Councillor wants incentives to develop vacant lots

SAINT JOHN - City councillor Gary Sullivan wants the city to encourage developers to build housing and commercial properties on vacant land that is scattered throughout the city.

The north end politician said he notices an array of empty lots when he drives from Millidgeville to the uptown - and he wants city hall to pay up to fix the problem.

"We seem to have some momentum with new construction and that is very good; one of the issues it's creating is the construction is sprawled," Sullivan said, pointing to newer, outlying communities such as Drury Cove and Cedar Point.

"If we can start to focus our financial incentive program to increase density (in the urban area), you get synergies with transportation and transit and services."

The city hired consultants to review its financial incentives for development to ensure they still meet market demands. The city set aside $1.8 million this year for grants targeted at new housing and commercial buildings, heritage repairs and renovations, and construction work on the upper floors of existing properties.

But none of the grants encourages developers to fill vacant lots, something that might change after the review, said Ken Forrest, commissioner of planning and development.

"One of the things we are trying to look at is, are there are ways to encourage more infill and more intensive development inside the urban area?" Forrest said.

"Every housing start we get on an existing street and on existing water and sewer pipe is potentially a street and pipe we don't have to build and maintain somewhere else."

Still, Forrest warned there is demand for rural housing and that the city should not focus on urban development at the expense of outlying areas. He said some people prefer single-family homes on large lots that they can get only in the far reaches of the city.

Forrest said the city has to reach the right mix of condominiums, townhouses, single-family homes and denser, multi-unit housing. He said it's important to offer a diverse range of housing stock, while ensuring the city can afford to deliver services to new properties.

"In the end what you're trying to do is get the right mix to meet the market, but also make sure we're growing responsibly, so we're not, in the end, introducing more costs to the city to service development going forward," Forrest said.

"We're trying to get the most responsible forms of development we can get, recognizing that people have difference needs."


Published Saturday December 19th, 2009 - Telegraph Journal