Councillors will be receiving a report from the Affordable Housing Task Force on Monday, which contains recommendations on how the town should deal with the current affordable housing crisis in Collingwood.
As part of that report, council will be considering how to address the town-owned Johnson Trust Apartments on Birch Street. The task force is recommending they be replaced with mixed-use units with a focus on market and affordable rental units, and that the project aims for higher density. One of the town’s recommendations to be considered on Monday by the strategic initiatives standing committee is for staff to be given six months to develop a strategy on the matter.
However, some neighbours of the Birch Street property are concerned they weren’t consulted on how to best use the land.
“I’m worried about the density and the height, and the proximity to an established neighbourhood,” Helen Bull told CollingwoodToday.ca. “It’s a relatively stable neighbourhood. We have had some relatively minor issues with residents there but, on the whole, it’s been very amicable.”
Bull lives on Birch Street, across from the Johnson Trust apartments. She has lived there for more than 12 years. She first heard of potential changes to the site through a neighbour email.
The Johnson Trust Apartments at 29 to 45 Birch St. were originally owned by the Johnson family, where they had been converted from a lumber yard/bread distribution business. About 40 years ago, the property was given to the town and the Rotary Club of Collingwood to jointly manage. While the town owned the land, the Rotary Club managed the buildings where rent collected went toward operational costs as well as Rotary projects. The contract was for 20 years, and was renewed for an additional 20 years. It expired Dec. 31, 2020.
Rotary provided the town notice this year to terminate their part of the agreement. The town then retained a third-party property manager to deal with day-to-day operations. There are currently nine apartments on the site, however not all of them are occupied. Some are condemned.
Bull says she has collected about 50 neighbour signatures for a petition to present to the town to ask them to consider matters such as noise pollution, light pollution, increased traffic, potential for increased crime, and property value impacts for any future development proposal for the property.
Jim Schaus is a relatively new resident to his property on Beech Street, closing on his home in March 2021. His home backs onto the Johnson Trust Apartments.
He also first heard of the possible change to the property due to a neighbourhood email.
“Why hasn’t the neighbourhood been engaged before that? Why wasn’t there a notice?” said Schaus.
The property is currently zoned as low-density residential. As part of the recommendations from the Affordable Housing Task Force, they are recommending that higher density be considered for the land as part of the Official Plan review.
“My concerns aren’t about affordable housing being there. My concerns are about high-density being there,” said Schaus.
On Oct. 2, neighbours had a meeting to discuss concerns. Deputy Mayor Keith Hull attended the meeting to answer questions.
During the meeting, Bull and Schaus say Hull talked about possibilities for the land which could include a three-storey building. Hull acknowledged to CollingwoodToday.ca he made that point but intended for it to be a possibility as one of many solutions, rather than a commitment that it was the direction the town would definitely be taking with the property.
“He gave us the flavour that it was going to be high-density, even though there’s no proposals or developers. I think that’s probably what got us going,” said Schaus.
When asked if she would be supportive of an affordable housing development on the property should all of the concerns raised in her petition be addressed, Bull said she would.
“We want to be part of the solution, but we also want to have input and respect for our position,” said Bull. “We are concerned the town is inexperienced in doing this and it could be handed off to a third party to manage.”
As part of the task force’s recommendations, Birch St. neighbour and stakeholder consultations are suggested prior to any redevelopment of the property.
Both Schaus and Bull say they would be happy to participate in discussions on what a higher-density mixed-use development should look like to ensure it would fit in with the character of the neighbourhood.
“We’re not trying to polarize anybody. I’m trying to make sure the town process is followed,” said Schaus. “I think, overall, people in Collingwood want respectful development in their communities.”
“I’ll be there, front and centre,” said Bull. “We understand the need for (affordable housing). This could be a shining example, but there’s a lot of grey areas I think we need to address very carefully.”
The Affordable Housing Task Force was formed earlier this year and has been tasked with informing council on a variety of matters relating to affordable housing, including making recommendations on local planning policies, as well as grant/funding opportunities for affordable housing development.
Other recommendations out of the report include developing policies/zoning that are more inclusive to a broad range of housing types, amending regulations addressing minimum building height and use mix, eliminating parking minimums for multi-unit residential projects, giving priority to building applications that include an affordable-housing component, fast-tracking accessory apartment applications and prohibiting short-term rentals in town.
Also to be considered by the committee on Monday will be a recommendation for the town to hire an Affordable Housing Planning Specialist and establish an Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.
No decisions have been made by council on any of the recommendations to be presented by the housing task force.
The entire report and all its recommendations are being considered as part of Monday’s strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, which starts at 2 p.m. and will be livestreamed on the town’s YouTube channel here.