The city is rolling out the red carpet for a natural gas company wanting to set up shop in town.
Earlier this week, city council approved an application for a zoning variance that allows Coastal Gas Link to take over the rest of the commercial space at 760 Kinsmen Pl.
The company is building a 700-kilometre pipeline to transport natural gas from the Dawson Creek area to Shell's proposed LNG Canada liquified natural gas facility near Kitimat. The project, announced last summer, is expected to generate an estimated $17 million in annual property tax payments to the Peace River, Fraser-Fort George, Bulkley-Nechako and Kitimat-Stikine regional districts.
Nearly 490 square metres of leasable area is left available in the building constructed last year - the main floor and half of the basement - and Coastal Gas Link wants to occupy all of it for their headquarters. About 20 office and field employees would work out of this regional office.
The company needed the variance because the zoning only allows for one commercial tenant to occupy a maximum of 280 square metres.
The city's planning department did not support this application, due to the direction from the Official Community Plan that demonstrates a preference for offices of this nature to be located in the downtown core.
"Office uses outside the downtown should be limited to those professional services that are regularly used by individuals, for who nearby access is important, such as insurance, banks, medical and dental offices..." according to the OCP.
A Spruceland area resident also addressed council, citing her own concerns over having a regional office move in as opposed to a variety of tenants that would be of service to the area, such as the existing dental office.
"I encourage council to adhere to their official community plan. I don't want to live in a city that's organized in a higgildy-piggildy way and I'm just suggesting I would like to see you vote no," she said.
But councillors didn't want to send the wrong message to prospective business interests.
"We've talked for a long time about promoting Prince George and getting businesses to relocate here and now we have one," said Coun. Lyn Hall. "I'm not interested in the least to make this organization jump through hoops."
L&M Engineering community planner Claire Negrin spoke on behalf of the applicant, and said they would have gladly located in the downtown or another light industrial area, but that there were no suitable vacancies.
"Although all of the planning documents would like to see these types of office locations in the downtown core or in the business districts, there's a disconnect between what the plans are asking and what's actually available on the ground," she said. "And I'm sure the staff report on vacancies will tell you that."
City planning staff are currently preparing this year's report vacancy rates throughout Prince George for council consideration in the spring.
Coun. Dave Wilbur suggested putting the decision off until that report is tabled, but his fellow councillors didn't like the idea of waiting.
"I hear what Coun. Wilbur is saying, but it might mean more investigation than find out out what space is available," said Coun. Murry Krause, explaining these spaces would also have to fit the company's needs. "We have a prospective investor in our community considering moving to our community and the more delays we put in their way, that concerns me."