Local business owners came out to voice their concerns about the District of Sparwoods plans to restrict office spaces as a primary use from the industrial areas of town. Alexandra Heck/ The Free Press

Sparwood Planning wants offices downtown

Council hears concerns from business owners with offices in industrial area

Local business owners are concerned about the future of office space in the industrial area of Sparwood.

The District of Sparwood held a public hearing for a proposed bylaw amendment, which would restrict new standalone offices from being built in light industrial areas.

It’s a move that would align the town’s bylaws with the Official Community Plan, which states that office space should be located in the downtown area.

It’s argued that by concentrating office use downtown, local businesses and economy would also in turn grow, while reducing the town’s ecological footprint.

“It’s more aligned with objectives to increase the vibrancy in the downtown,” said Nelson Wight, Manager of Planning, in his presentation to council. “The rationale behind this change is to send a signal to the market to construct new office spaces downtown.”

Other primary use still allowed in the M1 zone include government buildings, as well as science and engineering based offices.

“When uses and people are concentrated in downtowns, it benefits everybody,” said Planning Assistant Jeremy Johnston. He says that many municipalities have planning policies that reflect this mandate, and try to establish downtown locations as the ideal places for offices.

However, those with office space currently in the light industrial areas in town would be able to keep their offices.

They would be listed as legal, non-conforming units, and would not be able to expand, continue to be an office if they were sold, or be able to be rebuilt if the building was damaged beyond 75 per cent of its value.

Office space was permitted by the District of Sparwood in the light industrial zoned-areas in 1993, however, current planning staff site they do not have any records indicating why this decision was made.

The report cites recent office developments outside of the downtown core, like Teck’s Middletown Offices and MDG Contracting’s build on Industrial Road #3 as dispersing office activity away from the downtown core.

The report states that the new regulations would be a way to “mitigate the loss of desired activity in the downtown.”

Some business owners in the community however, disagree with the perspective outlined in the Official Community Plan and see the proposed restrictions as having a negative effect on economic development in the community.

“It significantly impacts the viability of our buildings,” said Alex Millar, a Director of the Sparwood Chamber of Commerce and owner of a business in the industrial area of town.

He owns a building that is currently being rented out as an office space, and says that if his tenants leave, it can no longer be used for that purpose.

“Administration is trying to make it difficult for business in Sparwood,” said Millar, adding that the Chamber of Commerce is opposed to the proposal.

Chuck Shoesmith, a local contractor and member of the chamber agrees that the policy will not encourage business development in the municipality.

“You’re not going to be able to punish people into it,” said Shoesmith, explaining that businesses simply won’t invest in the community if they see regulations as being too restrictive.

“If they city was more flexible they’d attract more business,” he said.

Mayor Cal MacDougall noted that there seems to be confusion about whether businesses that service the mines, which have offices in the industrial area would still be allowed.

Council also asked what sort of availability there is for offices in the downtown, and requested that council bring back a report at the next meeting to clarify a number of questions from the public hearing.

The public hearing was adjourned to reconvene on Dec 18.

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