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First Street proposal ignites infill debate

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 07/19/2019 11:50 AM

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An infill housing proposal proved divisive at Steinbach city hall on Tuesday, as council and the public debated redevelopment strategies for a stretch of First Street near the central business district.

Developer Stefan Hodelmann sought a medium-density rezoning and side width variance for a residential property at 44 First Street, to allow the construction of an eight-unit multi-family dwelling.

The two-storey structure would replace an existing older home, and feature four three-bedroom apartments above four bachelor suites. A 64-unit housing development going up across the street made it the opportune time to build, Hodelmann said.

Complicating the file were the street’s dual designations in the city’s official community plan (OCP). Properties along the south side of the street, including the parcel in question, fall within the city’s residential policy area, while those on the north side are designated a transitional zone due to their proximity to Main Street.

During the public hearing, Donald Street homeowners Jamie and Teresa Burgess, and First Street homeowner Justin Geisheimer, opposed the rezoning and variance, saying the proposed eight-plex was inconsistent with the neighbourhood’s character and would increase traffic.

Marcel Jodoin, a lawyer and Giesbrecht Street property owner, also objected, arguing council should either adhere to the land use designations in the OCP, which would limit Hodelmann to a duplex, or re-designate the whole street.

"Let’s not checkerboard this," Jodoin said.

According to a city report, three other parcels on the same block already have a medium-density zoning, and the city has a need for more multi-family housing.

Councillor Damian Penner agreed, saying the one-bedroom suites contained in Hodelmann’s plan made the project appealing.

Councillor Jac Siemens, however, motioned to deny the rezoning, citing the OCP.

"We left the south side of First Street as single-family focused, and I think we need to stick with that plan that we had," Siemens said.

Supporting votes from Councillors Bill Hiebert and Jake Hiebert weren’t enough to carry Siemens’ motion.

Another 4-3 split carried Councillor Michael Zwaagstra’s motion to approve second reading of the rezoning. Council will reserve a decision on the variance until the rezoning receives third reading.

Explaining her support for Hodelmann’s proposal, Councillor Susan Penner said "old, dilapidated homes" need to be redeveloped with multi-family dwellings to make the endeavour profitable.

"We have an infill housing policy for a reason," she added.

Zwaagstra said some city residents may never approve of any infill housing, and strive to find fault with even "reasonable" proposals like Hodelmann’s.

Mayor Earl Funk, who voted in favour of the rezoning, later told The Carillon he didn’t think it jeopardized the OCP.

"I think it’s a good fit, because we’ve got 64 doors right across the street. This will be eight…It seems like a good transition from commercial (to residential), and sometimes transitions need to go more than one block."

Funk allowed such debates were likely to become more common as the city’s population continues to trend upward.

"It’s growing pains," he said.

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