Allowing an office into yet another Red Deer industrial park while the downtown struggles with 20 per cent vacancy caused city councillor Frank Wong to question the money spent on core-area redevelopment.
“I think we should reconsider all of the downtown initiatives,” a frustrated Wong said during Monday’s city council meeting.
“Why are we spending tax money in helping the downtown?” he questioned, when council is allowing more offices to vacate the city’s core and move into Riverside Light Industrial and now Edgar Industrial Park.
“We’ve wasted a lot of money, in my view,” said Wong. The retired city planner listed multiple downtown properties that are now sitting vacant.
Despite Wong’s appeal, the majority of councillors voted in favour of a site exception that allows the Red Deer Child Care Society to move its administrative office into Edgar Industrial Park.
This went against city administration’s recommendation to defeat the application. City planners had rationalized that Edgar Industrial Park is not transitioning into other uses the way that Riverside Light Industrial has been.
Wong re-stated his belief that most offices should be centred at the city’s core unless special circumstances warrant a zoning change.
He and councillors Michael Dawe, Buck Buchanan and Tanya Handley, agreed with city planners that the site at Unit 100, 6700-76th Street is not unique enough to warrant allowing a non-industrial-related office to locate there.
But five other councillors approved the site exception after listening to applicants at a public hearing.
Erin Tibble, co-director of Red Deer Child Care, had stressed that no child care activities would happen at that site, it would only be used for the society’s administrative offices.
The building owner’s son told councillors the child care society has been promised an exceptional deal if it relocate to that site, which has sat vacant for two years after the city’s oilfield servicing industry began drying up.
By reducing expenses, Tibble said the society will manage to not raise fees for parents after a provincial government funding cut. The society runs four day cares, 26 day homes and 20 after-school programs.
While several of the other city councillors expressed misgivings about another instance of “spot zoning” they ended up supporting this site exception. Coun. Vesna Higham said these are exceptionally difficult economic times, calling for more flexibility on the part of council.
Coun. Lawrence Lee said he could not really distinguish between allowing an industrial business-related office and another type of office into Edgar-industrial Park.
Several councillors reasoned the site is within a buffer area between industry and residences in Johnstone Crossing, and so qualifies as unique.
But a downtown investor had voiced his discontent during the video hearing, saying: “We expect clarity on what the rules of the game are… knowing the development rules that apply… You shouldn’t have office in industrial.”