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Housing plan linked to downtown health

Seniors in the area maintain there aren’t enough housing options in Elmira. Sure, the town abounds in retirement, assisted living and nursing homes, but there are no dedicated apartments for older people who no longer need their detached homes, but want to stay in Elmira.

The Woolwich Seniors’ Association has been pushing for just such housing for years. The latest attempt involves redeveloping properties at 30 and 32 Church St. W. to accommodate a 20-unit building. The group hopes to have more luck than it had backing a project on the former Procast Foundries site further east on the same street. That project was shot down by the township, which is holding out for commercial development on the corner of Church Street and Memorial Avenue.

This new project, too, is likely to face some challenges. It requires changes to allow for greater density, which may not be an issue given provincial guidelines that also demand more infilling to go along with intensification.

More troublesome, however, might be the building’s proposed footprint, leaving very little land around the structure that, at four storeys, would loom over surrounding buildings while crowding close to neighbouring property lines.

In making their case to councillors Tuesday night, proponents of a seniors’ building pointed out the site’s proximity to downtown. Residents could easily walk to shopping, professional offices and other amenities.
The density and the accessibility to the downtown core are precisely what Waterloo Region and the province are advocating when it comes to planning and development. The project encompasses a so-called brownfield site, meaning a new building on a previously occupied property in the core area.

The region’s Smart Growth strategy looks to curb the expansion of urban areas, curtail sprawl and to wean us from our dependence on cars.

This project accomplishes all of those goals, making it difficult for the township to ignore the request.

The downtown cores of most cities are struggling, often left to decay as suburban sprawl and the big malls drew people away. Even where the retail and office uses have remained fairly strong, the downtowns suffer from the exodus that occurs nightly at 5 p.m. The key, urban planners now say, is to have people living downtown, providing a sense of community and vibrancy.

Coincidentally, councillors also heard this week from the Elmira BIA, which expressed the desire to see more merchants set up shop downtown.

Along with attracting new businesses, there are other steps to take in helping to preserve the downtown. A core review done a few years back looked at the requirements. Attractive, pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, including trees, green spaces, flowers, benches and trails and amenities such as restaurants are what residents want from their downtowns.

To be sure, Elmira’s downtown is in much better shape than most in the area, but there is a need to be proactive. Having more people living downtown would set off a chain reaction, one certain to be welcomed by retailers and service providers.

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