A 24-unit townhouse complex in Wellesley village this week won approval from township councillors, who are hoping the development will help meet the demands of seniors and those looking for more affordable housing.
In reality, however, councillors recognized that their hands were tied in how they could influence developers to build homes specifically for seniors, lower-income families, or other specific population groups. The practice, noted township planner Geoff VanderBaaren, might be considered discriminatory.
“It’s a caution, I guess. It’s not that we can’t do it. It’s generally what I’ve seen in the past is that it has to be some justification – some significant justification – to do that,” said VanderBaaren.
“That doesn’t stop a developer from developing something from a marketing perspective that is geared towards seniors, it’s just that, as a municipality, we have to be cautious in terms of trying to manipulate our zoning bylaws so that only one sector of the population can occupy the site.”
Coun. Peter van der Maas pointed out the inherent problem with seniors’ housing being considered discriminatory.
“Now, in a case like this, at least in the ward that I represent, there has been significant requests for housing by people who have lived in the village for all their lives, and no longer require the larger homes, maybe can’t afford the two-bedroom bungalows with the granite countertops,” he noted.
“And what we’re seeing – what I’m seeing – is that people who have been contributing members to the village for decades, generations, now no longer have a place there. Is it possible that in trying to serve them, that we could be accused of discriminatory housing practices?”
“That’s very possible,” responded VanderBaaren
Zoning bylaws do give the township some leeway, however, noted VanderBaaren. The developers are seeking a zone change on the 2.7-acre site at the corner of Nafziger and Gerber roads. The zoning would allow the construction of semi-detached residences, but not single-family homes, which would keep the cost affordable.
Mayor Joe Nowak was more supportive of the project.
“There’s no reason why these units can’t be designed to accommodate a senior person,” he said. Even with two storeys, the homes could still be used for affordable seniors’ housing, provided residents didn’t have mobility issues.
Ultimately, approval for the project was granted by council, including the requested zone change, with van der Maas opposing the decision.