A plan to turn the former Deer Park fire hall into insurance offices was narrowly nixed by Red Deer city council after neighbours expressed traffic concerns.
In a split vote Monday, council turned down a site exception that would have allowed the decommissioned fire hall on Davison Drive at 39th Street to become commercial space.
“I’m torn on this one,” admitted Coun. Dianne Wyntjes before opting — along with councillors Lawrence Lee, Tanya Handley, Frank Wong and Buck Buchanan — to side with area residents opposed to the development.
Developer John Ponto had told council his primary desire was to transform the property into offices for his insurance business. He abandoned plans to open a cafe in part of the space.
The property owner said he wanted to “capitalize” on the traditional aesthetics of the building from 1998 and to pay homage to the fire-hall past on both the interior and exterior.
Regarding the traffic and parking concerns raised by about 15 area residents, Ponto said his company’s 10-employees would arrive at 9 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m.
Otherwise, there would only be two to eight clients a day coming to the building and all vehicles could be accommodated on site, he said.
Some councillors were troubled that neighbours had been previously told the fire hall property would be returned to low-density residential when the structure was no longer needed.
“I will not support a site exception,” said Wyntjes, as “other businesses could be brought in in future that could be a challenge for the community.”
Buchanan, who’s lived nearby for a decade, has seen three serious accident at that corner.
“That intersection is a problem,” he said, noting concrete barriers were installed after a speeding car crashed through a backyard fence.
As well, there are traffic calming curbs and large electronic signs to tell drivers how fast they are going.
On the other side of the issue, Coun. Vesna Higham could find no planning rationale to prevent a low-impact commercial development from going in there.
And Mayor Tara Veer (who voted for the site exception along with Higham, Ken Johnston and Michael Dawe) noted that Ponto’s proposal was about as low impact as neighbours could expect.
Ponto previously told council his other option would be to tear down the fire hall and turn it into a residential subdivision of up to five homes.
Veer noted that if five homeowners had two to three cars each, this would also increase traffic congestion in the area.
She expects other development proposals for the former fire hall site will be filed in future.