Woodstock politicians push to build more homes (just not this many in one spot)

WOODSTOCK – A proposal to turn a Victorian home into an eight-unit apartment complex has been quashed by city politicians here, despite the community's need for more housing.

City council voted unanimously to reject the proposal – delighting neighbours vehemently opposed to the prospect overhaul at 329 Buller St. The house is around the corner from a historic neigbourhood with an abundance of heritage homes and within a kilometre of the city’s downtown.

“I'm really happy that our voices were heard,” said Laura Niznik, a nearby resident who spoke at Thursday’s city council meeting on behalf of neighbours. “I'm really happy that (council) listened, and a unanimous vote, I'll take that any day of the week.”

Ongoing construction, reduced parking, increased traffic and safety concerns were cited as some of the reasons residents were opposed to the proposal.

A particular point of concern is the narrow laneway used to access 10 houses and serving more than a dozen vehicles. An eight-unit property would further tightening the space and adding safety concerns, critics say.

Before the meeting, Robina Cullen, who lives next door to 329 Buller St. with her daughter, said when she purchased her house nearly three decades ago, it was her dream home, but the potential for the project was “going to be a nightmare.”

The 71-year-old retired accountant said another home that backs onto the overcrowded alleyway had undergone two years of construction, adding she was “thinking that I’m going to have to sell my house if this goes through, because I don’t know that I can take any more.”

City council approval is needed to permit a zone change that would redesignate 329 Buller St. from low to medium density, thus allowing the single-family home to be converted into eight units.

The City of Woodstock's threshold for medium housing density is 30 units per acre. Although the proposal is permissible at 24 units per acre and had city staff's support, politicians sided with neighbours despite Woodstock's push to build more homes.

“We recognize the need (for more housing) is large everywhere in Ontario,” Mayor Jerry Acchione said. “But, we're trying to keep Woodstock the friendly city it is and recognize neighborhoods for what they are and take their opinions and thoughts into consideration when looking at these (proposals).”

Acchione pledged to the provincial government in October that Woodstock would construct 5,500 new homes by 2031 as part of the More Homes Built Faster Act. Municipalities that have signed on and reach their assigned targets gain access to a piece of a $1.2-billion fund.

Niznik, the nearby resident, said she’s not opposed to a duplex or triplex at 329 Buller St., but said: “The infrastructure doesn't exist to support that eight-plex.”

Cullen described herself as "cautiously happy" with council's vote. The owner of the home can still appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal, which adjudicates local land-use decisions by municipal governments provincewide.

Although council voted against the application, the applicant still has the option of appealing to the Ontario Land Tribunal who can overturn Woodstock council’s decision.

"Obviously we're very relieved, but we know that the fight isn't over yet," Cullen said.

Brian Williams, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press