Re-shaping the Northdale sale

Paul Ellingham has some grand ideas for a pair of blocks that are up for sale in the Northdale neighbourhood.

The two blocks, which span Hemlock, Balsam, Hazel, Hickory and Larch streets, just behind Wilfrid Laurier University’s St. Michael’s Campus, were put up for sale on June 18 through a co-operative effort that Ellingham, a former permanent resident and current landlord on Larch St., organized and includes every house on the aforementioned blocks.

According to Ellingham, the properties have generated considerable interest from a wide variety of developers, and have the potential to become “something special.” And now he is looking to intensify that interest.

On Monday morning, Ellingham met with City of Waterloo officials to discuss the potential of having the area re-zoned from its current status as low-density residential land to allow for mixed-use development, which would include retail, residential or educational land use.

“Basically right now there are two groups of people interested [in the properties]: the existing group of developers who are building student housing in Waterloo and what we’ll call ‘out of town’ developers, who would look at doing something more than student housing,” said Ellingham, who also mentioned that those “out of town developers include groups from across Canada and one international interest.

“The student housing developers feel comfortable bidding without the proper zoning because they seem to know how to get around the city and get the building they want. But for developers outside Waterloo, who haven’t dealt with the City, they would like to have some assurance that there would be mixed-use zoning in place…. We would like to see that happen to bring those bigger developers to the table.”

According to Ellingham, the possible projects that could be done through mixed-use zoning would be far more beneficial to WLU, which also owns the Northdale campus on Hickory St., and the city as a whole than the construction of student apartments that would likely occur if the area is not re-zoned.

“It’s a much more creative option for both the university and the city, and also we could get a much higher price for the land,” said Ellingham of re-zoning the two blocks. “We’ve also come to realize that environmentally, mixed-use development is the most sensible option.”

Ellingham went on to say that changing the zoning of a particular area is quote “as simple as changing a piece of paper.”

However, according to Waterloo city councillor Jeff Henry, whose Ward 6 includes the two blocks in question, re-zoning an area isn’t that easy.

“Re-zoning is something that can only be done through the planning act,” he said. “And the planning act has very specific prescriptions for public processes, public deliberation.”

Another issue facing the potential re-zoning of the two blocks is the fact that the city is currently in the process of conducting the Northdale Land Use Study, for which an outside consultant has been hired to look at the best way of using the neighbourhood’s land.

“As I’ve said, we’re not looking at two blocks, we’re looking at the 10 or 15 that make up the neighbourhood,” said Henry. “[The area for sale] is a portion of it, but we really have to look at the whole picture, that’s what people have been asking us to deal with and that’s what we’re going to do.”

While Ellingham agrees with the intentions behind the land use study, he feels its results could be problematic.

“I think having a consultant look at [Northdale] is a good idea, but I think it’s just too late,” he said. “Also, [the study] is just a way for the council, if something goes wrong, to just blame the consultant. The other problem is that by the time the study is finished it’ll be one or two years down the road and a lot of people involved in our group are in their 80s, they just can’t wait that long.”

Overall, this situation is becoming a source of increased frustration with city hall for Ellingham.

“We elect our councillors to advise the city staff, but right now it seems like the staff is running the council,” he said. “We need our elected officials to start stepping up and making decisions.”

City council will be meeting next Monday, July 18, and while Ellingham hasn’t ruled out the possibility of bringing a proposal to council then, he currently has no concrete plans to do so. When it comes to the sale of the two blocks in Northdale, they were initially supposed to be sold at auction in late June however has been postponed while the group sorts out these zoning issues.

The owners of the homes in the block, which is made up of 26 landlords and 13 permanent residents, have signed on to the group sale until Oct. 31.

While the city remains committed to its current course of action when it comes to Northdale, they are not ignoring ideas like those of Ellingham’s.

“Paul definitely has some interesting ideas and their are a lot of people with interesting ideas,” said Henry. “The whole point of the Northdale review is to be listening to these kinds of ideas and get expert advise so council can make those decisions.”