COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
The former home of Pennywise Books, as well as several restaurants, in the AC Fraser & Co. building, is seen on Rosser Avenue near 11th Street on Tuesday afternoon. The building, which dates from 1898 and also formerly housed apartments on its second and third floors, is one of many buildings and lots currently for sale in Brandon’s downtown.
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."
City Council gets update on financial picture
The City of Brandon is closing out the 2012 budget year in a positive position.
City manager Scott Hildebrand reported a projected surplus of more than $1 million in the general revenue fund, as well as a surplus of more than $350,000 in the utility fund.
"We had a fairly solid year as far as budget execution," Hildebrand said.
The general revenue surplus is mainly driven by unplanned land sales and provincial grant money that was higher than expected.
Hildebrand said all year-end surpluses will be allocated to reserves to support the capital plan.
Every city department was tasked to find three per cent in sustainable efficiencies and/or revenue.
"I’m proud to say we’ve done a nice job this year," Hildebrand said. "Departments have really accepted the challenge to find a better way in everything we do."
Also included in Hildebrand’s quarterly council report was an update on the city’s human resources strategy.
"The human resources planning process is extremely important," he said.
The city has a new vacancy management process, as well as new organizational chart process. Retirement and succession planning are also priorities.
There are approximately 70 people who are able to retire at any given time, Hildebrand said, so it’s important to make sure they have leadership capability going forward.
Safety has become the No. 1 agenda item at all department head meetings.
Hildebrand said the city has seen a 24 per cent decrease in lost time injuries and a 40 per cent decrease in days lost associated with lost time injuries compared to 2011.
Infrastructure projects were also discussed in the report, including the Eighth Street Bridge. Dillon Consulting is in the final stages of preliminary design for a combined vehicular/pedestrian bridge at the existing location. Once complete, the company will provide an updated cost estimate to council. More information is expected early this year.
All seven contracts for the waste water treatment plant have been awarded and are underway. The upgrade is approximately $3 million under budget without any considerations for allowances. It is estimated that more than 65 per cent of the construction is complete. The project is on target to meet the completion date of September 2013.
For Hildebrand’s full report, visit brandon.ca.
» Brandon Sun
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 9, 2013