On Monday, March 22, Pelham Town Council received a draft plan of subdivision for a proposed neighbourhood known as Park Place South (story, p.8). This development, if ever it gets built, will be on Summersides Boulevard, east of Station Street. The developer has proposed building three styles of townhouse for a total of roughly 100 units, plus 16 single dwelling homes.
According to both the Town staff report and council debate, this development has already gone through a number of versions before landing on the proposal that was before council, the final version being the best use of the land, allowing for streets, sidewalks, etc. The development is considered medium density. There would be no buildings more than three stories tall.
Interestingly, council actually approved the plan, but did so only after unilaterally changing the proposal to eliminate back-to-back townhouses, which were the most affordable element of the development—an effort instigated by Councillor Lisa Haun. Neither staff nor the developer were given an opportunity to make comment. The Voice has it on good authority that the developer will be seeking to have council reconsider this decision, offering an olive branch to each councillor in the form of personal meetings to hear their concerns. Yet if council sticks to its guns, the Town (read we taxpayers) will yet again be paying for an LPAT hearing where council’s position runs counter to Provincial and Regional planning documents—and we will lose.
The real tragedy of the Haun motion is that it was entirely subjective—it was a matter of Councillor Haun’s personal taste. Haun made it clear she thought that back-to-back townhouses would be ugly and not supported by residents. This was a position also echoed by Councillor Stewart, and ultimately supported by the full Gang of Four, with Kore and Hildebrandt piling on.
The real tragedy of the Haun motion is that it was entirely subjective—it was a matter of Councillor Haun’s personal taste.
The reality is that recent residential development in Pelham has been reasonably attractive—certainly by comparison to some subdivisions built in the 1980s and ‘90s. So-called “affordable” homes are now over $300,000. Housing that isn’t aiming for the affordable label is often priced in the $700,000-plus range. At these prices, the homes are going to be architecturally attractive. Favouring personal preference over the Planning Act is not the job of an elected official— but ensuring that there are viable housing options for her constituents certainly is.
Part of the benefit of offering three different styles of townhouses is allowing for three different price points for potential residents. Unless Pelham wants to attract only retired GTA refugees and upper-middle class singles, this council needs to give its head a shake. The townhouse style that was objected to, and unilaterally changed by council, was the least expensive form, and has proven popular elsewhere. This brings to mind how close council came to not approving the award-winning development currently underway immediately next to the community centre, which was also deemed affordable and also fought by the Gang of Four on “design” grounds.
Make no mistake. This newspaper is not here to advocate for high density development. We lament the passing of our quiet, largely rural villages, and are on record as opposing downtown Fonthill buildings taller than four stories. But it has to be recognized that with the rapidly rising cost of housing in Niagara, and the already very high price of land in Pelham, the only real way to make moderately affordable housing is to increase density. Back-to-back townhouses do that, giving families considerable living space and allowing them to hit the first rung of the housing ladder.
No, the back-to-back design is not for everyone. But nothing is for everyone. The buildings are going to be attractive. Across Niagara there are similar designs in St. Catharines, Lincoln, and Grimsby, and they sell quickly. One has to wonder why the lowest-priced housing style is the one that upsets Council Haun so very much. (Early in the pandemic, Haun also memorably sought to shut down public transit, a lifeline for working people without cars.) In a community with virtually zero stock of affordable or rent-geared-to-income options, townhouses such as the ones in this proposal offer a realistic way for young couples to enter the market.
Pelham has long been regarded as a great place to raise a family. One wonders how this will still be the case if our elected officials keep turning down affordable housing developments. Thirty-year-old homes with modest but hardly large backyards in some Fonthill neighbourhoods are currently listed for nearly $1 million dollars. What young couple starting out can afford this?
Nostalgia for our quiet, rural past is fine—until it bumps up against 21st century reality. The density numbers demanded by the Province and the Region are going to have to come from somewhere, and they are key to housing diversity. If council cannot find the will to start approving multi-price-point applications, then LPAT will simply do it for us, and any semblance of municipal control will be gone. It would be far preferable to work reasonably with the development industry, rather than indulge in flights of personal fancy—and fantasy—that result in knee-jerk opposition to the majority of medium density development plans. ◆