Pitchfork jabs at Saskatoon City Council for grocery store, affordable housing delays

Click to play video: 'Developer calls out city council'
Developer calls out city council
Saskatoon city council refused to remove a holding symbol on one of the projects at the Nov. 2 council meeting, which caused Arbutus to delay the Midtown grocery store. – Nov 24, 2022

Saskatoon residents may have seen or heard an ad from Pitchfork Market and Kitchen and Arbutus apologizing for a delay in both a downtown grocery store project and affordable housing project.

The ad offers a discount at the existing Pitchfork market in the city, as well as matching donations to Stuff the Bus, adding that a decision made by the City of Saskatoon caused the delay.

Saskatoon city council refused to remove a holding symbol on one of the projects at the Nov. 2 council meeting, which requires Arbutus to provide adequate sewer capacity and pay outstanding offsite charges, causing Arbutus to put a delay on both projects.

Jeffrey Drexel, president of Pitchfork and Arbutus, said he was disappointed with council’s decision.

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“But I ultimately was wanting to apologize for our inability to deliver the grocery store as quickly as we wanted to,” Drexel said.

Drexel explained that he felt it wasn’t entirely his fault, noting that he was hoping for some assistance from the city to get their affordable housing project started earlier.

Click to play video: 'Survey finds growing concern over housing affordability'
Survey finds growing concern over housing affordability

He said it’s been disappointing that he hasn’t had much communication with city council members, besides Coun. Darren Hill.

“To me, a city that continues to talk about collaboration and cooperation, that’s not what I see.”

“Whether they like me or not, I find it more effective to communicate regularly and try to talk these things through and find solutions, rather than just stonewalling,” Drexel added.

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He said Hill understands what they are trying to do.

Drexel said they are going to a development appeal board on Dec. 8 to try and overturn the city’s decision, noting they’d like to get started on the project as quickly as possible.

Hill said the decision on the table at the Nov. 2 council meeting was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate being collaborative with developers, especially those working on affordable housing, but said they didn’t do that.

“I believe there was little to no risk to the City of Saskatoon by removing the hold on that parcel because we could have mitigated risk down to almost zero by simply issuing a foundation permit,” Hill said.

He noted they then could have put the brakes on with the building permit or occupancy permit.

“The administration’s concerns about what happens if the building gets occupied before the lift station is built were not founded on anything that is really substantial.”

Hill said Arbutus has a good chance of getting the decision overturned at the appeal board, adding that he’d go and speak to the board on behalf of Arbutus as well.

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“I believe we got it wrong. I think that this puts the affordable housing project at risk, and I also believe that it could put the Pitchfork market downtown at risk.”

He said both projects are very important to the city.

“There’s a shortage of affordable housing in the city of Saskatoon at this time, and we already see the significant number of homeless people within our city,” Hill said.

“I’ve been on council for 16 years and we have been talking about a grocery store downtown for all 16 of those years.”

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