Suburban Changes

Last Thursday I attended the Balancing Conservation and Development seminar  at the University of Regina.  At this meeting, there was a lot of discussion about suburban development patterns that could create complete communities, hold off sprawl, and put the brakes on car dependence.

Last Wednesday at Regina Planning Commission, there were three reports that might create greater housing density and locate jobs in Regina’s new suburbs. 

I’ll discuss the office developments first, since they garnered the most discussion during the meeting.

Dale Griesser, president of Avison Young Regina, spoke in favour of developing more office space outside of the downtown.  Mr. Griesser stated office space in Regina is 85% downtown – 15% suburban while the Canadian average is 55% – 45%.  The lack of suburban options restricts certain businesses, like construction companies, home builders and engineering labs, that need access for large vehicles, have lots of parking requirements but are not suited for industrial areas. 

Ultimately, Griesser warned, if Regina doesn’t increase its office vacancy rate and provide options to those enterprises most involved in growth projects, firms will locate elsewhere.

Mr. Griesser was speaking in support of RPC 11-34 a Discretionary Use Application for a three-story office building.  The first part of Harbour Landing Business Park, this building could be up to 160 000 sq/ft, located along Parliament Avenue between the Lewvan and Harbour Landing Dr. (Avison Young website).

The building would include a coffee shop or some kind of food services for office workers and surrounding residents/workers.  There is also an outdoor patio space in the works. 

The point that was stressed over and over was that these users would not be a good fit for the downtown.  Even some commissioners, drawn from their experience in the development community, spoke to the need for a different type of office space.

The application was recommended for approval. 

The other office space application was more controversial.  RPC 11-28 concerned an office building in East Regina, Prince of Wales, Quance St. and Tregarva Dr. to the West (See the story about this development from last winter in Office Space and A Vibrant Core of Offices).

There were many concerns about this application: traffic access to the site, screening, type of main floor commercial/retail, composition of users, competition with downtown office space and most of all the conformity of the site plan presented with the planned building.

There was a green roof on the plan that the delegation was not familiar with.  They said it could be there, or not depending on if it was acceptable.  There was also a sidewalk on Prince of Wales, which doesn’t exist now, nor seems to be in city plans.  When called on it, the delegation disregarded the error as just part of the drawing and they were aware it would not be there.

The uncertainty frustrated some on the commission, to the point that 3 were against the motion to recommend approval.  The motion passed despite the opposition and the uncertainty of the plans presented.

This uncertainty in plans and drawings continues to come up at the RPC.  As the above applicants point out, developers require some flexibility at the planning stage so they can allow for unknown clients to have a suitable space.  The ground floor, for example, is likely to be commercial but, who and what, how many doors and square footage is all uncertain.

Commissioners must approve what is in front of them.  A developer may say they’ll adjust parking, add trees or a green roof later, but they are not required to have the exact details until later stages.  They must conform to city planning guidelines, but there is wiggle room and in some cases that can leave commissioners uncomfortable.  

The last report I’ll discuss is RPC 11-32, which creates a new housing type that may foster greater density in new suburbs and infill developments.  RPC 11-32 amends the Zoning Bylaw so “‘Dwelling Unit Townhouse'” is permitted within the R5 Medium Density Residential zoning, reduced frontage and front yard setbacks.  It also amends the Harbour Landing Concept Plan to have R5 rather than R6 Residential Multiple Housing on this section.    

 The new development will be row housing, designed by Dundee in a neo-traditional style, with back lanes, fee simple ownership (“Private ownership of real estate in which the owner has the right to control, use, and transfer the property at will”(Source: The Free Dictionary by Farlex)) and party-wall agreements (sets rights and obligations between two property owners that share a wall) between homes.

Like Henderson Terrace (above) in appearance, this type of row housing will allow people to own their homes and be responsible for the up keep of their property.  There is the potential for duo-plexes to four (or more) -plexes lined together. 

I quite like the potential of this type of row housing.  There should be a better connection to the street, with parking relegated to the back and front set back reduced.  The reduction in land parcel might also lower the price for buyers.  

All three projects have potential to be positive changes to Regina’s suburban landscape.  There are concerns and the total design will determine success for each project: A coffee shop is great for Harbour Landing Business Park 1 but a poor pedestrian interface (see the rest of Harbour Landing’s commercial areas) will limit the success.  Row housing will be fine in pockets on residential streets but whole neighbourhoods of them would be overwhelming.

Potential problems aside, the patterns being brought forward by developers beat the all residential enclaves of snout-houses built in Regina during the last three decades.   

**mouse over images for credit info

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Suburban Changes

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