A St. Albert developer says a recent town council decision involving an auto shop could drive down the value of a new subdivision in Morinville.
Town council moved unanimously last week to change its land use bylaw so that Joel Morin of Morins Auto Service could build a new 2,400-square-foot maintenance shop on his property. The one-hectare property, located on 100 Street by the walking trail on the north side of town, is currently zoned urban reserve and is surrounded by farmland.
Urban reserve is a "holding pattern" designation for regions without a clear future use or area structure plan, said planning and development director Greg Hofmann in an explanation to council.
Morins Auto Service was in Morinville proper for about 20 years before it moved to its current spot in 2007, Morin said in an interview.
Town officials let him run his business at that location provided he didn't make any changes to the property. When he sought approval to build an expanded shop in September, the Municipal Planning Commission turned him down, as auto shops weren't allowed on urban reserve lands.
Morin said he had thought about getting the property rezoned to commercial (which allows car repair shops), but had been advised by administration to instead seek an unusually specific tweak to the land use bylaw.
The tweak, if approved, would allow a car and equipment repair shop of a specific size to exist on Morin's property, but only for 10 years.
"It's about as specific as an amendment to the bylaw can get," Hofmann said.
The tweak would let the planning commission take another look at Morin's application for possible approval.
Does it fit?
St. Albert resident Del Huchulak spoke in opposition to the amendment. His company, Jandel Homes, was in talks to build about 165 modular homes on the land just south of the auto shop as early as next summer, he said, and having an auto shop nearby could drive down property values.
"We would be directly affected as of day one," he said.
In an interview, Huchulak questioned why you'd want to put a commercial development in the middle of a residential zone.
"It would be like going into your nicest subdivision in St. Albert and sticking a repair shop in the middle," he said. "To me, it doesn't seem right."
Town fire chief Ron Cust also opposed the amendment in a letter to council. The shop could contain hazardous materials and would be near homes, he wrote, making it a safety risk. He felt that businesses like this should instead go in the town's industrial park.
Roger Morin, Joel's father, said the shop has to store all potentially hazardous materials (such as oil) in accordance with provincial laws, and undergoes regular inspection.
"If we don't follow [the rules], we've got no garage," he said.
The town had just two commercial spots that could accommodate the shop, he added, neither of which was available to rent.
Morinville already has plenty of commercial sites next to homes, Joel said.
"Morinville Autobody is building a brand new shop right in Morinville itself right now," he said, and zoning laws would allow another auto shop by the town's retirement home.
He had no intention of keeping dead cars on his property for more than a month, Joel told council.
"I'm not my father in that respect," he joked.
Why aren't we rezoning this?
Mayor Lloyd Bertschi asked if it would be better to rezone the plot to commercial or direct control.
"At first blush, this seems to be a logical site for a business," he said, noting how it was located along a major road. "Why wouldn't we rezone it?"
Other councillors questioned what would happen to the expanded shop once the 10-year time limit ran out. Council eventually moved to drop the time limit and tweak the bylaw as proposed.
This was ad-hoc development, Bertschi said later, and council would ideally want to sort out the issue of commercial development along streets in its municipal development plan first.
"Straight up, [this] is not the way to plan a community," he said, but these were unique circumstances, and council had to be responsive to the needs of the business community.
Bertschi said he was not convinced that the shop would have a big impact on future homes in the region, as it would be screened from them by the walking trail and a large tree stand.
"It's not like we're putting a smokestack up there," he said.
Joel said he planned to apply to build his new shop sometime this week.