Fredericton may soon allow what it calls "workforce housing" on commercial properties in a bid to help address housing affordability and car-free living.
The zoning allowance would initially be available in one area around Bishop Drive and Prospect Street and in another on St. Mary's Street and Two Nations Crossing.
It wouldl allow residential housing to be built on commercial strips nearby amenities such as grocery stores, schools, and some places of employment and give people access to more transit and active transportation-friendly living.
The proposal presented to city council Monday night grew out of Fredericton's affordable housing strategy adopted in 2022.
It passed unanimously at first reading during and must still be approved with a later vote, but councillors are already positive about what it might bring.
Coun. Jocelyn Pike, whose ward includes St. Mary's Street and Two Nations Crossing, called it a win-win for everybody.
Coun. Jocelyn Pike said she supports the proposal because it addresses both affordability and reducing emissions. (Jocelyn Pike/Facebook)
"We want to keep people where the work is, we want to cut down on emissions, we want to be able to make our communities affordable," Pike said in an interview after the meeting.
St. Mary's Street recently saw sidewalk upgrades and it also has a major bus route, she said. The new zoning type will come with a stipulation for required bike parking.
"It's helping residents with affordability as well," Pike said. "Because if you can reduce those costs, of transportation, that's going to be a bonus to everybody, to every family."
"It's affordability by design and affordability by placement, it's a really new and unique concept we're excited about," Coun. Ruth Breen, whose ward includes Bishop Drive and Prospect Street, said in an interview.
"It's a wonderful tool in the overall range of things we're going to be doing to help housing affordability in the city," she said.
Part of strategy to allow more affordable housing
Ken Forrest, city director of planning, told council that workforce housing is "quite an important piece" of Fredericton's affordable housing strategy.
"This is all part of the city's strategy to try and coax out more affordable housing in parts of the city where we have good access to infrastructure, good access to amenities, and give people the opportunity to live a more car-free lifestyle," Forrest said.
He added that workforce housing zoning may be expanded in the future, but he hopes to see developers take advantage of it in these two locations.
The proposal would allow workforce housing in two sections of the city around Bishop Drive and Prospect Street, left, and St. Mary's Street and Two Nations Crossing. (City of Fredericton)
While the city often has minimum square footage for housing developments, Forrest said this zoning will instead have a maximum to keep units smaller and encourage affordability.
Breen raised the concern that there are not currently bike lanes on Bishop Drive, but Forrest said the city can always look into having them built once the new workforce housing zone is passed and developments begin.
Mayor Kate Rogers also voiced support for workforce housing, calling it a "very important shift" in city planning.
"I think what this council's talking about a lot is how do we create an affordable city, how do we generate affordability in the city," Rogers said.
Ken Forrest, Fredericton's director of planning, said workforce housing is an important piece of the city's affordable housing strategy. (Aidan Cox/CBC)
When the proposal first came up in July, tenants rights advocate Matthew Hayes told CBC News he was concerned because commercial corridors aren't always pedestrian friendly, and the zoning could push low-income people into less-desirable parts of the city.
Both Pike and Breen said they do not share these concerns when asked Monday.
Pike said this is not a new concept, as mixed residential and affordable zoning exists on Main Street, nearby the proposed St. Mary's Street location.
"It's a proven concept, so I think expanding it up St. Mary's, developers can say, look, it works well on the Main Street area," Pike said.
"As far as my ward is concerned, it's an awesome location to do this and make it good for the environment, and good for the community, and good for affordability."