Okotoks town council heard a loud message from residents opposed to a Tiny Homes development in the D'Arcy area with the presentation of 3,200 signature petition in late July, said a spokesperson for a ratepayers group.
"Obviously, residents don't want their tax dollars used on this project," said Ryan Nix of the Okotoks Ratepayers Community Group. "Many of us don't see the benefit that is there, and if there is significant benefit, the Town has done a poor job of doing the community engagement to show what the benefit is."
The proposal for the 10-acre Homestead project in the D'Arcy area consists of 42 tiny homes, and comes in at $4.26 million. That cost includes $3.34 million toward the project—land lease estimated at $2.8 million, land development, landscaping, and renewable energy systems—$720,000 for the park buffer, and $200,000 for initial planning, design, and legal work for the entire project.
The 42 homes will consist of 12 homes for purchase and 30 homes available for rent. Initial projections for Homestead presented to council on Feb. 11 showed the rental prices, including utilities, ranging from $760 to $1,150 a month.
Nix said he's not opposed to affordable housing projects in Okotoks.
"It's the taxpayers' dollars being used on the project and the fact the project is only going to help specific people who want the Tiny Home lifestyle," Nix said. "You aren't going to help single moms with kids, you are not going to help families who are working poor because the tiny homes are too small."
Nix said the group would like to see a traditional affordable housing project, citing the project with Westwinds Communities and Rowan House Women's Emergency Shelter across from No Frills as a better strategy for affordable housing.
"We are getting 76 spaces for people who need it for a quarter of the investment (than the Homestead proposal)," he said.
Because the 3,200 signatures is above 10 per cent of the population of Okotoks, about 2,900, it puts the ball back council's court.
Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said the petition is being studied by town administration in order to determine validity of the signatures, such as whether the signees are part of the Okotoks electorate. It may be presented to council at its Aug. 19 meeting if the legwork is done.
If the petition meets all the requirements, council has the option of killing the project or holding a plebiscite. A formal agreement with the developer has not yet been made.
Robertson agreed public money will be used, but it is not going to result in a bump in ratepayers' taxes.
"It is certainly tax dollars, there is public money being spent," Robertson said. "The money is coming out of reserves, there will be no impact on municipal taxes paid for by the homeowner. The Town has diligently put away money for projects such as this that is in the public interest.
"I guess it comes down to was this in the public interest or not and to what degree would the public benefit from it."
Robertson stressed affordable housing was the number two issue in the 2017 municipal election, just behind a water pipeline to Okotoks.
The 10-acres was part of an amalgamation agreement in the mid 1990s. The land must be used for municipal purpose, and the Town cannot sell the land.
"We are likely going to have to spend $1-million to service the land when we determine a municipal purpose," Robertson said.
He said the Homestead project would result in money coming back to the Town to repay the servicing.
That would not be the case for a project such as a library or park in the area, he said.
Coun. Tanya Thorn has spoken, and voted, against the proposal.
"I think the petition is a resounding statement by our community," said Thorn, who, along with Coun. Florence Christophers, voted against the project in its present state. "I am not surprised. I had expressed leading into our vote in May, our community wasn't behind this, understanding this and wasn't supportive of this... This just reaffirms, in my opinion, what the community was telling me prior to the vote."
She said the issue isn't an affordable homes issues, citing there were no issues with the Westwinds project.
"This one, the project just doesn't make sense for the investment we are making," she said. "I don't think it is about the product, it is about using tax dollars to do it."
She also questions whether it meets the municipal purpose requirement.
"When I think of municipal purposes it is something that benefits a significant amount of your community," Thorn said. "A library, a rec centre, parks, performing arts, waste-water treatment, those to me follow under municipal purposes."
She said there are always alternatives, citing the Homes for Heroes project in Calgary, a project providing affordable housing for veterans that is being privately funded, with the City helping with zoning.
"I think that is what our taxpayers are saying 'we would love to see Tiny Homes in our community but let industry do it,'" Thorn said. "There is still a huge amount of taxpayer dollars going into this."
Coun. Ken Heemeryck voted in favour of the project.
"The pros of it is we show innovations in the affordable housing and right-size housing," he said. "It's an opportunity to show some innovation to potentially the business community that might be attracted to Okotoks because we do things a little differently."
He believes it fits the criteria as a municipal purpose.
"I do. the whole concept of affordable housing, but also the community amenities that are part of the whole program," he said. "(For example) the community building which can be used by the community as well as the residents."