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Council calls for more affordable housing

Woolwich officials don’t have an issue with increasing the number of new homes that can be built each year in Breslau’s Riverland development, but they’d really like to see plans for some affordable housing before signing off on the idea.

Empire Communities wants to increase to 75 from 50 the number of new homes it’s allowed to build each year, bringing that request to Woolwich council Tuesday night. Planning staff were supportive, but councillors had some concerns.

For Coun. Larry Shantz, the increase would counter the number set by a costly legal battle that ended up with the Ontario Municipal Board siding with the township. Leading up to that 2016 decision, Woolwich had been pushing for annual staging of 50 new homes for two developers in the village, Empire and Thomasfield Homes. The township allowed Thomasfield 75 per year to avoid any legal entanglements. Opting to go to the OMB, Empire ended up with the 50 originally on offer.

 “We won that case, so why are we turning around to allow it?” asked Shantz.

Empire Communities planner Stephen Armstrong replied that the company would like to move past the fracas at the Ontario Municipal Board.

“We have some regrets in the past, but sometimes you have to move forward – it’s been three years.”

Increasing the number of homes would allow the company to finish up more quickly, letting the community get past the construction phase, he stressed.

The company’s bid was supported by Woolwich’s planners.

“Staff have reviewed the applicant’s request and have no objection to the increase as proposed. The increase will allow Empire to continue sales and encourage the development to proceed in an orderly fashion. The development will not impact servicing or significantly impact overall staging of development in Breslau,” said senior planner Jeremy Vink in a report to council. “It will allow Empire to complete Riverland Area 2 approximately three years earlier.”

While not opposed, some councillors pushed for the increase as a chance to boost the amount of affordable housing in the subdivision.

Coun. Scott McMillan asked if Empire could work with staff to offer a larger variety of housing, suggesting highrises and stacked townhouses, with a focus on seniors.

Coun. Patrick Merlihan backed that idea.

“I’m not opposed to those 25 extra units, but I want them to be affordable.”

Armstrong said he’d be happy to talk to township staff about options.

This week’s move was the latest in a long list of adjustments at the two large development projects in Breslau.

Empire Communities’s plan calls for some 530 units – a mix of single-detached houses and townhomes – on a 77-acre parcel to the west of its existing Riverland subdivision. The development would eventually be home to an anticipated 1,636 people, with employment land in the mix adding another 76 employees. The plan also includes three parks and the new Catholic elementary school now under construction.

Thomasfield’s latest bid for its eastside lands would bring 2,200 new residents and 2,800 jobs to the area. Proposed is a combination of residential (single-family, semis, townhouses and apartment buildings), commercial space, offices, retail stores, industrial uses, schools, open space, trails and wetlands extending over more than 335 acres east of the company’s current development, the Hopewell Heights subdivision.

Along with industrial and commercial properties, the plan would see some 900 to 1,100 homes built, depending on the number of apartments/multi-unit buildings. The company is looking at taking up to 12 years to build out this development. The first phase calls for 225 units, mostly single-detached homes and some multi-unit buildings.

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