Complete: Developers are walking away from older buildings in the downtown HUB because the cost of bringing them up to code is too prohibitive, according to the city’s Rosser Ward councillor.
Coun. Corey Roberts said establishing a building code equivalency program is "very, very crucial" for revitalizing downtown.
"Building code equivalencies are very important to make projects feasible when you’re looking at a 100-year-old building," Roberts said.
In older buildings, for example, width and height of stairwells are much different than the current building codes.
"You might be a couple inches out on head room on a stair case, and that could mean that the project isn’t going to move forward," Roberts said. "If you’ve got to rip stairs out and adjust floor spaces to accommodate a current building code, it just doesn’t make sense in a building that age, and developers will walk away and go into other areas of the city that’s more feasible to do renovations in, or build new for that matter."
Unfortunately, the city’s building equivalency standards project, which was laid out in the Roadmap for Growth strategic plan in 2011 is considered a "red" item, which means it will not be completed within the Roadmap’s timeline of 2014.
"My wish was that, come the building season this year, that we would have had some marked headway in the program so that we could get things moving along," Roberts said. "The building season is short enough, especially trying to deal with antiquated building codes that are going to hold it up even longer."
City manager Scott Hildebrand gave city council an update on the Roadmap for Growth earlier this week. Forty-six out of 62 projects are either already complete or on pace to be completed, which represents approximately 75 per cent. There are nine "pillars" of growth, including infrastructure, affordable housing, downtown HUB and economic development, to name a few.
Nine projects are considered "yellow" which are slightly behind the timeline, while seven projects are in the "red" category.
As pre-building code buildings are difficult to re-fit to residential and commercial standards, Hildebrand said the city was planning to work to "ensure the redevelopment of period buildings, rather than demolish."
The original plan was to set up a review committee in 2012, and connect with the City of Winnipeg.
"That’s who we were kind of trying to model after, they’ve done a lot of the pre-work for us," Hildebrand said.
They were also planning on reviewing the legislative requirements and then draft a recommendation.
"It was more of a data-gathering exercise to find out what we could and couldn’t do, because there might be some bylaws or things within our planning regulations that we need to alter and/or change, so really it was just starting that process," Hildebrand said.
The project will be more of a team effort, as fire inspection staff, building inspectors and the planning department need to work together.
"We just haven’t been able to pull that together, and haven’t been able to connect as we’d hoped with the City of Winnipeg," Hildebrand said.
Despite the project being considered "red," Hildebrand said it’s definitely still on their radar.
"Right now it’s just been prioritized kind of down the list," he said. "We need to find a way to bring it back up."
Hildebrand said building code equivalency standards are an "important step" to downtown development.
"I know that we’re doing well with or without it," he said. "I think we’ll find ways to make it work but it would just … help developers have a bit more flexibility when developing that kind of space. It’s something that we’ve never done before that we need to make sure we do it right the first time."
Shaun Cameron, chair of Renaissance Brandon agreed that equivalency standards are an important piece of the puzzle, when revitalizing a downtown.
"I hope that there is still a commitment there," he said. "It’s definitely something that we’re going to commit to as a board to keep working towards. I think there’s challenges wherever people are looking to develop, it’s just about putting the right steps in place to make it an appealing option for them to be downtown."