Zoning issues de-rail Northdale sale

A simple plan to auction 39 homes in Northdale, the student-inhabited area just north of Wilfrid Laurier University, to building developers became more complicated than intended when no bids were placed.

Paul Ellingham, one of the homeowners spearheading the sale, explained that following the “for sale” signs placed in June and murmurs of interest, the two blocks of properties failed to sell because of the current zoning.

“People have told us they won’t buy it unless it’s zoned accordingly,” said Ellingham, referring to the property that is zoned for single detached homes exclusively.

On Aug. 15, in an attempt to “double the pace” to get the land sold, Ellingham and his neighbours attended the Waterloo city council meeting, asking for approval to rezone the land for mixed-use rather than single homes. This request was rejected however because it failed to follow the process the city mandates for any rezoning application.

“The proper process on both the city’s official plan as well as the Ontario Planning Act, at a very high level, [requires] first they would have to come in and do a schedule, it’s called a pre-consultation meeting,” said Tanja Curic, development planner for the city of Waterloo.

Curic said, “It would outline all the various technical studies that would have to be submitted with an application. Some of the more common ones would be a planning justification report, outlining why they feel their request should be approved, why it constitutes good planning.”

Bud Walker, associate provost for students at the University of Waterloo (UW), who has been pushing for a revision of Northdale for many years, commented on the prospect of rezoning that specific section.

“Zoning is actually the implementation of a plan, and a plan is the implementation of a vision,” he said. “The difficulty of putting together 30 properties as a unit by themselves is if they don’t fit in to the vision, the plan, then they may or may not be viable as a place for things to get developed,” Walker explained.

In Feb. 2011, city council, after years of complaints from Northdale residents on the state of the neighbourhood, created the Northdale Special Project Committee to oversee a land-use and community improvement study on the area. According to Curic, thus far, the committee has met with the consultants contracted for the study by the city to discuss their various perspectives on Northdale.

“The first milestone [for the study] is an upcoming visioning exercise and we’re looking right now to hopefully schedule something in the latter part of September,” Curic added regarding the status of the committee.
This is action that Walker, despite UW’s involvement in the committee, feels is coming too late.

“If we established a review of the area back in 2003, then there was the potential to make something happen,” he said.
Considering the many new high-rise buildings in the area and the increasing costs to build anything new, Walker is skeptical towards the practicality of implementing a new vision.

However with the many stakeholders pushing for a similar goal, city councillor for Ward 6, Jeff Henry, advocated for the committee saying, “We’ve been very clear that the best way for folks to have their visions for what Northdale can be incorporated into the results is to be part of the process.”

“We hope to have a vision after this and a plan at the end of this that most people will mostly agree with,” Henry added about the final proposal committee is expected to bring to council in the spring of 2012.

“What they are saying is ‘oh be patient, wait for the study on Northdale’ which started six years ago and I’m saying I can’t wait another six years so we have to make things happen,” said Ellingham in response to the committee that he views has taken too long to come about.

Pushing ahead with their own zoning plans, the Northdale homeowners and particularly Ellingham, met with the city’s development service staff on Aug. 30.
“They just reach to their rules and they keep saying well you have to do projected traffic studies and shadow studies and infrastructure, like sewer and water, studies,” said Ellingham.

“And I’m going, no, no, no, we’re not applying to develop a new building. We don’t have a building, we are just simply upzoning this [property].”
Despite the apparent disagreement at the meeting, Ellingham clarified, “We are going ahead and applying for rezoning.”

Ellingham, stating his understanding of the application, said the city would have to give a response to the zoning application within 120 days of its submission. Not optimistic of the potential results, he said, “I can just feel that they’ll tell us no in 120 days, and they will wait to the last minute.”

“If they say no to our zone change, we can go to the [Ontario Municipal Board] and have them look at the case,” Ellingham resolved. For the time being, the fate of the two blocks of land within Northdale remains uncertain.

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