Mayor's open house spotlights how divided residents are on development

ELORA ‒ While over 100 people showed up to share their thoughts on the future of Centre Wellington during an open house at the Elora Centre for the Arts Wednesday evening, there was a visible divide between residents and their ideas of what future growth should look like.

Primarily highlighting the importance of building a variety of housing stock during the event, Mayor Shawn Watters said that the council's hands are tied from a provincial standpoint if they want to maintain some semblance of control over where and what is built in Centre Wellington.

“I know developer has become a bad term these days but developers are the ones who build a lot of the houses and they have to be a part of the solution,” said Watters. “I think there’s some opportunities in our community for some unique styles of development…but to resolve our housing issue, it’s going to have to be a collective (effort).”

But Melanie Fegan, who spoke at an open house in Fergus earlier this year, wanted confirmation that a percentage of new units would be affordable and attainable.

“There’s a lot of single people out there who live on one income and can’t afford (the average rent),” said Fegan. “My biggest concern is that nobody is addressing this. Everybody is saying it needs to happen but nobody has come back to say this is how.”

Another resident, Barb Smith, wanted to see an emphasis on the continuum of care while others asked for AirBnB regulations.

According to CAO Dan Wilson, staff are aiming to complete their AirBnb plan by May 2024.

However, other attendees were more focused on preserving Elora's heritage and were openly disappointed in the changes proposed during the open house.

"This is not the Elora that stays beautiful. It’s becoming something different than I imagined it would be and that concerns me," said Alice, a resident who delegated during the meeting. "I love Elora the way it was and to put the high-rise apartments here does not sit well with me."

Watters said that while he understands the change will be a difficult adjustment, varied development, including apartments, is vital to healthy communities.

“(Without a variety of housing stock), you’ll go to your restaurants and your shops and there won’t be anyone working there because they frankly can’t find housing,” said Watters. “It is a change (but) as much as we like to think that we’re not part of the GTA, we are."

According to Brett Salmon, director of planning, Fergus's south end has been identified as one ideal location for high-density housing but each proposal will be regarded on a case-by-case basis to preserve the heritage of the surrounding neighbourhood.

“It’s not the wild wild west here," said Watters. "There is a pragmatic approach to this and we try to look at development in a conscientious way.”

Discussions about development also provoked questions about traffic volumes and supporting infrastructure.

“Yeah you have a plan but look at Highway 6 going through Fergus, it’s backed up right now,” said delegate Luke Hartman. “We need a bypass now, we don’t need it at some future date.”

According to Colin Baker, director of infrastructure, Highway 6 through Fergus will be fully reconstructed from Saint Andrew St. to Edinburgh St. next year.

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.

Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,