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Candidates on infrastructure and housing: Terrace council byelection

Council hopefuls talk Lanfear Hill, housing development in Terrace

The population in Terrace is projected to increase in the coming years, and large scale industrial projects ramping up in the area are adding strain to infrastructure and housing in the city.

Recent months have seen erosion severely affect Lanfear and Birch hills, while calls for a second overpass grow louder. Terrace council has even sought the attention and intervention of the federal government to address infrastructure concerns but with little success.

Also, December 2020 saw the release of the Greater Terrace Housing Needs Assessment. That report found that renters in Terrace are challenged by current prices, and that unit demand will outpace supply in the coming years — especially for seniors.

The Terrace Standard spoke with each of the four Terrace city council June 5 byelection candidates for their views on the topic of infrastructure and housing.

Alex Pietralla said that failing infrastructure should be near the top of the city’s priorities.

“I used to live up on the Bench that the Birch Hill road leads up to and I’ve seen that repair six years ago and it started failing maybe a year or two after that,” he said.

“If we struggle with maintaining our existing assets to the point where we have to fix them every four or five, six years temporarily then I think that reverts back to the strategic plan for our assets in the city overall.”

Pietralla believes that more can be done to prioritize funding for existing city infrastructure in an asset management plan to avoid the need for constant temporary fixes.

Dave Gordon said that funding issues are the largest challenges the city faces when it comes to infrastructure.

“We’ve pushed the community really hard on tax increases for the last five or six years, and that’s not the way that we can manage this forward for the long term,” he said, noting that attracting a larger industrial tax base could be a solution.

Gordon said that there should be a focus on revising the city’s funding model, and working to get regular granting through the Northwest B.C. Resource Benefits Alliance to improve the core infrastructure the city is responsible for, like roads.

“I think we only fix one kilometre of road a year and we have 80 kilometres in town, math doesn’t work very well, in that regard.”

Joely Viveiros pointed to housing as one area that the city should be focusing on, while acknowledging that the city itself shares control over that area with other levels of government.

“We are left to deal with the homelessness and the housing issues within our municipalities,” she said.

“One of the biggest problems that Terrace has in terms of the housing shortage may have to do with the need for more multi-family housing developments.”

For Viveiros, it is key for the city to be out front of issues surrounding housing instead of waiting until it is too late.

“Sometimes it feels a little more reactionary than it should, and I think that if the city were planning more carefully and ahead of time, and had more of a vision and a goal oriented project as they look at things, I think we could move forward.”

Amandeep Singh Saini said that there are enough important issues that it is impossible to name one that stands out above the rest. He said that more housing is critical to alleviate issues with homelessness, and there needs to me more places for seniors to gather, especially during the winter. A second overpass should also be a priority.

“Another problem is with the crossing bridge from here to the other side, that’s another thing we need,” he said.

“It’s been postponed every year, next year we’ll do it, next year we’ll do it — that’s desperately needed at the moment.”

Lanfear Hill is one of the main arterial routes to the Bench area of Terrace. Recently, erosion forced the closure of the road for foot and cycle traffic. The city approved a temporary fix costing more than $350,000 to restore the road to its previous state, rejecting a plan to free up the road to non-motorists by limiting it to one-way traffic.

Viverios said that the situation is evidence of the city waiting too long to address the root issues.

“That hill has been an issue for decades, and they just patch it up, patch it up,” she said.

“I think every homeowner understands that the easiest way to keep your house in good shape is to maintain, rather than repair after things are falling apart.”

On the contrary, Dave Gordon agrees with the decision made by council because there are funds available and it can happen faster than a large upgrade.

“I support the stopgap solution, we have to get that hill safe for people,” he said, adding that council should look into acquiring property at the top of the hill for a future traffic circle.

“Upgrading Lanfear Hill looks like it’s a must-do project for the city of Terrace. There’s been lots of development up in that quadrant of the town and there’s lots more to come.”

Saini said that it is too early to make decisions regarding development at the top of the hill while there are still issues with the road.

“Erosion will be there, so that’s the first thing we need to fix, then after that we can decide whether it should be allowed to build something over there or not, but we need to fix that [erosion].”

“Surely we need to look deeper into the issue and how we can prevent that.”

Pietralla said that the city needs to keep pushing hard to obtain funding for a permanent fix. For him, that means having a signed revenue sharing agreement with the province and not just relying on inconsistent funding.

“Nothing out of the resource benefits alliance, so far, it hasn’t been signed by the province yet so we can’t really plan with anything,” he said.

“For long term financial stability, you need a signed contract and a document in place.”

Pietralla is also not a supporter of a proposed staircase to the Bench.

“When we struggle to maintain the infrastructure that we have at the moment, why would we add more infrastructure?”

The Greater Terrace Housing Needs Assessment was released in December, and one of its findings was that renters in Terrace are challenged by current prices and that unit demand will outpace supply in the coming years, especially for seniors.

When it comes to housing in Terrace, Pietralla said that the current situation is untenable, and housing shortages restrict businesses and the city from growing. He said Terrace can draw on cities in Europe for inspiration, or possibly a strata model.

“If we see house prices running away, we need to think along the lines of how do we how do we densify? How do we allow for smaller homes? How do we bring community together in the downtown area, in the horseshoe, where we have open lands available, where the infrastructure is closer to everything else that people need,” he said.

“Once you spread more out, you also look at more transit costs, so housing relates back to infrastructure, it all ties together. So when you when you want to add housing, you add roads, you add water, you add sewer, you add cost.”

Saini said that the current housing situation is partially due to a lack of anticipation on the city’s part.

“LNG was in the news, long before it started construction, I think the city somewhere failed to anticipate that influx of people.”

He said that Terrace should have encouraged, and made it easier for people to construct basement suites and rental units years before construction started on the LNG Canada project.

“There was a mismatch or something in anticipating that influx, and then we were not ready when people started coming to Terrace.”

Viveiros also pointed to densification as a potential solution, advocating for more multi-family housing. Like Saini, she wants to see the city reduce red tape and make it easier to develop housing in the city.

“Sometimes it can be difficult to have a permit acquired, there are levels and difficulties in trying to get a permit approved, that might be a more difficult than it needs to be so I’d like to see the city working to make that process easier.”

She said without looking at the issue head on, things will only continue to get more difficult.

“People are moving to where it’s more affordable. With the pandemic and more work from home opportunities that may even become more of an issue with people moving out of the city because they can.”

Gordon said that Terrace needs to be identifying land for potential development and working closely with third party housing agencies.

“Collaborating with them would be a great start, supporting projects such as the Foundry development, which is proposed for the downtown area, which would provide rental units for seniors, three or four floors of them right in the heart of our downtown,” he said.

“The seniors renting is going to be a big problem moving forward, our age demographic for seniors is growing, and their ability to access rentals is declining.”