Winner – New Business of the Year

Neighbours oppose handful of geared-to-income apartments in Fenelon Falls

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A group of concerned citizens is opposed to the building of two 45-unit apartment buildings that will contain five units each of geared-to-income housing each, just off Juniper Street in Fenelon Falls.

At the last regular meeting in September, Kawartha Lakes council decided to sell a surplus city owned property to the Fenelon Community Housing Initiative, which wants to build the 90 units.

Sandra Barrett, chairperson of FCHI, has deep roots in the Fenelon Falls community and the non-profit she represents has already developed two other multi-story residences in the riverside community.

“There has been no rental housing built in Fenelon for over 20 years,” Barrett said.

“The buildings that I am hoping to move forward with will be mixed in their tenancy with some units available for geared-to-income tenants.”

“No one will know who is who in these buildings and I am hoping to provide desperately needed rental units for people looking to work in Fenelon, retirees looking to downsize, families and those with disabilities,” she added.

Five residents from Juniper Street presented deputations to council earlier this month, all arguing the apartment blocks should not be built on their street.

The first deputant, Ronalee Switzer, lives directly across the street from the vacant lot. She opposes the development of the property and hopes the property will remain a green space, possibly an addition to the nearby school yard.

“The council did minimal public disclosure of the sale, and I would like the decision to sell to be reconsidered,” Switzer stated.

Switzer expanded her concerns in a follow up telephone interview with the Advocate.

“The property was zoned recreational. It was sold directly to the developer. How did the developer know about the sale long before the people on the street did?” Switzer asked, referring to the chairperson of FCHI.

“With these new units plus what is already slated for Murray Street there is a lot of development going on in a very small area where we have property on the water. We are concerned,” Switzer continued.

“We have concerns about the level of maintenance at the new proposed development,” Switzer added, “and having seen what has happened at Cliffside (a city-owned, geared-to-income development in Fenelon Falls) has made us worried.”

Switzer said Ward Five Councillor Doug Elmslie had reached out to the people on the street proposing a meeting after the Thanksgiving long weekend that might set some minds at ease regarding development of the lot.

Richard Chartier, Doug Dickerson, Joy Epstein and Sharon Larman presented after Switzer echoing many of the same concerns expressed by Switzer, and more.

“All 16 of the residents on Juniper Street have questions and concerns about the sale,” Chartier said.

Dickerson made it clear that the posting of anything on the city homepage was infuriating for many users looking for information.

“If any information is more than two clicks away it is not user friendly for most casual users,” Dickerson said, “and some (Juniper Street residents) spent over a half hour trying to find information on the city webpage about the property only to give up in frustration.”

Councillor Doug Elmslie. Photo: Roderick Benns.

In a telephone interview with the Advocate Elmslie is strongly supportive of the apartment project because the supply of rental properties is “shockingly low” in Fenelon Falls.

“I receive phone calls weekly to my office from people asking for help in finding a place to live in Fenelon Falls and I can’t help them,” Elmslie said.

“These folks have an idea for a market rent development with apartments set aside for people with challenges,” Elmslie continued, “and with Fenelon Court and the school close by it is in an ideal location.”

When asked about the opposition to the project from the deputants, Elmslie figures it is two-fold.

“Some are of the opinion that this will be a project that attracts a lot of unemployed people, and less than stalwart citizens,” Elmslie said.

He says anytime “you change anything it might be viewed as bad.”

“Juniper Street has many long- time residents. It is a very quiet street. It is like living in the country and the thought of an apartment block being built is a new concept and changes the dynamics of the neighbourhood,” the councillor says.

Council has long recognized the need for more rental housing in Kawartha Lakes. Hope Lee, the city’s point person on housing, went on record last May saying that “finding adequate and affordable rental housing in Kawartha Lakes has long been a challenge.”

As part of their long-term housing plan, the city has made it clear that they hope to encourage private developers to become involved in providing rental housing by potentially waiving development costs and trying to fast track the approval of permits for construction.

Council in September believed the sale of the Juniper Street property for this privately financed apartment project was “the best possible use of the land” and approved a direct sale to the group looking to develop the 90 new units of rental housing.

“My goal is to improve the community and to make Fenelon Falls better,” Barrett, the chairperson of FCHI said, “and these buildings will be beautiful when they are completed.”

Barrett said the sale, even though approved by council, has not gone through as her non-profit is still waiting on an appraisal as to the property’s market value.

Epstein, one of the neighbourhood residents opposed to the development, stated that Fenelon Falls would be a poor location for this development because it is a tiny tourist town with minimal full-time work for the potential building residents and no public transit to get them to work.

Barrett watched the deputations on-line and is confused by the residents’ concerns.

“I can’t imagine why there is opposition to this project,” Barrett said. “I want them (the deputants) to know what the truth about this project is,” she added.

“I aim to understand why they are fighting this project that will allow people to live and work in Fenelon,” Barrett said.

“We are ready to put the shovel in the ground in the spring,” Barrett shared, “the funding is in place, and the consultant and builder are ready to go.”

Council voted to receive the deputations and more discussion will occur at the next regular council meeting on Oct. 20.

Kirk is a retired high school history teacher and coach who has had a lifelong interest in politics at all levels. Since retiring, Kirk has spent the last three years doing freelance writing of all kinds for various platforms. Kirk can often be found sitting in the press gallery at City Hall observing and reporting on the vagaries of local government.

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