Building lots to be priority for council

Duane Hicks

Fort Frances needs more building lots and that’s something town council will have to think about while working through the 2019 budget process.
The “high priority” items listed on the preliminary 2019 capital budget currently includes phase one of developing the 27-lot Erin Crescent subdivision in the northeast area of town.
This has a budgeted price tag of more than $1.6 million, including sewer and water infrastructure, which, if approved, likely would be paid for using reserve funds.
Operations and Facilities manager Travis Rob explained during Monday afternoon’s budget meeting that the subdivision is a strategic initiative of the town. Of all the properties in town to start another subdivision, Erin Crescent was seen as the most suitable.
“Erin Crescent is fully-designed and tender-ready; the survey work has been done,” he noted.
“All that we’re missing is C of As [certificates of approval] with the Ministry of the Environment, which is a standard procedure with all road works.”
Erin Crescent was brought forward to the budget process last year, with the idea that the development take place over a three-year period.
The first-year work would include underground infrastructure (i.e., sewer, water, and storm sewer) and roadwork up to a granular base.
Year 2 work would include the shallow utilities, such as power, gas, and communications, while the third and final year would entail curb and gutter and finishing off the road work.
But the project eventually was pulled from the budget by the previous council.
Coun. Wendy Brunetta said the Planning and Development executive committee currently is reviewing a proposal from a private developer to develop a number of lots in town–referring to property located off Colonization Road West–and wondered how the Erin Crescent development would conflict with that in terms of whether the town is competing with private developers?
“It’s on the ‘high priority’ list and I think the priority isn’t necessarily to develop Erin Crescent,” Coun. Brunetta noted. “The priority should be to have more available building lots.
“For me, it’s the wording of it. We need to say, ‘Yes, we need available building lots in our community,'” she stressed.
“As a council, it has to come to us to decide where that will be, whether it’s a private developer and we assist them in some way, or we actually [develop] lots that the town owns–and we have several options which this new council hasn’t necessarily examined.”
Coun. Douglas Judson said the Planning and Development executive committee expects to hear back from chief building official Tyson Dennis in early March as to the options that the prospective private developers of the west-end lots may have.
“Perhaps that will give us more perspective on that project going forward,” he noted.
Mayor June Caul, meanwhile, said she’s “absolutely” in favour of starting the development of Erin Crescent.
“I know there was a lot of conflict in the community as to whether the town should be involved in that type of business, but the town needs to have more of a tax base,” she argued.
“And we have to be proactive in getting that tax base started,” she reasoned. “There are no contractors in town who own property who are willing to get them started as any kind of a subdivision.
Mayor Caul noted some local individuals are considering developing the aforementioned lots, but “that’s not carved in stone” and she doesn’t feel the town should put all its eggs in one basket.
“We need to do something now,” she stressed. “I know we don’t know whether the mill is going to be up and running but if that mill is sold, we are going to need more residential space in town.”
Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft, who strongly was in favour of the Huffman Court subdivision during his previous terms on council, noted one of the reasons why a private developer would not develop Erin Crescent is because 27 lots would not start to pay back until the last five-seven were sold.
“It’s a little different for us because we could start getting a return on our investment through taxation as soon as houses start to go up,” he reasoned.
“But there are other lots around the town that would satisfy four or five building lots that may be cheaper to develop,” added Coun. Wiedenhoeft.
“Is there a possibility that we don’t do all 27 Erin Crescent lots; say, do maybe half of them–14 lots–and then, as need arises, do the other 13?”
Rob explained this alternative has been looked at but the bottom line is the majority of the cost of development is the underground infrastructure and that has to be installed all at once.
Even if the town only fully-developed half the lots, all of the services would have to be done at once regardless.
“The downside to it is all of your underground infrastructure you have to have in place for all lots,” Rob said.
“And so, that is the majority of your costs.
“You have to service all the lots right off the hop with your underground infrastructure,” he reiterated, noting the paving and curb and gutter work only accounts for a small portion of the costs.
Later in the meeting, it also was identified that the town has few “economically serviceable” lots available.
In other words, the town does have some industrial lots available but some are expensive to service and others are altogether unserviceable, Rob clarified to the Times yesterday.
The issue of a possible Erin Crescent subdivision will be revisited as the 2019 budget process continues.