A bid for a seniors’ apartment building is expected to get a rough ride from some Breslau residents when the issue comes to Woolwich council next week.
Breslau Mennonite Church has a longstanding plan to construct seniors’ housing on vacant land adjacent to its Woolwich Street property. The latest iteration, a four-storey building for independent seniors aged 55 and up, has been the subject of much debate on social media, with some residents launching a petition against the proposal.
Somewhat taken aback by the opposition, Matthew VanderMeer, a resident of Breslau and member of the church committee working on the project, said the community has a growing need for seniors’ housing.
“We constantly hear about the ageing population, but no one is building places for this population to live. Seniors today are healthier and wealthier than any time in history. Breslau seniors are not able to stay in the community they built because there are no places for them to go. They are forced to leave their community and move to Kitchener, Cambridge or Waterloo,” he explained. “The provincial government has indicated that residential spaces need to increase in density. The Township of Woolwich has supported this mandate and has increased the density allotments for Breslau. However, neither private developer in Breslau (Empire Communities and Thomasfield Homes) has supported this and has continued to build sprawling subdivisions.”
Involved with the project since 2012, VanderMeer notes the building committee was formed originally in 1989 by the church to help and support seniors in Breslau. Since then, the group has gone through a lengthy process to make their vision a reality, including the purchasing of land around the church, choosing a developer that fit with their intentions and making plans to sell the land to the developer to carry out construction.
From there, the developer came back to the church with a viable project plan: a four-storey apartment plan to be located at the back of the church’s property, with a parking lot between the building and the edge of the property line.
A pending public meeting at Woolwich council was the impetus, however, for pushback from some residents concerned the project isn’t a good fit for their community.
A petition on change.org called “Stop the re-zoning of the Breslau Mennonite Church for a 4-Story Apartment Building” has thus far received 152 signatures, with a goal of collecting 200.
The petition has supporters who appear to be both local and from outside of Breslau, with reasons for signing that received the most support on the website including:
“Because I live in a small town and they tried to do this to us too, and it went through it would have destroyed our town. Stop trying to destroy all small towns.”
“I am signing because I do not want a 4-storey apartment building placed in our small community. I have concerns that include but are not limited to: lost property values, increased population that cannot be supported by our schools and infrastructure, increased traffic, privacy and noise issues for those directly backing onto the lot. The disproportionate size as compared to the rest of the neighbourhood. The lack of services and public transportation to support 82 additional units being built on top of the Empire and Thomasfield developments. This is a small community slated for slow growth and I, for one, would like to keep it that way.”
And, “It’s completely against the character of Breslau.”
VanderMeer said he welcomes a discussion about the project when it comes to council February 6.
“I love democratic discourse. People should always feel the right and the ability to speak out. My question for those against the project is, ‘What is acceptable to build in this space if not this project?’ The planners have designated its medium density. I love that we can have an engaged community that cares what happens here,” he said.
He pointed to a firsthand experience with the need for seniors housing, as his mother-in-law is the target demographic for the project – having been a resident of Breslau for more than 40 years, she wants to be able to stay in her community.
While this project has been met by the court of public opinion, the township has yet to weigh in on the matter. Next Tuesday night’s meeting is an information session.
“The public meeting lets the applicant present what they are proposing to council, and it lets the public speak for or against the application and present their thoughts. Nobody makes a decision – just a regular public meeting to let people hear what is proposed and speak to it,” explained Jeremy Vink, senior planner with the Township of Woolwich. “After the public meeting staff will continue to take a look at what the proposal is and all of the comments that came in and then work with the landowner and or the people who have had concerns and move forward to a recommendation report.”
It’s still early in the process, Vink noted, with a recommendation to come back to council at a later date, perhaps in June or July.
The discussion is part of next week’s regular council meeting, getting underway at 7 p.m. on February 6 at the administrative office in Elmira.