Red Deer city council did a reversal Monday and is now allowing the former Deer Park fire hall to be turned into an insurance office.
This time, councillors Lawrence Lee and Dianne Wyntjes changed their votes and approved the fire hall being repurposed as a commercial space, tipping the scales in favour of the redevelopment at 39th Street and Davison Drive.
Councillors Frank Wong, Tanya Handley and Buck Buchanan maintained their previous positions against it, based on neighbourhood concerns about noise and traffic, as well as principles about where offices should locate.
Usually, city council can’t reconsider a matter that’s already been voted on for at least six months. This rare redo of a council decision was prompted by Lee filing a notice of reconsideration.
Lee based his request on the fact he was under a mistaken impression when he previously voted against the redevelopment.
Lee said he thought there was a statutory plan that had been endorsed by city council and Deer Park residents, stipulating that the fire hall land would revert back to residential when the building was decommissioned. In fact, this was only stated in an outline plan for the area.
The difference is no public consultations were held on the matter, added Lee. He therefore argued council could not have effectively made a “promise” to city residents about reverting the land back to residential.
As Lee had opposed allowing the insurance business to move into the decommissioned fire hall solely because he thought there was an official understanding between the city and area residents, he wanted the chance to change his vote.
Although most councillors approved his notice of reconsideration, it was not without some reservation.
Coun. Michael Dawe said he wouldn’t like it to seem as though council was “waffling” on a decision that it had already made. He added Lee’s rationale could cloud the issue for residents, as outline plans and neighbourhood structure plans “are not dissimilar.”
In fact, retired planner Coun. Frank Wong said statutory plans were only introduced in the 1990s. And more than half of the city’s plans are outline plans instead of statutory plans, added Wong, who also felt there wasn’t much difference between the two.
While some citizens won’t understand the technicalities, Mayor Tara Veer felt it was important that councillors feel comfortable with their understanding around decisions.
Before changing her vote, Wyntjes said some of the public feedback in the past two weeks struck home with her.
Wyntjes feels the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce’s points about council needing to be “flexible, adaptable and open-minded” about business requests during this difficult time make sense.
“This one’s for you, chamber,” she added.
Before changing his vote, Lee explained he had “huge difficulties” with his previous stance after learning he had made a missassumption about the nature of the Deer Park plan.
“I wouldn’t have felt good if I hadn’t asked for a reconsideration.”
Red Deer resident John Ponto, who wants to move his SurePath Group insurance business into the former fire hall that he bought last year, said he will now take the ‘For Sale” sign down.
“I’m really happy” with council’s new decision, said Ponto. He will be applying for a building permit and hopes to have the renovation ready so his business can move in in early 2021.