by Mayor Nancy Peckford
Our community is changing, and with that change comes lots of conversation and reflection on how we are growing as a Municipality. Perhaps the most recent example of this is the proposed 168 multi-residential units at the site of the old Kemptville Public School. Not surprisingly, the value of this residential development has been scrutinized at length, including the concerns from those directly and indirectly impacted by the development.
All of this makes sense. When properties are re-zoned to accommodate growth, it can feel disorienting, disruptive, and at times, undemocratic. It is not with a light heart that Council makes these decisions, recognizing that change comes with consequences, both positive and negative.
Council’s job in these moments is to reflect on what we have heard from the community in terms of their priorities, listen carefully to the crucial input of the Municipality’s own staff, as well as feedback from residents and businesses. With this information, we must ask the tough questions, be vigilant in ensuring we have all the information, and ultimately, make a decision.
Any time a new development is proposed, or an existing one may expand, issues like traffic control, road safety, loss of trees, noise and disruption during construction, as well as infrastructure costs, are top of mind. What also needs to be examined is whether or not the desired outcomes for a new or expanding development will, in fact, be achieved. In the case of the proposed 168 units on Reuben Crescent, at its December meeting, our Council provided clear direction to staff in three key areas:
1) Let’s start with the description of all of the rental units as “affordable”. Affordable means very different things to many different people and, while we recognize that these potential 168 units on Reuben are likely to be rented at a more accessible price point, they are not rent geared to income, or subsidized units, based upon people’s ability to pay. Consequently, Council rejected the proposal by the developer that only 15 percent of units would be truly affordable, and staff were tasked with the job of finding a higher percentage. At the same time, Council recognizes that the most successful affordable housing developments are ones that have a mix of income levels and family types, so finding the right balance is key.
2) In regard to the potential impacts on municipal infrastructure, Council, with municipal staff’s support, placed a holding symbol on the entire development, which means it absolutely cannot proceed without confirmation – by externally commissioned studies – that the water and sewer needs of the three buildings can be serviced by the existing underground infrastructure in this area. If the studies demonstrate that they cannot, the Municipality will not lift the holding provisions until the Municipality has a legally binding agreement with the developer to pay for all upgrades, in addition to a downpayment on the upgrades required.
3) In terms of road safety and traffic controls, should this development come to fruition, traffic patterns will change to some degree. Unfortunately, in our view, traffic studies don’t always capture the whole picture in smaller neighborhoods as was highlighted by some residents in the area. As a Council, we believe that the threshold for things like a traffic light may in fact be too high, and we have asked for further consideration of traffic control measures in this area.
That is why Council requested that we immediately consider other proactive road safety measures as soon as possible. As an example, speed bumps on both sides of Reuben near the entrance of the Park will be installed later this spring. Other potential pathways into Riverside Park to avoid a potentially busy construction area are being actively explored to protect children, seniors and everyone in between.
When Council was elected, we did not necessarily appreciate the complexity of land use planning processes. As a Council, our commitment is to do our best to ensure we understand the impacts, and to take into account the voices of those who are present at public meetings, and also those who aren’t in the room.
Since 2018, the urgency of building more rental housing has been abundantly clear given the hundreds of calls I and Council colleagues have fielded from seniors, young professionals who can’t afford to buy a home, young families who are just starting out, and single parents who are recently separated and don’t yet have the equity to start again.
These individuals deserve a chance to stay in North Grenville, in a community where many of them have deep roots, and who have raised a family here or wish to start one.
The trade offs are not simple by a long shot, and the impact on existing residents is never easy. This proposed development, which is currently being appealed (as is the right of any resident), isn’t the only one that has been distressing to residents in our community.
There are others who feel their experience of where they live or their expectations for their neighbourhood were significantly disrupted because of residential infill, a new or expanding subdivision, or a rural road where an unforeseen agricultural use has been established.
The task of any good Council is to respond in a responsible and proactive way that makes every effort to hear everyone’s voice, seek solutions where possible, and do our homework on what the proposed development will bring to the community. The reality is that municipal investments like the revitalization of Riverside Park which will bring a new splash pad, refrigerated outdoor rink, updated pool house and multi-use pathway later this year, can be harder to justify without some amount of sustainable growth.
This said, both myself and my Council colleagues are determined to be tenacious and vigilant in our efforts to mitigate negative impacts on individual neighbourhoods as we navigate a time of much change. Please feel free to reach out to us anytime.