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Saskatoon mayoral candidate suing the city over housing accelerator fund requirements

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Pressure is increasing at city hall over a looming decision on the federal housing accelerator fund.

A special public hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning to make any potential amendments and either approve or refuse a series of bylaw changes necessary to access $41 million in federal funding.

"It's been very complicated and very different circumstances to work on," Mayor Charlie Clark said in an interview with CTV News last week.

Ottawa's housing accelerator fund aims to fast track thousands of new home builds across the country.

In order for Saskatoon to access its share of the funding, the city is required to make zoning changes allowing developers to build larger multi-unit buildings — up to four storeys high — within 800 metres of a public transit corridor.

The proposed changes will also allow fourplexes to be built on any residential lot “as-of-right," or without special permits or appeals.

The moves would add density to Saskatoon neighbourhoods that have traditionally resisted developments on that scale — without a requirement for public consultation.

Clark wants residents to know that the federal government has made it clear other projects, and the ability to fund those projects, could be at risk if the city votes against the fund.

"We're not just making a decision about this $40 million, but about some other key federal funding coming up that we need to help build our city," Clark said.

Clark said the permanent public transit fund — expected to provide anywhere from $6 million to $10 million annually to the city — would be denied. As would the newly announced infrastructure fund.

"We've put money down for provinces and territories — $5 billion — to build the roads, public transit and water infrastructure they need, with a catch," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a June 11 video posted to X.

"To get the money they're going to have to change the way they do things, including, you guessed it, by legalizing four units as of right."

As more people learn about the housing accelerator fund, some have raised concerns that it could harm the historic feel of a neighbourhood, or potentially harm aging water and sewer infrastructure.

Mayoral candidate Cary Tarasoff is taking his concerns a step further.

On Friday, Tarasoff filed a statement of claim against the city at the Court of King's Bench to try and delay or halt the fund.

"They don't realize the devastation that this can cause and also the financial harm. Our taxes are going up leaps and bounds, and that's nothing compared to what's coming," Tarasoff said.

Tarasoff's main concerns are about the amount of risk the city could take on without proper consideration under the tight timelines to approve uses of the funding.

Tarasoff wants to know how many neighbourhoods can handle four times the people using water, sewer and other services. While city administration has said other municipalities that have four units as of right have had a very small fraction build those units, Tarasoff says the possibility remains.

He also says the fundamental shift in responsibility going from developer to taxpayer could do plenty of harm.

Under current practices, developers would be required to build up necessary infrastructure like lift stations or roadways for a new neighbourhood or development to proceed. Tarasoff fears with as of right development, any damage or failures in the future will come at the expense of property owners.

"This is the first time that's been done, so we're going to be funding development," Tarasoff said. "Well of course it's a free for all."

Tarasoff doesn't know if a Court of King's Bench judge will be able to hear his argument or make a decision before Thursday's public hearing.

He's also aware of the awkward situation he's put himself in by suing the city — his potential employer if he wins November's election. He says he's not playing political games. This issue was too big for him to ignore.

"It's the right thing in my heart that needs to be done right now," he said.

"And for the people that start to figure out what's going on, it'll be too late. I want to have already been fighting in their favor ahead of time."

The city would also look to end all minimum parking requirements for residential builds as part of the changes. With Thursday quickly approaching, many other Canadian cities have already approved the fund, and Clark says that's also pressuring Saskatoon.

"As many other cities have already approved similar changes to their zoning, our ability as Saskatoon to be able to negotiate something different feels like the window of that is getting narrower," he said.

As of Monday afternoon, 15 people are slated to speak at the public hearing on Thursday with many more sending in letters of concern for the zoning changes.

It’s sure to be a lengthy discussion. 

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