New vision needs more time

There may be a few less construction crews in Northdale this spring.

A committee undertaking a land use study of the troubled student neighbourhood, bordered by King Street, University Avenue, Philip Street and Columbia Street will be going to Waterloo city council later this month and asking for a pause on new development until the study is either approved or denied by council in May or June of this year.

“With the kind of development that’s going up, we really feel is adverse to the achievement of this vision, it’s going to be extremely challenging to actually succeed in responding to the plan when it’s brought forward by the consultant and hopefully approved,” said David McMurray, vice president of student affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University, who sits on the Northdale Special Projects Committee (NSPC) that is carrying out the study on the contentious area.

For the past year, the NSPC, which is made up of landlords, representatives of both WLU and the University of Waterloo has been carrying out the Northdale Land Use Study, which is designed to find the best way to shape the neighbourhood over the next 20 years. The committee has been working with an outside consulting firm and in November the vision for the rest of the land use study was unveiled.

Since then, the committee has been taking steps to figure out how they will go about achieving the vision presented to and approved by council in November. This latest motion to ask the city to halt development was brought forth by McMurray and Chris Read, the university housing officer at UW and unanimously approved.

“The reason we wanted this, and the community as a whole endorsed it, but in particular the student reps, the biggest concern has been what land use might be if development that follows a pattern contrary to it is allowed to happen,” said Sean Madden, the vice president of university affairs for the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union and one of the student representatives on the committee.

“As a community we’re moving towards the idea that we don’t like what’s called nodes and corridor development. You’re seeing this massive development along Lester and Philip and along University, just along the major byways. People are concerned it’s kind of blocking off Northdale, segregating it from the rest of the city.”

According to the committee, the most problematic of the current developments in Northdale are the five and six-person unit apartment buildings that currently line Columbia, as well as the larger buildings now dominating King.

The vision that council approved in November calls for buildings that are conducive to mixed-use development, that would enable retail and commercial spaces combined with residential buildings. The vision also calls for more green space, something that, in the committee’s eyes is not being accounted for in the current development.

“It would be impossible to suddenly stop any development that’s already underway, we wouldn’t want to halt somebody that’s already invested quite a bit of money into development in this area,” said Chris Peace, chair of the NSPC. “The motion itself is just a request that council investigate options for pausing any development that would be brought forth.”

“We’re not saying stop putting the bricks on, it obviously doesn’t make any sense to just leave a partially constructed building unfinished,” added McMurray.

The decision has been submitted to the city and will likely be brought forward at the Feb. 20 council meeting.

Should council approve the motion, there will be no new developments in the area until May or June, the committee is cognizant of maintaining relationships with developers.

“It’s not a huge amount of time to halt things,” said Peace.

“There’s at least one or two developers that are in the committee and they didn’t have any opposition to it … I think everyone that’s there is excited about the process and about what could potentially happen in Northdale.”

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