Affordable housing in Fenelon a priority but compromise is possible

By Sylvia Keesmaat

Sylvia Keesmaat, who lives on an off-grid solar-powered farm in Cameron, has a diploma in Permaculture Design and a doctorate in Biblical Studies. Every summer she and her husband welcome interns to their farm to learn about resilient gardening and farming, and sustainable living. Sylvia is also an Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies at the Toronto School of Theology, with a focus on agrarian and anti-imperial readings of the biblical text.

Imagine that you live in Fenelon Falls and have a child with an intellectual disability. As your child becomes an adult you begin to think about where he will live as he gets older. And then it hits you—the only way he will be able to move into some sort of supportive housing if is he leaves Fenelon, the community that he knows and where he is known.

This was the dilemma that faced a community group that began to imagine what supportive housing might look like in Fenelon. Over time their vision grew to include rental units that would cater to others in the community who were unable to find rental housing, such as seniors who often had to leave Fenelon when they sold their homes.

Sylvia Keesmaat, columnist.

They began to explore properties for purchase and discovered that a lot of land in Fenelon is unaffordable. And then they discovered a property that the City had declared surplus six years ago. It was a perfect location and within walking distance of the centre of town for tenants without cars, with green space where tenants could walk or sit, and it was affordable.

Imagine their surprise when a group of residents began to stoke up opposition to their project, claiming that this land was a park. Twenty-five years ago there had been hopes that a park would be developed on this site, but nothing has been done to the property since 1996. In 2014 the land was declared surplus by the city. This means that if this community group doesn’t build on this property, someone else certainly will.

The opposition intensified. Letters were delivered around the city claiming that the city had made a deal with a “private developer.” This is simply not true. There is no private developer, just a not-for-profit community group that wants to offer the majority of the much- needed rental units at market rent so that they are able to offer eight apartments at below market rent for those on limited income, some of whom might be on supportive income.

In doing this the not-for-profit will forfeit the normal return on investment in order to provide housing for both those who simply need an apartment to rent, and those who need an affordable, safe and accessible place to live.

Opposition also grew on a Facebook page, called “Not on My Fenelon Parkland,” that makes claims about the conservation status of the proposed site — which people are now calling “Juniper Park.” As someone involved in conservation who has walked this site, it is clear that conservation has not been practiced in any way.

The sumac trees and other vegetation featured in the photos on the Facebook page were mowed down in the fall—destroying winter seeds and habitat for insects and birds. Snowmobile tracks cover the land. This is not a park, it is derelict scrubland — scrubland that the city has declared surplus so that it can be sold.

Is it possible for these two seemingly conflicting visions to come together? Could those who desire more rental housing in Fenelon and those who have long regarded this land as their own “parkland” possibly work together? Perhaps the residents who are interested in conserving this land as a park could commit to intentionally engaging in conservation efforts on the portion of the land that is not being considered for development.

Planting native shrubs and pollinator plants, especially along the waterway, prohibiting mowing in the fall, and prohibiting snowmobiles would be a good start. Perhaps the rooftop of the new building could have a green roof, similarly planted with native pollinator plants. Perhaps community gardens could be started together. This could be both a beautiful rental property and a home for turtles, insects, plants and birds. There is enough room for all.

We all hope that Fenelon can be a place where those who have lived in the village their whole lives and those who are new to town can find a home. Rather than signing petitions, perhaps we could pull together to creatively envision a path forward so that everyone who wants to stay can find a home in Fenelon Falls.

1 Comment

  1. Diane Engelstad says:

    Yes. Compromise is possible and important. Ensuring there is quality housing for all local citizens (especially those without cars who need a place within walking distance to amenities, like shops and parks) is a community responsibility, as is protecting the environment. New building, new initiatives, should enhance a community, not destroy it. I see no reason why housing on this property couldn’t be a prime example of what we call “The Jewel of the Kawarthas,” because we take care of people, and create a beautiful place that neighbours can be proud of.

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