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New Bowden apartment months off despite recent approval

Two-storey, 26-unit apartment building to be built on four lots in Bowden near Highway 2A

BOWDEN — It will likely be months before a controversial apartment building given the go-ahead last week begins to take shape, town officials and the developer say.

On the evening of March 7, the Bowden Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) -- comprised of all members of town council -- voted 4-3 to approve a discretionary use development permit application for the apartment building to be located downtown on land formerly zoned commercial.

The development, proposed by landowner/applicants Len and Fern Kobewka and developer Kyle McCowan, calls for a two-storey, 26-unit apartment building to be built on four lots in town near Highway 2A. All units will be one-bedroom units. Access will be gained by 19th Street.   

In an email, chief administrative officer Rudy Friesen said following any development approval, there’s a 21-day waiting period to allow time for any appeals of the decision. 

“Following the waiting period, the developer will work with planning department to provide the proper engineering and fulfill other conditions of the approval to have a development permit issued, after which construction could begin,” he wrote.

McCowan also said time would be needed to finalize engineering and design of the building. He anticipated that could take about three to four months to complete.

“The soonest would be three to four months – the soonest,” he said.

The MPC meeting where the application was approved was held in the Bowden Event Centre and attracted about 35 residents, down from about 45 when the matter first came up during a Jan. 15 MPC meeting in the same building.

The initial application had asked that the required number of parking stalls be cut to 30 from 39, a 23 per cent relaxation of the requirement in the town’s land use bylaw.  

During the Jan. 15 meeting, the MPC voted 5-1 against the initial application, due to the relaxation request (Deb Coombes was absent).

The application discussed March 7, added five parking stalls to the rear of the building to meet the requirements of the land use bylaw.

Just like the previous meeting, virtually the entire crowd that attended the MPC hearing voiced objections to the proposal.

Most speakers repeated objections raised before. For example, fear that the one-bedroom suites would tend to attract undesirable and transient people and/or criminals. 

Another concern was that the building will be erected on commercial land, rather than residential property, thereby cutting down opportunities to attract businesses into that land.

Some people said tenants in the building will exacerbate parking problems in the area.

A concern was raised that the size of the units is too small.

One woman wondered what the rent for those suites would be and feared that prospective tenants may not be able to afford that rate.

Another woman suggested that the building’s design be revamped to include facilities for businesses on the bottom floor and the residences above, thereby possibly assuaging concern about the development impinging on commercial land.

One man said Bowden doesn’t have the supports for more apartment dwellers that bigger communities like Olds and Innisfail have.

MPC member and councillor Wayne Milaney said he’d done a study and found that essentially, businesses and residential are mixed in many places in town as it is.

Land owner and applicant Len Kobewka spoke.

Kobewka said the property has been vacant for “a number of years.” He said he had plans for it but they “fell through.” It’s also been for sale a few times and those sales failed to occur as well.

He said McGowan just completed a very attractive housing project nearby and has a good plan for this one.

Both Kobewka and McGowan pointed out that affordable housing is a huge need not only in Bowden but adjacent communities as well.

Both said demand is much greater for smaller units than for larger family-size ones.

“Change is something we all have to accept sometimes, Kobewka said. “If we’re going to grow, we have to change.”

Nicky U, manager of a Bowden business, said she has difficulty recruiting staff because there’s no place for them to live in town and many are single people, the very market for the units in the proposed apartment building.

“As a resident, I understand everyone’s concerns, I do,” she said. “But also as a manager of one of the businesses where I can’t find staff because there’s nowhere (for them to live) and a lot of them are new single people that need a great place.”

Nicky said it would be up to those prospective renters to decide if the size of the units and other factors suit them.

In the end, the MPC passed a motion by MPC member Marie Flowers to approve the discretionary use development permit application “subject to all specific conditions and other considerations being met to the satisfaction of the development officer.”

MPC members Flowers, Randy Brown, Wayne Milaney and chair Paul Webb voted in favour.

Mayor Robb Stuart and fellow MPC members Deb Coombes and Sandy Gamble voted against it.

As the crowd dispersed – some grumbling -- former councillor Carol Pion who also spoke against the application, expressed her disappointment to the Albertan.

“They didn’t listen to the community and what is there,” she said. “They didn’t have a plan. They’re just going after the first person who knocks on their door and says ‘hey, this is what we should do.’

“They’re not even from Bowden. They don’t understand. Their agenda is to have a development, make money. That’s their agenda. That’s fine, but they’re not residents in the community.”

“I’m pleased,” McCowan said afterward. “From an outward  perspective, it seems straightforward that this is a need for the town and this is a good fit for the town.”

McCowan said “a few people” were in the building to express their concerns, but he suspects that may not represent the feeling of the majority of Bowden residents.

“The silent majority of the town was not here. They were sitting at home not worrying about this and they thought this is actually a great idea,” he said.

“We have to keep that in perspective.”

Doug Collie

About the Author: Doug Collie

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