A proposal to build apartment units on the second floor of a commercial building in Fredericton was struck down Monday night, despite having support from the majority of councillors present at the meeting.
Six councillors voted in favour of the proposal to build 19 units above office and retail spaces on Acorn Street, while three voted against it.
However, because the city’s planning advisory committee earlier recommended council reject the application, the proposal required the approval from at least seven councillors — a majority — even if not all councillors were present to vote on the resolution.
Coun. Eric Megarity was absent from Monday’s meeting, while Deputy Mayor Greg Ericson was sitting in for Mayor Kate Rogers and unable to vote. Meanwhile, Coun. Cassandra LeBlanc had been absent from the previous hearings of objections and support, and thus was unable to vote on the third and final reading.
“I have complete respect for the folks at [planning advisory committee] and in our planning department, but I just disagreed with them on on this issue,” Coun. Ruth Breen, whose riding the proposal falls in, said after the meeting.
“I thought that the housing crisis that we’re experiencing and the desperate need for affordable housing was just a little more important than some of the other aspects that they may have taken as part of their decision-making process.”
At an earlier council meeting, councillors gave first and second reading to a resolution that would change the zoning of 15 – 35 Acorn St. to allow for the construction of a commercial plaza.
But in an earlier report filed to the planning advisory committee, city staff recommended the apartment part of the proposal be denied.
Staff acknowledged the city needs more affordable housing options, but said the Acorn Street proposal “does not provide a suitable environment for residential development due to incompatible adjacent uses and the lack of supportive elements in the immediate area.”
Breen said when the resolution was brought back on Monday, it was split into two parts, with councillors ultimately approving the commercial construction, while rejecting the construction of residential units above.
“It’s a nice area. It’s an area that has a lot of walkability to playgrounds, to neighborhood conveniences, coffee shops, restaurants. It’s on the transit route,” she said, of the property located near the corner of Bishop Street and Hanwell Road.
“So I thought there was a lot of factors going for having dwelling units on the second floor of that proposed development.”
Councillors Jason Lejeune, Margo Sheppard, Steve Hicks, Bruce Grandy, Mark Peters and Breen voted in favour of the housing part of the proposal, while councillors Kevin Darrah, Jocelyn Pike and Henri Mallet voted against it.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Ericson said he would have voted against the apartment proposal if he wasn’t in the mayor’s chair.
“I recognize that we’re in a housing crisis with a 1.4 per cent vacancy rate. Just terrible. It needs to be much more like double that easily, and every little bit of housing can be considered precious,” Ericson said.
“But this will not detract our ability to attract affordable housing units through the federal programs.”
Last month, the city announced it had approved $88.3 million in residential construction in the first six months of 2022, with 459 residential units created overall in that same period, which is up by 49 from the first half of 2021.
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