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Condos not seen as a good fit by residents of Elmira neighbourhood

Neighbours want no part of a four-storey apartment building proposed for the former municipal pool property in Elmira, turning out in force Tuesday night to let township councillors know just that.

Comments at the public meeting followed a series of written submissions and a petition opposing plans for an 18-unit condominium at 18 Ernst St.

The former Elmira pool property was purchased in 2011 by 2284578 Ontario Inc. for $450,000, and has been home to the Waterloo Regional Synchronized Swimming Club since that time. Now, the principals of the company – Erika Lindner and Leanne McDonnell – want to redevelop the 0.75-acre site at the corner of Ernst Street and Snyder Avenue.

To do that, they’ll need the township to rezone the property to permit higher-density residential (R-7) construction. But residents are almost universally opposed to a project they say won’t fit in among the older homes that make up the bulk of their neighbourhood.

Along with the mismatch among the century homes, an apartment building raises the prospect of traffic, parking, noise and other issues, they told councillors.

Artist’s rendition of a four-storey building proposed for the site of the former Elmira pool. [submitted]
The owners’ promise to build something to complement the neighbourhood did not mollify residents, however.

Greg Romanick, a planner with Stantec Consulting representing the applicant, said the project would be a “higher-end” condominium building. The plan is to build it such that it complements the neighbourhood, with natural materials and to “capture aspects of the architecture in the neighbourhood.”

He noted, however, that “it’s a challenge” to match the feel of the neighbourhood with a new, much larger apartment building, one that would stand some three to four metres (10 to 15 feet) higher than surrounding homes.

Still, there’s a demand for apartments in Elmira, said Romanick, adding the building would be aimed at seniors, empty-nesters and young professionals. It would feature two- and three-bedroom units, ranging from 900 square feet to 1,500 sq. ft.

No pricing has been determined as of yet, he said in response to a question from Coun. Patrick Merlihan, suggesting the units could sell in the range of a smaller single-family home in Elmira.

The condominium aspect and bigger units make this a market-based project rather than a rental building aimed to fill that need.

“I would not categorize this as affordable housing per se,” he told Merlihan.

While recognizing the need for apartment-style dwellings in Elmira, residents argued such a building would be better suited for the new subdivisions in town, most of which containing apartment blocks in their plans.

Wayne Turpel, who’s lived at 19 Ernst St. since 1974, argued the density targets could be reached through other methods, perhaps semi-detached units.

“It just simply doesn’t fit in,” he said of the proposed apartment building.

“This building doesn’t have to be on this property to provide … the variety of housing that’s necessary, and the density.”

Neighbour Sarah Stickney argued the project is not in keeping with its surroundings, and in fact doesn’t conform to planning documents, from the provincial Places to Grow strategy through to the township’s own official plan.

Higher densities may be necessary, but they can be accommodated with construction in new areas, she said, noting that planning documents call for the protection of older neighbourhoods.

Ernst Street resident Paul Bossenberry noted traffic and parking are already a problem, issues that will only get worse if the number of people living on the street is essentially doubled by an 18-unit building.

Approving the project would set a precedent for redeveloping lots in older neighbourhoods, he said, suggesting there’s nothing to stop someone from buying a couple of properties then asking to rezone the land for an apartment complex, for instance.

It’s not good planning to simply react to an application, he said, noting higher-density housing would be shoehorned into a older neighbourhood as opposed to being part of a plan in a new subdivision, for instance.

“This is being imposed on the residents of that particular block,” said Bossenberry.

“Put yourself in the shoes of the residents there. Would you want that development, yes or no?”

Only one person spoke in favour of providing more housing options, particularly for seniors looking to downsize.

Tuesday night’s meeting was strictly an information session. Councillors won’t make a decision on the application until a later date, after the public has provided input and planning staff have drafted a report.

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