Penticton eyes new housing option

Neighbours raise parking concerns over flex-unit developments proposed for downtown Penticton

The city has added a new style of housing to the city’s list of residential zones.

Recently, city staff have been approached by two separate developers who are interested in developing infill row housing in areas designated for high-density residential development. In itself, that is not unusual, but what is unique about both these proposals is that the developers wish to feature flex-units. These are small secondary units that could be used as a secondary suite, a third bedroom for the townhouse or even as a small commercial space.

The two sites are both downtown, including two properties in the 500 block of Ellis Street where the developer is planning to build a five-unit townhouse complex, and a six-property section in the 300 block of Van Horne where another developer has proposed a 27-unit development.

While the idea of flex-units drew approval from both staff and council, none of the current zones available support it. So, rather than dealing with a variance for each, planning staff suggested a new zone be added to the city’s zoning bylaw to accommodate current and future proposals.

In the case of the Van Horne site, the six units have been used as a parking lot since about 1989. And parking is the concern of nearby residents in both cases. Lynn Kelsey, who lives near the Ellis Street site, said there are already parking problems in the area. If all five new townhouses should choose to use the flex unit as a secondary suite, that would be the equivalent of a 10-unit housing block.

“There is no space for residents on the street or their visitors until after 5 p.m. daily. If the extra tenants of the flex units were to be residential, this would mean the problem would exist 24 hours a day,” said executive assistant Karen Burley, reading Kelsey’s comments into the council record.

Similarly, Raymond Mills, who lives across from the Van Horne site, said he is happy to see the site being developed, hoping it’s a reversal of the trend that has seen buildings coming down in the downtown core, not going up. But with 54 units coming into the area, he is very concerned about the parking.

“Under the new zone there is no parking requirements for the additional unit or visitors to be accommodated on site,” said Anthony Haddad, Penticton’s director of development services. “The location being in the downtown results in the lower parking requirement, given the availability of parking and the need to move to alternate forms of transportation in the downtown.”

One benefit of the flex-unit design is the possibility of using it as a third bedroom for the unit. Three-bedroom, apartment-style units are not common, and the availability of these units could help promote families moving into the downtown, which goes with the OCP goal of increasing the residential density of downtown Penticton.

If used as a commercial unit, the flex-units are limited to small-scale operations. According to the new zone, those uses would have to fall under the designations of artisan craft, office or a personal service establishment.