Hay River’s town council has decided to move forward to reinstate clauses in the land development bylaw that would require new land owners to begin development within six months of purchase, as well as requiring that such development be complete within a year of construction starting.
“This is tied to a larger picture of land-use in Hay River,” Mayor Andrew Cassidy told The Hub. “When we say we’re open for business, it’s just lip service until you have something to back it up.”
Cassidy explained that in 2009, a previous council had removed the clauses stipulating deadlines for land development in an effort to jump-start the local market. While it proved wildly successful at the time, it is now causing some trouble.
“There are people wanting to buy land here to either build houses or start businesses, and we can’t sell them any,” he said. “And what’s more frustrating is that they can drive around and see what appears to be a whole bunch of abandoned lots that are just sitting there.”
The idea is to encourage people with vacant lots to either sell them or break ground, said Cassidy. While he doesn’t believe speculation is a large concern, he said he and council were taking steps to prevent it from happening.
Despite the hard deadlines set by the bylaw, there is still room for leniency. The six month deadline for starting work will not include the months of December, January, and February. Also, council can extend either the time allowed before construction must commence or the deadline it must be completed by if it deems there is good reason to do so.
“Land development hinges on the economy, not so much on the bylaw,” said Cassidy. “We just want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to support businesses in Hay River grow.”
While the amended bylaw allows council to grant exemptions to the six- and 12-month time limits, where no exemption is granted the town can levee a fee of up to 10 per cent of the value of the lot.
When asked if he suspected the cycle could repeat itself, with buyers becoming less inclined to purchase land if there are regulations for timely development, the mayor was not overly concerned.
“If we see the circle is starting to complete itself, council can always step in and amend the bylaw again,” he said, adding that while municipal rules are a factor in development, they are certainly not the only concern, nor the largest for property owners. “This is consistent with council’s general direction moving forward and we hope to see it result in some increased development in town.”
The changes will only impact new developments. Existing properties would be grandfathered in.