THUNDER BAY — A city councillor wants Thunder Bay to take a closer look at selling municipally-owned parcels of land in urban areas, including parkland and parking lots, in an effort to encourage housing development.
Coun. Kasey Etreni is calling for city administration to create a list of possible surplus land including vacant lots, parks, and parking lots in a motion that will be discussed by city council on Monday.
She said the move is meant to identify opportunities for more affordable housing and greater urban density, while growing the city's tax base and decreasing the need for new suburban developments that require costly municipal investments like road, water, and sewer service.
Etreni said she understands the thought of selling parkland could raise alarm bells for some, but maintained her motion is meant to focus on underutilized open spaces, not cut into popular recreation areas. She added she also doesn't want to significantly reduce tree cover.
“I want to say, I love our parks in our community… but we also have parks within minutes of other parks," she said in an interview on Friday. "To me, that may be a potential — and again, all I’m asking for is a list.”
“We have parkettes, we have lots of different pieces of green space inside of our community that we may be able to look at, if not the whole green space, part of the green space.”
Etreni said she has some spaces in mind, but wants to allow a staff-led process to unfold.
“I don’t really want to mention a particular park, because I’d like to see what realty services brings forward for us, but there are some parks [that are] pretty extensive and there are multiple parks [nearby].”
Etreni’s motion is also supported by Coun. Rajni Agarwal, according to council’s meeting materials.
It would direct administration to bring forward a list of city-owned lands “available for surplus and sale,” along with recommendations on the parcels “that would bring the city the highest financial benefit,” by Sept. 18.
City staff already provide a yearly surplus lands list to council, but Etreni said her request would consider additional types of city-owned lands and hopefully accelerate council’s ability to take action.
She said there’s a pressing need to create more housing stock, particularly for low- and middle-income home buyers.
Etreni said she's not yet aware of specific mechanisms the city could use to ensure developments include more affordable housing options, but that is what she's hoping to accomplish.
“There has been some great development moving in that direction, but I think we need more, and I think we need more infill,” she said.
“We’ve all seen the price of houses escalate, and our salaries haven’t increased with that price escalation, so there’s a lot of people who are unable to obtain affordable housing. They’re moving into the rental market, [which] is saturated.”