There is no magic bullet to instantly fix what has been ailing downtown Chilliwack.
That’s the essence of the Downtown Task Force Report, received by council Tuesday.
“Some of the recommendations are bold and will have the potential to shake things up,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.
One such example is the call for high-density residential growth to be restricted to a specific part of the downtown core.
Ratcheting up residential density is seen as pivotal to realizing dreams of reviving the downtown.
The rationale for restraining new growth to a very specific area in the vicinity of Five Corners is that sites like the old Safeway or Empress locations need to be redeveloped first, before high-density rezoning applications get approved elsewhere in Chilliwack.
It may be seen as “controversial” in some circles, and the mayor said the report will have both its fans and detractors.
“Probably it will be of some concern to people who may be eyeing pieces of property in other areas of the city,” she said.
The report authors knew it would raise red flags as well:
“The Task Force recognizes the political challenges with a policy as recommended, but believe it is one of the critical factors in directing density to the ‘right’ places first.
“The expressed concern is that higher density residential development elsewhere will further delay any significant projects in the downtown core.”
Other recommendations focus on land assembly, social issues, revitalization incentives, marketing, greening and unsightly premises.
Implementation is expected to be “incremental,” dictated by market and economic forces, but the measures are also expected to accelerate the improvements.
Coun. Ken Huttema, who chaired the task force said the report’s recommendations will take Chilliwack in the “right direction,” speeding up the process of bringing more “businesses and residents to the downtown core.”
Some measure will require extra resources, or partnerships. Others expand on existing initiatives.
The task force looked at the challenges around remediation costs for “brown sites” which are often former gas station locations, and recommends applying for provincial and federal funding assistance.
It also calls for:
• Increase in funding for landscaping and aesthetic improvements;
• Encourage the establishment of a small-business incubator downtown;
• Make land ‘development ready’ to acquire and assemble land and demolish buildings and remediate properties in key blocks;
• Apply full Development Cost Charge (DCC) credits for redevelopment in the downtown core
• Consider reduction of fees for projects with new construction value of $5.0 million or greater.
They used past studies on Chilliwack’s downtown and best practices across North America, said director of planning Kurt Houlden, in presenting the report to council.
“But land assembly and a good plan don’t guarantee investment, especially in an economy that’s still weak and uncertain.”
He pointed to the saturated market in Chilliwack for apartments and condos.
“They present some challenges in terms of moving ahead quickly,” Houlden said.
Work on the plan will be shifted to an implementation committee shortly, and the task force is being disbanded.
“One of things that stood out the most for me was that it reinforces the downtown as the heart of the city,” Gaetz said. “Not just as an area to visit but a place where they’ll come to live, work and play.”
The Task Force Report and action updates can be found online at www.chilliwackdowntownplan.ca. Use #chwkdtplan to discuss on Twitter.