Mayor Lori Ackerman says so far the City has only received feedback from 23 affected property owners, representing 56 properties, out of the 92 owners and 181 properties included in the proposed extension.
“We’re looking for solutions; we’re looking for how would we best be able to accommodate the city’s needs, and the land owners’ needs,” she says. 15:10 “Council hasn’t made a decision yet. We’ve only had a conversation with the land owners, so when staff brings us all of the information we’ll be able to debate, deliberate, ponder all of the stuff that is put in front of us, and put that back out.”
Led by requests for inclusion by four property owners, the City has said its main motivation for expanding is the lack of land available for development, as well as managing growth related to the proposed Site C dam. Using the basics of supply and demand, Ackerman argues the extension is needed if residents want more services, retail, and affordable housing.
“If we don’t have the ability to provide more densely developed residential land, then affordable housing will be completely out of reach in Fort St. John when you consider the development that is on the horizon for us.”
In addition to some residential lots scattered throughout the city, Ackerman points to the Station 44 property, some land to the west and north side of the city, and 90 acres north of the new hospital as the only land available for residential use left in the city. She also argues that the available serviced industrial land is in small lots not ideal for larger developments.
At the heart of the problems that have arisen with this and past boundary extension attempts is that there are no concrete guidelines on boundary extension from the Ministry, other than that the majority of citizens included in the area not oppose the extension. Citizens of the municipality must also have the opportunity to object, with a referendum necessary if more than 10 per cent request a vote.
Ackerman says the City wanted to take an approach that would lead to conversation, like with its Let’s Talk Site C campaign, including a similar PlaceSpeak website. The main concern of the affected property owners is their increased taxes, which Director of Legislative and Administrative Services Janet Prestley says is only natural.
“It’s a justifiable concern, because in the rural area, you’re only paying for services that you approved through a referendum that you want the Regional District to provide you with,” she explains, “whereas an urban resident doesn’t have that opportunity. They have to pay for all of the services the City provides.”
Representatives of the City will be meeting with the Ministry in Victoria on October 21, and Peace River Regional District Area C Director Arthur Hadland has accepted an invitation to join them. A report from staff with public comments will be presented to City Council on October 28.