“Red Deer is open for business — especially in the downtown,” said Coun. Lawrence Lee.
Lee hopes that will be the message sent by changes that council enacted on Monday. The new zoning rules save large offices for the downtown, while permitting medium and small offices to locate along the Gaetz Avenue strip and in neighbourhood strip malls.
“We are responding to what the developers are looking for — to create investment in the downtown, added Lee, while allowing more zoning flexibility in other parts of the city.
Mayor Tara Veer felt the changes will allow businesses more choice “without compromising our urban core.”
She noted that too restrictive zoning rules in the past caused some downtown offices to move out of the city to Red Deer County, and “investment has been lost for a generation.”
Planning manager Emily Damberger presented a proposal to keep larger office buildings — the size of City Hall at more than 50,000 square feet — in the downtown.
Medium-sized offices would be allowed to move in along the Gaetz Avenue traffic corridors and several district commercial areas, such as Southpointe Junction. Only small offices (less than 10,000 square feet) can crop up in neighbourhood commercial strips.
Council unanimously approved this amendment. after hearing positive comments at a public hearing from commercial realtor Brett Salomons.
“The changes are good for the downtown,” said Salomons. “They are a response to developments going to Gasoline Alley.”
While Salomons suggested that council consider tweaking the sizes — making large offices 40,000 square feet or larger and small below 5,000 square feet, councillors decided this could be done in future, if needed.
City council also gave final approval on Monday to reducing parking requirements for multi-family buildings in the downtown. The new requirements are one off-street stall per unit, instead of one stall per bedroom, plus a visitor parking space.
This was recommended by a 2018 study on how to encourage increased residential development in the downtown, prepared for the city and the Downtown Business Association.
Council heard it costs developers a lot to create off-street parking lots in the downtown, so rents might be made more affordable with fewer parking space requirements. Damberger said multi-family residences generally have fewer cars, per person, than detached residences.
A couple of members of the Red Deer Association for Bicycle Commuting voiced their approval of the change at the public hearing, noting downtown dwellers have opportunities for taking transit, walking and cycling.