Northdale plan waits for approval

For the time being, it looks like no new residential construction will be happening in the Northdale neighbourhood, despite the fact that phase three of the Northdale Land Use and Community Improvement Land study was endorsed by the Waterloo City Council Monday evening.

With pressure from the Northdale Special Project Committee (NSPC) and the two universities surrounding the neighbourhood, the council decided to enact an immediate pause of construction of up to one year for any new developments in that area that have yet to receive a building permit.

“We were concerned with the trajectory of how the neighbourhood seems to be on. I spoke to my counterpart at the University of Waterloo and he shares my concerns so the two of us went and spoke,” president of Wilfrid Laurier University Max Blouw told The Cord in regard to discussions with Feridun Hamdullahpur, president of the University of Waterloo.

He added that the committee didn’t feel the existing construction was matching up with the vision of the study.

The interim control by law will exempt and not halt any developments on properties that have already acquired a building permit in Northdale, the portion of land that is surrounded by King Street, Phillip Street, Columbia Street and University Avenue.

The exemptions include approximately 13 properties. “I understand inherently that it could be a year but a best case scenario we could be out of this in four months, if this is a direction we go I would like some stronger wording here [in the by-law],” said Scott Witmer, councillor for Waterloo Ward One.

Since the study is expected to be completed by June, the council can appeal the interim by-law by then.

The land use study is still on-going, and Blouw and Hamdullahpur believe that the pause in any new construction will ensure that the vision for Northdale remains on track. Presented to council last November, the land use study envisions a neighbourhood of medium-high density mix use buildings, open green space and a “vibrant” community by 2029.

Chris Tyrell, the consultant team project manager for the study from MMM consulting group, presented phase three of the study to the council. “The study takes an integrated approach to land use, urban design and in the community improvement planning in that it provides both, say your ‘sticks and carrots,’” said Tyrell.

Tyrell added that many members of the community, at the last public open house, have requested that Veterans’ Green, the small part at the intersection of Hazel Street and University Avenue, remain untouched. They also insisted on more open green space, parks and courtyards.

The study also mentioned that 11,500 to about 15,900 new bedrooms can be constructed in the neighbourhood by 2029.

Though they approve of the vision of the study, Blouw and Hamdullphur at the meeting argued that the current construction wasn’t in the best interests of students.

“We see buildings where students are packed in with no regard for features that support student mental and physical health,” Blouw explained at the meeting. “We believe the result over time will be a student ghetto.”

Hamdullahpur echoed Blouw’s sentiments, “We can learn from their mistakes [of other student ghettos at other universities], and we will have that opportunity if we pause this.”

These notions and the proposed pause didn’t go without its opponents, many of whom were lawyers representing large residential development firms.

“I know currently, if we are truly thinking about the students, about their livelihood, their mental health, their physical health. Most landlords are not allowed to legally place more than one student in a bedroom, unlike the universities who are able to put two or three people in a room,” argued Dave Novis, a delegation speaking against the proposed pause.

Others argued that it was way too late to impose a pause on construction and it should have been done well before the land use study was implemented. This immediate pause, according to Jeff Henry, the councillor for Ward Six, which embodies Northdale, was necessary.

“It’s important to see all issues together, I think this gives the study the necessary footing to be as successful as possible while being fair and reasonable to everybody to has played by the rules and answered the city’s call for more building intensification,” he told The Cord, following the meeting.

“But we’re now not going just for intensification, but for re-urbanization. A better Northdale and a better community for everybody,” he said.

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