Okotoks faces shortage of lower-priced housing

By: By Ian Tennant

  |  Posted: Thursday, May 08, 2014 03:38 pm

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Okotoks is reaching a milestone of sorts, the town has virtually run out of land for apartments, duplexes, townhouses and small homes.

This means people moving to Okotoks will have limited choices for at least a couple years when it comes to purchasing a starter-home.

“They can buy a used (home) but won’t be able to a buy a new one,” said Steve Hanhart, business centre leader for the Town’s planning department.

“We are essentially built out in terms of R-3 sites,” he said, referring to the zoning designation for multi-family dwellings such as townhouses, apartments, and duplexes.

The same is true for areas that fall under the R-1S designation, or smaller homes that do not have a front driveway.

“We have pretty well exhausted that inventory,” said Hanhart.

An Okotoks realtor said the inventory of homes in town is dropping, particularly for lower cost, entry-level homes.

“This is the lowest inventory we have ever seen,” said Ryck Flemmer, a Century 21 Realtor who has worked in the area for 23 years.

He said he and his colleagues have been trying to help young people buy a starter-home who can’t afford single-family homes.

Flemmer suggests the low inventory also includes single-family units and combined with high prices he doesn’t see an immediate end to this housing crunch.

Thirty-six townhouse condominiums are expected to be available in 2015 at Zen in Okotoks, a project by Avalon Master Builder on Westridge Drive. Two other developments near the airport have approvals to include multi-family dwellings in their site plans, Hanhart said, but the timeline from ground breaking to occupancy is not certain.

This shortage of property zoned for multi-family dwellings is a result of a number of factors that the town is actively addressing: the shift away from a limited growth policy, the pursuit of more land through annexation and the need for an increased water supply.

In 1998 the Town introduced a limited growth policy, effectively capping Okotoks’ population at 30,000. This policy also meant the Town didn’t actively pursue annexation talks with the MD of Foothills, which could have helped the municipality build up its inventory of property.

Now the Town is in talks with Foothills to annex more than 1,000 hectares. If successful, Okotoks would grow substantially to the northeast, south, southeast and southwest.

But perhaps more importantly, Hanhart notes, the town is negotiating with the City of Calgary to tap into its water line.

“We have had some water challenges,” he said. “We are kind of at the limit of our current licensing.”

Okotoks has a water licence capacity to serve between 28,000 to 29,000 people, but the fast-growing town was home to 26,319 individuals in 2013, according to the census.

A secure and abundant supply of water is key to a successful annexation application, Hanhart said, because the Province will want assurances the town can provide services if it receives the 1,000 hectares.

Also, a secure supply of water signals to developers that they can pursue projects.

“Water has been a factor in allowing developers in new areas to start the planning process,” Hanhart said.

In addition to the stretched water supply, he said the low inventory of land has slowed the development of new lands in Okotoks.

With low inventory, high demand and high prices, Flemmer said the home buying process in this red-hot market can be very frustrating for first-time buyers. It’s almost a “pressure-cooker atmosphere” because wannabe buyers need to react extremely quickly lest they are outbid.

“Nothing lasts till the next day,” Flemmer said. “We don’t see this going away anytime soon.”


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