Auction off housing lots, city staff report advises: Council expected to decide Monday

By Jason Warick, The StarPhoenix December 2, 2013 - Reaction is mixed on a proposal to auction off clusters of residential lots in some new neighbourhoods.

Councillors are expected to decide Monday whether to approve the two-year experiment in parts of the Evergreen and Kensington neighbourhoods.

"The (City of Saskatoon) land bank is always experimenting, trying to keep current with trends in the industry," said Coun. Pat Lorje, chair of the land bank committee that is recommending the change.

Previously, lots were mostly made available individually through a lotterytype of process. Now, groups of five to 10 adjacent singlefamily lots will be put up for sale to the highest bidder. Exact locations and other details will be worked out in the coming months, a report going to council said.

The bulk purchases will allow developers to build more efficiently, the report said.

Lorje said the proposed change has the potential to make life easier for families already living in the vicinity if there is one large build rather than five or 10 small ones.

However, there are worries that small builders could be marginalized by those with deeper pockets.

"That was a concern that was raised," Lorje said. "The committee decided it would be a good experiment."

Lorje said the key is to ensure there is a clear way to measure the success or failure of the pilot project after two years.

She added the city is not expected to increase revenue, so the changes are not a "cash grab."

Several large developers contacted Sunday declined to comment. Mark Kindrachuck of On the Mark Residential said he'd be in favour of smaller clusters of two or three lots. He said it'll be difficult for his and other small companies to afford bids on a five-or 10-lot auction.

The good part of the experiment, he said, is it could lead to more realistic lot prices. He said the prices set by the city "are getting to be a bit too high. That can be disheartening."

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