The Radium Hot Springs council meeting on March 22nd got heated when discussion arose over the development permit for the Old Church property in the village on Madsen Road.
The developer was requesting that council grant a variance to the zoning Bylaw 338 that would allow them not to pave their parking lot. Bylaw 338 states that “all parking areas for more than four vehicles shall be surfaced with asphalt, concrete or similar pavement so as to provide a surface that is durable and dust-free and shall be so graded and drained as to properly dispose of all surface water.”
This variance request was strongly protested by five other local business owners in the community, with both sides writing letters expressing their concern to the council as well as appearing at the council meeting.
The concerned business owners stated to council that granting the variance wouldn’t be fair to the other business that had complied with the bylaw in the past.
“As far as development permit applications, it’s not that common that we get that much feedback. It does happen for sure, but it is more common for public hearing issues,” said Deputy Mayor Ron Verboom (Mayor Clara Reinhardt was absent).
For the developer of the project, Todd Ditchfield, he finds it suspicious that all the complaints were directed at the request for the variance.
“Not one of them complained about noise or beverage or food restaurant competition, but they were all competitors; they all targeted the parking lot. The reason that was suspicious to us was because that was information specifically deemed for a councillor and these people knew exactly what to bring issues up against,” said Ditchfield. “(But) we have no proof of that.”
When asked about the agenda and how the public would find out about what issues council is hearing, Verboom said it’s posted on the website or people can call the village office.
“Small town, word of mouth, people find out about what’s on the agenda and it gets out pretty quick,” said Verboom.
Council discussed the possibility of allowing the development to have an extended timeline to complete the hard surface of the parking lot. However, Verboom questioned how to draw the line for future projects that come forward to council and ask for the same variance.
“Too much of a grey area, too many possibilities to extend the timeline,” said Verboom.
Approving Officer Mark Read said it would be an act of faith because there is no real way for the village to enforce the variance once it’s granted. Read did suggest that the community could withhold the business licence of the applicant if they did not comply with the variance.
Ditchfield stated to council that bringing the old church building back to life is an expensive project and they need to be financially responsible. When council suggested a two-year timeline, Ditchfield expressed concern that there’s no guarantee that they’ll have the funds to pave in that timeframe.
“What happens if we only have 30 per cent, 40 per cent of the funds to do it?” asked Ditchfield.
Councillor Todd Logan suggested that council have a mechanism for recovery if the developer is unable to complete the parking lot in two years.
“We just have to have a fair playing field,” he said.
Explaining that their trio of business partners planned to have the church converted into a restaurant and live music space, Ditchfield said that for a little church, it was a big vision.
“There are so many spinoffs to that. In a town like Radium, how do you survive on three months because the town is virtually a three-month town. Every business you talk to, everyone just struggles for nine months of the off-season, make their cash flow in the three months and then hope for the best,” said Ditchfield
Ditchfield estimated that to pave the 14 parking stalls and one handicapped stall would cost the developers $100,000 and another additional $20,000 to add a separate driveway for deliveries. Ditchfield stated that council is putting an $100,000 burden on the project by not allowing a variance to be granted.
Members of the public were vocal in their opposition, voicing their concerns over the fairness of agreeing to allow a variance to this project. For the local businesses in attendance, they have access to street parking which the Old Church property doesn’t have.
“I thought it was them comparing oranges to apples in the meeting,” said Ditchfield.
Council made a motion to deny the variance to Bylaw 338 for this development project, in a two-to-one vote with councillor Tyler McCauley and Verboom voting to deny. Logan was in favour at looking into the variance, while Councillor Mike Gray did not participate in the discussion, leaving the room due to conflict of interest on a competition premise because of his business would be a direct competitor to the project.
“We’ve denied the variance, the development permit can still go through if they comply with the bylaw. We’re not saying no hands down to the development permit, we’re very much in favour of seeing that go through. It’d be a great addition to town,” said Verboom. “We like to see new business come into town, but we have to draw a line, I guess one might say, and this is one where we thought we needed to say no to the variance.”