The City of Brandon’s affordable housing first land policy could threaten a local business’ plans for expansion.
Brian Barnes, owner of Brandon Source for Sports, appeared in front of city council Monday to discuss the sale of a section of land adjacent to its present location at 2025 Brandon Ave.
Barnes said he’s hoping to expand his business another 60 feet onto a section of property at 2105 Brandon Ave. The land totals approximately 2.33 acres and Barnes is hoping to occupy 0.22 acres of it.
The property is currently being used as a baseball diamond two months a year. Construction timelines of the Ashely Neufeld Softball Complex have accelerated, with four additional diamonds set to open next season. This change in use of land makes it viable for a reclassification from civic lands-fully developed to surplus lands-affordable housing.
Under the city’s adopted affordable housing first initiative, city-owned lands or possibly acquired lands will be considered first for affordable housing uses before anything else. However, this does not mean that all city-owned land will be allocated for affordable housing.
Coun. John LoRegio (Meadows) said affordable housing groups have showed interest in the property, but that shouldn’t prevent a local business from occupying a portion of it.
"We have an opportunity here to help an area business who approached city council," LoRegio said during Monday’s council meeting. "We’re going to help a business expand, create employment, we are not taking all of this land."
Ted Snure, the city’s general manager of development services, recommended against selling off portions of the property. Snure advised councillors that an attempt to subdivide 2105 Brandon Ave. for the sale of a portion of the property could delay calling for proposals for the purchase and development of the property for affordable housing.
While some councillors feel Brandon businesses should be given room to expand, others are hesitant to give up land that could be used for affordable housing.
"Sixty feet is a lot of land, there is in fact potential, whether it’s affordable housing or other commercial development," Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said at Monday’s meeting.
"Once we sell this land, once we dispose of this land, it’s gone. At the end of the day, my responsibility is for community good. Affordable housing is desperately needed in this community."
Coun. Stephen Montague (Richmond) said that although there’s a need for affordable housing, it’s still important to encourage business growth in the community.
"My community good is the balance between economic development and housing and strengthening both and in this we can do that," he told councillors. "At the end of the day we need to encourage business growth ... they’re the ones that help us to increase the tax base to be able to support affordable housing initiatives."
Barnes told councillors his expansion would help retain local business while attracting new customers. The expansion would also make room for "new ventures."
"We hope to attract new ... customers and to potentially recover some of the existing business that is currently leaving our city," he said. "It is retail business that is probably leaving our city and I feel we can capture some of that business back."
Source for Sports currently employs 10 full-time positions and the expansion could make room for two or three more, he said.
LoRegio said city administration is working on a request for proposals for the property. He said he would like to see proposals open to "everybody as long as they meet the criteria for affordable housing."
"We also want construction to start as soon as possible because there are some groups that do great work, but they rely on government funding and that could take years to get the money in place," he said. "We don’t want to tie up the land for years, we want to see it done as soon as possible."