Kitchener Council is voting on a proposed 11 storey mixed-use residential building at 660 Belmont Ave, on February 28th. Council has already had 2 meetings on this proposal totaling over 11 hours as residents spoke on this issue. While most delegates opposed the proposal, I spoke in favour. Here's what I had to say.
Thanks for the opportunity to speak on this proposal. And, thanks to the many delegations who have spoken on this issue already. While I don’t share all of the concerns of the delegations, I appreciate them taking the time to share their perspectives. Add to that Councillor Johnston’s proposed motion for future discussions and plans for Belmont Village, I’m actually really excited about what’s to come for this neighbourhood. Perhaps this development could be the impetus for some engaging and important community conversations.
I am quite familiar with this area as I use the Iron Horse Trail to commute to and from work daily. One of the things that excites me about this proposal is its proximity to the trail and the opportunity for expanded activations and connections between the trail and Belmont Village.
I do want to respond to some of what I heard and noticed in the delegations so far.
The first thing I noticed was how many of the delegations were homeowners in the area, many of whom noted how long they have lived in the neighbourhood. Of course, that makes sense. We tend to pay most attention to those issues happening close to us. I only note this because it highlights an important group that we rarely hear from at these kinds of meetings, but need to consider nonetheless and that is of future residents. We don’t often hear from people who may move into these homes but I believe future residents would be very supportive of this proposal.
Now we did hear from a few nearby neighbours who mentioned that this kind of development could be exactly the thing that allows them to stay in their beloved neighbourhood when they are ready to downsize. When I hear of these situations, I’m reminded of my 85 year old neighbour, who has lived in the neighbourhood for over 40 years. Her spouse passed away a few years ago and her children have all long moved from their childhood home. My neighbour has commented that the house is just too big for her and she’s finding it challenging to stay there at times. However, she’s reluctant to downsize as she’s so connected to everyone in the neighbourhood and doesn’t want to give that up. This kind of proposal could be the very type of thing that my neighbour would benefit from if it existed in our neighbourhood.
I heard several delegates who were disappointed by the lack of 3 bedroom units in this proposal, often commenting that families are what ‘make neighbourhoods’. While I suggest we need all sorts of household combinations to create awesome neighbourhoods, I understand the desire to ensure our neighbourhoods are inclusive of larger families and multi-generational families. However, I think we are misguided to assume that any one development can be everything to everyone. We must take more of a macro view and look to the neighbourhood as a whole. In Kitchener, the majority of our residential neighbourhoods are zoned for low-rise, meaning anything of much height or density is excluded from many neighbourhoods. I agree that we need a diversity of housing, which is why I am supportive of this proposal. The surrounding neighbourhood is largely single-detached and low-rise housing. And while we must be inclusive of larger families, the 2016 Census data notes that 60% of households in Kitchener are made up of either one or two people, so clearly there is also a need for one and two bedroom homes.
Another thing I heard from delegations were many references to luxury condos that are simply unaffordable. And while I agree that we need much more purpose built affordable housing, I am often perplexed at how we consider condos to be the 'bad guys' of housing affordability and not single-detached housing. In December, the average sale price for all residential properties in KW was just over $840,000. The average price of a detached home was over $1,000,000 while the average sale price for an apartment-style condominium was $500,352. While these condos do not offer the deeply affordable housing our community is also in need of, they do provide a less expensive option to single family housing.
As I noted, we must do much better in providing purpose built affordable housing. Fortunately our community has some terrific ways of doing this with folks like Indwell, SHOW, and MennoHomes. This proposal includes a contribution to the great work that MennoHomes is doing in our community. And as we heard from Dan Dreidger on Monday night, this plan has been in place from early on and MennoHomes is able to leverage that kind of donation into much more than any private developer could do on their own. I appreciate that so many people are concerned about affordability. I’d encourage those residents to connect with one of the many organizations regularly advocating for exactly that. How great would it be to have this kind of turn out at council meetings about affordable housing issues?
We have heard from many residents in the Belmont Village neighbourhood and it’s clear they ‘love their hood’. I believe this proposal will help welcome more residents to a terrific neighbourhood. In addition to providing homes for more residents, those new neighbours will also become customers of the beloved local shops and services, ensuring the long term success of a vibrant Belmont Village. Plus, a wonderful non-profit will be able to utilize this donation to create more affordable and supportive housing in our community. For all of these reasons and more, I am happy to support this proposal and I urge council to do the same.