Norfolk County is beginning to bridle at the suggestion that it is southern Ontario’s designated retirement community.
“I struggle when I hear ‘retirement, retirement,’” Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman said at the Dec. 10 meeting of Norfolk council.
“Who determined that Norfolk is a ‘retirement community’?”
Huffman’s comments came during a discussion of a contentious subdivision proposal that has met with stiff resistance in Port Rowan.
MDR Developments of Toronto wants to build 136 group townhouses on a 13-acre parcel on the west side of College Street.
For it to do so, MDR needs the county’s permission to rezone the parcel from R-1 (for single-family dwellings) to R-4 for housing types of much higher density.
MDR promotes the project as luxury living for retirees. Prices for the units, council heard, will start in the range of $450,000.
John Vallee of G. Douglas Vallee Ltd. in Simcoe is agent for the applicant.
In his presentation to council, Vallee spoke of a recent public meeting at the Port Rowan Community Centre. There, residents were openly hostile to the concept of high-density housing, connecting it to low-income public housing and the social problems associated with that.
“This,” Vallee said, “came as a bit of a shock to us.”
“This is luxury living, not low-income housing,” Vallee said. “This is not something that will detract from the value of existing homes.”
Mayor Kristal Chopp and her council colleagues have a good idea of the county’s mood thanks to constant emails, instantaneous feedback on social media, and more traditional means of communication.
At last Tuesday’s meeting, Chopp predicted council will receive complaints and demands from MDR clients once they realize there aren’t as many doctors per capita in Norfolk County as the cities from which they came.
Chopp also predicted there will be complaints from residents about paying the same taxes as everyone else but receiving fewer services due to living in a private condominium compound.
Chopp concluded by saying Norfolk wants to do business with developers who take the initiative and address the deficiencies their customers will eventually notice and remark upon.
“I don’t think it registers sometimes all the challenges councillors have when these demands are not met,” Chopp said.
Chopp wondered what Norfolk County will look like several decades from now once the last of the baby boomers have vacated the last of the retirement communities built specifically for them.
Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele asked developer Mark Siegel if he were prepared to compromise on the question of density. Siegel was non-committal. He pointed out that MDR specializes in high-density deluxe housing for seniors, retirees and empty-nesters.
“It’s not really something we do,” Siegel said, adding reducing the number of units would impact on the subdivision’s projected return-on-investment.
Norfolk council has spoken favourably about “inclusionary zoning” for subdivision proposals as a means of adding to the county’s inventory of affordable housing. This, however, has not been elevated into Norfolk’s official plan.
Windham Coun. Chris Van Paassen said council might be amenable to the idea of high-density townhouses in an R1 zone in exchange for something that helps the county address an ongoing social deficit. At least one Port Rowan resident agrees.
“I don’t think Norfolk needs any more luxury,” Darlene Elligson told council. “We need homes. We need families to come. Not everyone can afford $450,000 and up.”
The MDR application was deferred until January. This will give Siegel time to mull over council’s thoughts and determine what – if anything – he is willing to do to address the concerns shared at last Tuesday’s meeting.