that the Bryton Group faces for its rezoning application and its development plans have continued to hit brick walls despite the mayor’s earlier comment that council has  “green-lighted every project that comes to our table.”

For Stuart Ramsay of the Bryton Group, he said that “it’s been an overly long process and it certainly hasn’t been a welcome approach to doing business in this community. We own a lot of land and we’ve been trying to build.”

The delay in housing projects is concerning when considering what happened in Gladstone, Australia when LNG export terminals were constructed in the port city. A former resident of Gladstone, Mellissa Case, is now the sustainability and community relations manager for Bechtel Canada in Prince Rupert.

From Case’s experience in Gladstone, as soon as the final investment decision from a major project was announced families and companies came to the region looking for opportunities to work, regardless of having a contract or guaranteed employment.

“Typically, major projects plan and co-ordinate all of their housing needs for employees and contractors, but they have no control over the influx of people not associated with the project. Gladstone experienced a time period of 18 months to two years, before the supply of housing met the demands of the growing population,” Case said.