Residents raise HAF concerns at Saskatoon council committee meeting

Zoning changes are set to come up later this month at council.

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If this week’s meeting of Saskatoon city council’s planning, development and community services committee is anything to go by, council can expect to hear later this month from many speakers opposed to zoning changes tied to promised federal funding.

Wednesday’s meeting included the annual report from the city’s community services division; this was an information report, meaning there are no decisions attached to it other than a recommendation that council receive the entire report as information.

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The report is a wide-ranging summary of the work of division staff over the last year – touching on topics  including elm wood disposal and leisure centre operations; it also included mention of work staff did on the city’s 2023 application to the Housing Accelerator Fund.

This was enough to draw four speakers living in Ward 8, all of them homeowners who said the committee meeting was their earliest opportunity to speak out against zoning changes set to be discussed later this month at a city council public hearing.

The proposed changes include a move to allow four-plexes to be built on any residential-zoned lot without any special permitting process and a change permitting multi-unit residential buildings of up to four storeys within 800 metres of a public transit corridor. The federal government is requiring these changes as conditions of providing the city with just over $41 million, the bulk of which the city plans to use to give incentives to builders of affordable housing.

Prior to hearing from the speakers, councillors on the committee were warned by a representative of the city solicitor’s office that they could not debate the proposed HAF changes prior to the public hearing, which the committee heard is set to occur June 26 “and/or” June 27.

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Speaker Jessica Olver told the committee she is a volunteer with her community association in Ward 8, who said her family moved to Saskatoon from Ontario in 2018 “beacause we were seeking the quality of life that is specific to this city.”

“These changes will destabilize our neighbourhoods unless our voices are integrated into this plan,” she said, criticizing what she described as a lack of communication from the city to residents.

She went on to suggest the potential negative consequences for neighbourhoods aren’t worth it in pursuit of “uncertain funding that may add up to a mere $40 million doled out over time, contingent on federal demands.”

Cary Blatchford told the committee she felt a “generic” city mailout sent to households located near transit corridors did not adequately convey the magnitude of the proposed changes, while saying many residents she spoke to don’t even remember receiving it.

She went on to note that her community association was not consulted on the issue, and has received no response from city officials to inquiries.

Blatchford further criticized the HAF plans on the grounds that they seem to rely heavily on more people using Saskatoon Transit. She suggested this might not come to pass, while pointing to an uptick of violence and disruptive behaviour reported on city buses.

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During questions from the committee members, the speakers indicated they think there are opportunities to compromise, noting they were most opposed to the changes tied to four-plexes and larger buildings, while suggesting they would be supportive of other parts of the strategy, including regulations meant to promote the development of garden suites.

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