Opinion: The City of Kamloops is right to propose Single Family Lots at the former Thrupp Manor Site.
There is no denying that Kamloops has experienced an affordable housing crisis – a crisis that has been shared with much of BC. Like most, I want to see a difference made in this area. I want to see more affordable housing built to meet demand and I want us to explore ways to help those marginalized become less dependent to ultimately make the affordable housing strategy more sustainable.
Over the past few days I’ve read several comments on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and on news articles stating that the city should be exploring affordable housing options on the Thrupp Manor site. And they’re right. We need more affordable housing and we need to explore all possible avenues. The issue is, a number of non profit organizations in Kamloops have already explored this possibility (on Royal Ave) weeks, months and years ago. At a quick glance, the Thrupp Manor site is a great site for affordable housing because of its size, and the fact that the city owns it. It should be a no brainer. Shouldn’t it?
Here’s my unpopular opinion for the day: the Thrupp Site is not suitable for multifamily development. Having just built a house a block away, here are the challenges this site may face:
– limits to buildable area due to flood plain, riparian zone, lot layout
– challenges and additional expenses due to foreign fill materials
– zoning (neighbouring properties zoned duplex)
– (edit) parking limitations due to riparian, floodplain and proposed use
Buildable Area: at first look, the property should be a slam dunk for multifamily. 0.95 acres, +/- 44,000sqft and supported by the OCP. Similar lots with low/mid density multifamily should easily garner 40+ units. The problem with building on waterfront is that you have to deal with additional setbacks when building close to bodies of water. These setbacks on the South Thompson River essentially render 60% of the property unsuitable to build (see picture), which leaves approximately 16,000sqft outside of the riparian zone (and even less once you factor in setbacks to Royal Avenue and neighbouring properties). These limits on buildable area are big factors in multifamily developments, but less of a factor in single family builds because the homes are inherently smaller.
Fill Materials: as it sits, part of the Thrupp Manor property is currently below the 20 year flood plain. Although this isn’t a big issue in the grand scheme of things, the build is going to be costly in the sense of additional fill. Additionally, if this site has any similarities to ours when we built our home, there may be additional removal (plus additional engineering) of foreign materials from previous waste stored in the area.
That said, there is an alternate solution: sell the property at the highest and best use (given what we know about the site), and reinvest that money into property that better suites the needs and the budget for building more practical affordable housing.
But before we jump to conclusions and factor development costs, let’s look at some rough math for the raw land. Recent mid density (multifamily sales) in the area have been pushing +/- $40/sqft for buildable area. Let’s assume the area on this site is 16,000sqft, which makes the value of the Thrupp site (for multifamily purposes) somewhere around $650,000. The City is proposing five single family lots, semi waterfront lots where comparable prices are +/- $240,000 (waterfront lots on Royal Ave have been selling as high as $490,000 for redevelopment). Effectively, the city is doubling the value for the site at $1,200,000.
The City made the right choice in recommending disposition of the Thrupp Manor site because they will not only be making more money, but getting rid of a challenging property that will undoubtedly need more time and resources to bring it to market. Ultimately, with this decision, the City can be better invested in more viable developments such as Spirit Square, the former Western Restaurant Supply and the previously announced developments on Victoria Street/St. Paul downtown. These sites are located in higher density zones and are closer to transit, resources and services. It is only a matter of time before similar properties present themselves.