Developers tell Centre Wellington committee what main hurdle to new apartments is

·3 min read

Centre Wellington’s healthy growth advisory committee (HGAC) was told by developers there’s a lot of barriers to creating affordable rental units, but a years-long planning process may be the biggest one.

As the HGAC works toward a strategy to increase the supply of rental and attainable housing in Centre Wellington, local developers were invited to Wednesday’s committee to discuss what barriers are present and what development incentives should be considered to increase new rental units.

Greg Jones, president of SkyDev which is part of the Skyline Group, mentioned incentives that other municipalities provide like waiving or delaying upfront construction fees are helpful in reducing overall cost.

Even with that, Jones said to bring it to the next level of attainability is difficult due to ongoing operational costs and it requires more municipal help to be viable over the long term.

Just increasing supply can help, as Jones explained new builds often attract those who live in older buildings managed by the same company which therefore increases vacancy at apartments with cheaper rent.

Taylor McDaniel, of Williams and McDaniel, agreed with Jones’ assessment. He bluntly said building attainable housing isn’t very feasible but supply can be an answer.

He explained they recently built 27 units in Fergus with 15 per cent of those who moved in came from other Williams and McDaniel properties.

When this is scaled up to a proposed 250 unit, this frees up about 37 units elsewhere in town. He said about half of the other 85 per cent were retirees who sold or are selling their homes.

“Those resale homes go back into the pool and there we have more attainable housing,” McDaniel said. “Supply across all types, that’s how we get by this hinge point.”

The developers were in agreement that the planning process unnecessarily slows things down considerably and adds to cost.

“Most municipalities it takes about two years to get a site plan approval, if you’re also zoning the property it could be another two or three years,” Jones said, adding that with construction time it could be anywhere from four to 10 years before it’s running.

“The more approvals, the more committees, the more review mechanisms you need to get through to get there, the longer it takes to get online and the more it adds to the cost of housing.”

Eric Van Grootheest, of Century 21 Excalibur Realty Inc., said the process should be streamlined so things get moving along.

“Maybe a special committee to get these things moving so it’s not three to four years but six months for approvals,” Van Grootheest said. “There is no reason in a small town we can’t have approvals in six months.”

McDaniel stressed the most important takeaway is for the community and council to collectively agree this is an issue worth solving.

He acknowledged applications, like the 250-unit apartment building, often end up concerning neighbours about density which leads to a divided council and slows the process.

“I would love to have all sitting councillors express or acknowledge attainable housing is an issue and they will support intensification that is reasonable and they will assist to help the public understand this is a common problem,” McDaniel said.

Committee chair Don Fisher thanked the developers for their insight and noted this may change their focus from upfront incentives to changes to the approval process.

Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com

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