While residents were not opposed to the old Windsor Elms being transformed into a seniors complex, they came out in numbers to voice their concerns over some aspects included in the development plans.
At a public hearing Nov. 22, Windsor town council chambers were filled with residents looking to hear more about the Premium Properties Ltd. development agreement.
Bill Butler, the director of planning for the town, explained that the site is 3.02 acres in size and consists of four separate properties. He said the developer's plans are to create a mixed use residential and commercial complex. The developers proposed 65 seniors apartment units, which would account for 62 per cent of the total floor space in the building. About 50 of those units would be designated affordable housing. The plans also indicated about 6,000 square feet would be used for commercial/office space. The remaining 12,700 square footage would be considered common and service areas.
The property, located at 590 King Street, was the original Windsor Elms nursing home, which began in 1966.
At the beginning of the public hearing, just one person spoke in favour of the development. Former Windsor mayor Anna Allen was in attendance on behalf of the Affordable Housing Committee.
She stressed the importance of projects that will help address Windsor's need for affordable options.
“The Nova Scotia and Canadian governments reached a deal on housing... allowing for a broader range of low income Nova Scotians to benefit from affordable housing,” said Allen, indicating that disabled people, senior citizens, and others may qualify for the programs.
“There are now 20,000 affordable housing units in Nova Scotia. Windsor needs them desperately,” she added.
According to a 2009 needs assessment, Allen said there were 206 names on a waiting list to obtain affordable housing.
“Of those names, 79 were seniors, 127 were family units needed in the Windsor area alone.”
Allen, chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, said the group of dedicated members were in favour of seeing the development move forward.
While most of the people who spoke agreed affordable living options for seniors was important, they had issues with various aspects included in the development agreement.
One of the main concerns was the lack of parking in the proposal.
There are 62 existing parking spaces at the site, nine of which are not part of the agreement as they can only be accessed by a gravel driveway that isn't owned by Premium Properties Ltd.
John Jay, a King Street resident living in a restored heritage property, pointed out several issues he found when reviewing the development agreement — with the lack of parking chief among them.
“The parking is inadequate for the combined residential and commercial uses. Fifty-eight year old seniors and indeed 80-year-olds drive automobiles, and apparently not all the units will be rented to seniors,” he said.
“In addition, from time to time, there will be visitors who will require parking, and there will be a minimum parking requirement for maintenance, security, and administrative staff for the residential component of the complex. Spaces will need to be designated to avoid conflicts and I am of the view that the residential component should have at least 75 spaces to provide for the uses indicated,” he continued.
With a proposed commercial space at the site, which could be divided into several shops, Jay said additional parking would be required for staff, customers, and deliveries. He suggested 100 spaces are required in total for the site.
“If the project is to proceed without the additional parking, it will put additional pressure on King, St. John and Alexander streets, which will serve as parking overflow,” he said.
The small size of the apartment units also raised a red flag for several speakers at the public hearing. Based on 65 apartments, each unit would be 488 square feet in size.
“If the project is to proceed without the additional parking, it will put additional pressure on King, St. John and Alexander streets, which will serve as parking overflow." - — King St. resident John Jay
“In considering this plan, council must be aware that this is the size of a small bachelor apartment — or as they say in England, a bed-sit,” said Jay.
“Can a unit of this size accommodate more than one person? What do the floor plans look like? Will this project, like others before it, end up being overcrowded slum housing?” he inquired.
Jay challenged how a development with 65 small apartments could be considered consistent with the large heritage homes and churches nearby.
Alex Jurgens, warden of Christ Church Windsor, shared a similar sentiment.
“We support the need for good quality senior's housing in Windsor. The proposal submitted to develop the former Windsor Elms into multi-unit seniors residential housing is fundamentally sound but the development agreement must be amended,” Jurgens said, listing a number of amendments the church would like to see included.
Like many of the speakers and letter writers, his concerns centred around parking, small apartment units and how the development would fit into an area that has heritage properties.
“Insufficient information is provided in the proposed agreement to evaluate whether the completed complex can be constructed in a style that does not detract from the architectural heritage of the adjacent properties,” he said.
“On the basis of the information disclosed, it is premature to conclude, as the report does, that 'the proposed residential component of the redevelopment is consistent with the surrounding area.' At best, incorporating this high density seniors active living development on this site will be challenging,” he continued.
Several of the people opposing the current plans also asked for the company to clearly stipulate that only seniors may live in the apartment complex.
Ian and Marion Palmer, who sent in a written submission which was read aloud at the meeting, were among the many residents requesting such a change in the agreement's wording.
“Our concern with Premium Properties Development’s proposal is that they say 'seniors' 65 units but you know as well as I do that if they can't fill it with seniors then they will take all comers just to fill it up. In Truro, I know of two properties which states '55 and up' or 'no families',” the Palmer's wrote.
“Thus, I urge council to stipulate a seniors complex only similar to Kingsway. We do not wish this property to evolve into a dwelling similar as that just to the north of Elms.”
Jay pointed out that there “is a need in Windsor for adequate, decent senior's housing along the lines of the Kingsway and the Manning” however, he couldn't find any “obligation by the developer to comply” with keeping the apartment complex solely for seniors.
Council said legal counsel would have to research whether such a stipulation could be included.
After more than two hours, council thanked the public for their input and agreed they would have to review the development agreement.
“I think there's general consensus that we have more work to do. There's no doubt about it,” said Mayor Paul Beazley.
Deputy Mayor Laurie Murley tabled the motion to approve the development agreement. The plans will be sent to committee of the whole for further discussion.
There was talk of having the revisions ready for the December meeting, but Coun. John Bregante said there was no need to rush to have the development agreement ready for another public hearing.
“It's council's decision as to where we go from here. The fact is, if it takes us two months, it takes us two months. Or if it takes us three months, it takes us three months,” Bregante said.
“We have to be satisfied.”