Friday, August 12 2022

KITCHENER — The corner of Francis and Charles streets in downtown Kitchener will house the tallest condo tower in the Region of Waterloo.

Kitchener councilors approved the development of 532 residential units at a council meeting Monday evening.

Councilors also approved plans for a 25-story apartment building at King and Pines Streets across from Grand River Hospital.

“We have to expect what our city will be like in 20 years,” the councilor said. Dave Schnider, referring to the Francis Street South development.

“How do we want to grow? Where can we grow? What’s the best way to grow with TLR? ” he said.

“Not everyone wants to live in the suburbs with a big lot and a car. Some people don’t want a car,” Schnider said.

“We need housing options and good places to build them,” he said. “We have to offer great options and this building delivers.”

Councilors unanimously supported the 231-unit skyscraper on King Street near the hospital, but the tower on Francis Street South was opposed by two councillors.

Com. Bil Ioannidis said the Francis Street developer made changes to its application to include more space for electric vehicles, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building standards, 19% barrier-free units, the upgrades to nearby green spaces and a major donation for an affordable housing project in downtown Kitchener.

“This project alone is quite impressive,” he said.

“This developer has given back more to this community than any other development,” he said.

IN8 Developments told councilors at a committee meeting earlier this month that they would donate $600,000 to the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Affordable Housing Project. Developer Darryl Firsten said he would also match dollar for dollar for the remaining $550,000 needed for the church to apply for government funding.

The church congregation has pledged $600,000 to meet the $1.7 million goal required before funds from other levels of government are made available. The total project cost is $17.5 million.

Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said local tech companies have “thousands” of jobs they are trying to fill.

“One of the challenges is housing,” he said. “At two percent (vacancy rate), we are unable to meet the needs of our community.”

Vrbanovic said he would prefer new condominium units to be owned by those who live there or by small investors.

“Either these rental units are owned by individuals who use them as an investment, or they are owned by large REITs. I would rather see a lot of small, independent people owning them than big REITs that are frankly focused on accumulating as much real estate as possible,” he said. REITs are large real estate investment trusts.

Com. John Gazzola and the adviser. Debbie Chapman voted against the Francis Street project.

“At first glance, a tall building at 30 Francis doesn’t seem out of place,” Chapman said, referring to its downtown location, proximity to light rail and residential neighborhoods that aren’t immediately impacted.

But 44 floors far exceed the heights of the area, she said. Neighboring towers such as One Victoria and Charlie West are 19 and 34 stories high respectively.

Chapman and Gazzola say their biggest concerns are with “bonus deals.” Provincial land use planning legislation allows municipalities to use beneficiation measures to allow for an increase in building size in exchange for a developer providing community benefits.

“It looks like an arbitrary increase in height without any grounding,” she said.

Gazzola said councilors could have imposed certain demands – such as an affordable housing floor – on the developer, which would still allow the builder to make money.

“It is not a crime or illegal to profit. Nothing wrong with that,” acknowledged Gazzola who added that new high-rise developments like these produce excessive profits.

“At the end of the day, we end up with a new level of high cost of living,” he said.

Chapman said the city’s density ratio — the number of people and jobs per hectare — is meeting its goals and those of the province.

“I think we should take a deep breath and slow down…rather than reacting to every new proposal that comes our way piecemeal,” she said.

“We can say no. As a council, we are the only ones with the power to say no,” she said.

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