The size of an apartment building proposed for Breslau’s south end makes it incompatible with the surrounding single-family homes, say neighbours. They want no part of the project as it stands, further put off by the fact the purported goal – seniors’ housing – isn’t even guaranteed.
A large group of opponents made the trek to Elmira Tuesday night to give councillors an earful at a public meeting to discuss the plan for a four-storey, 82-unit building at 208 – 226 Woolwich St. S. It would include one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
Breslau Mennonite Church (BMC) is seeking a zone change to allow the construction of the building on the rear portion of their property. About a third of the 8.2-acre property would be earmarked for the housing project, then sold to a developer. The church has selected Reid’s Heritage Properties to carry out the work.
The church has been planning a seniors’ housing project for three decades, acquiring neighbouring land some 20 years ago for just that purpose, said Art Dettweiler, who serves on BMC’s committee overseeing the project.
“We want to move forward with our vision,” he said of the current rezoning application.
Neighbours were quick to point out, however, that the information provided is ambiguous, offering no guarantee the building would be solely for senior tenants. Representatives of the church and developer could provide no assures.
Likewise, there are no planning rules that could restrict the developer to renting to seniors. Just the opposite, in fact, as a landlord cannot discriminate based on age.
For Starlight Avenue resident Nathan Hucsko, the current plan looks like a simple apartment building, not one geared to seniors. Coupled with the lack of nearby services typically associated with older adults – transit, grocery stores and pharmacies, for instance – it seems disingenuous to keep referring to the plan as a seniors’ building.
“We keep talking about a seniors’ community. A four-storey building without amenities is not a retirement community,” he maintained.
Others from the neighbourhood noted similar issues with the assertion that seniors’ housing is the goal, with a few pointing out that the developer’s website had already featured a “coming soon” listing for luxury rental suites at the Breslau location.
“It looks like the old bait-and-switch,” suggest Fireside Drive resident Curt Monk, adding the project is not in keeping with community and the neighbourhood.
Asked by Coun. Patrick Merlihan if residents could be assured the project would be for seniors, Dettweiler noted the church picked Reid’s Heritage Properties because of the company’s work on similar projects.
Still, there could be no certainties.
“A big part of this is a gut feeling about the integrity of the company,” he said. “We feel that what they do is a good fit.”
Fellow committee Matt VanderMeer countered charges the church was being greedy by looking to build a big apartment building, arguing the size of the building won’t be out of sync with the neighbourhood.
“Eighty-two units isn’t going to kill a community. Is this project too big? I’m not a planner. I’ll put my faith in the process to find the right size.”
The scale of the project remains the biggest issue with neighbours, many of whom were under the impression the building would be no more than two storeys (the maximum under the current institutional zoning, which doesn’t allow an apartment complex) and limited to seniors.
“Does the size of the development make sense for our neighbourhood?” asked Peter Burt, speaking on behalf of many of his neighbours. They’re answer? A definitive no.
Burt aired a laundry list of concerns, from traffic and lighting to the suitability of the location for seniors – a lack of amenities – meaning the units are more likely to be rented by others.
John Scarfone, Woolwich’s manager of planning, noted there is a demand for rental units across all demographics in the community, which lacks much in the way of supply.
“We have to provide housing for all people in Breslau,” he said.
Coun. Mark Bauman suggested residents look at the Valley View Heights seniors’ building in St. Jacobs as a comparable example.
Tuesday night’s meeting was for information purposes only. Staff will now weigh all of the information presented before coming back at a later date with a recommendation – yay or nay – for councillors.