When election campaign talk turned to the need for affordable housing, said Coun. Edwin Wiens, he never expected to see it come to anything.
Yet there he was at council Monday, just five months into the term, being offered an opportunity to work with a developer who wants to build two apartments, 40 units each.
Rainer Hummel spoke to councillors Monday to gauge how interested they would be in providing low-cost apartments for young people, seniors, or anyone else who might rent a unit in the $1,200 a month range, although he cautioned that’s just an estimate.
He owns 16 acres of property across from Crossroads Public School, he said, and could use three acres fronting on Niagara Stone Road for the apartments, likely five storeys high, with partial underground parking linking the two buildings to avoid devoting a large proportion of the property to a parking lot.
The remaining 13 acres would be mixed use residential, he said, to be built at some point in the future. There are houses on three of the four lots that make up the 13 acres, one of them the home of Mary Snider, long-time resident of NOTL. When he bought the property it was on the understanding that the senior would stay there until she’s ready to leave.
The project would be funded under the National Housing Strategy which provides for affordable rental accommodations, he said, with a deadline of 2021. It can’t be used to build student housing, a retirement home or Airbnbs.
There is a potential for a major parkland initiative, with the Four Mile Creek Trail nearby and a treed portion of the property protected by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.
Although there could be access from Regional Road 55, he said he’d like to see access from Line 3 to a currently-unopened Concession 5.
Hummel said he would be looking for municipal support before proceeding — one of the many conditions of the loan would be having zoning in place, a site plan in process and a building permit available.
He said he’s at the very early stages of development, and wouldn’t go further before ensuring the Town is onside.
“Today I’ve put the cart before the horse,” he said, explaining he wouldn’t typically be at council without a much more detailed plan.
“I don’t need to do this, but I’m willing to do this, if there’s a desire for it.”
Without municipal involvement, he wouldn’t be likely to get approval for a loan from the affordable housing initiative.
He wasn’t at council just to ask for support. He said he would also be asking for concessions on development charges and all municipal fees, a concession on park dedication fees for the rental buildings, and a four-year period of zero property taxes with incremental increases to full taxation by year 10.
“The biggest challenge is the property tax holiday,” Hummel said. “I can see that being a challenge for any community.”
But he explained the affordable housing project is just “an outlier” to the mixture of homes on the rest of the property, which would bring in tax revenue.
One of the most important requirements for him to move forward would be expedited approvals. “To be eligible, we must be shovel-ready,” he said, explaining that he’s not expecting that to happen in months — it will have to go through all the regular processes. “The program lasts to 2021.”
There are housing challenges in NOTL for young people and seniors, and this project could appeal to both, he said. The school across the street would make it attractive to young families, and affordable rent would attract those in the hospitality industry, he added.
Hummel’s plan was to determine whether council would be supportive before he moves on to further studies to determine the mix for the rest of the property, but councillors had other ideas, with several suggesting although they are indeed interested in the project, they would like to see the plan for the entire 16 acres before giving unqualified support.
Coun. Allan Bisback said he finds the proposal “intriguing and interesting,” but would like more details. “As we move forward, I’d like to see what’s happening on all 16 acres, not just three acres.”
Council voted to ask staff for a report on the feasibility of the project.