Rezoning approved for apartment project with affordable units

Rezoning approved for apartment project with affordable units

A small step to help address the affordable housing gap in Sarnia won out against neighborhood concerns about backyard privacy, as a proposal to build a six-storey apartment building on Murphy Road church property earned Sarnia city council’s OK this week.

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A small step to help address the affordable housing gap in Sarnia won out against neighborhood concerns about backyard privacy after Sarnia city council endorsed a proposal to build a six-storey apartment building on a Murphy Road church property this week.


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“I view this as probably the most important rezoning we’ve dealt with this term,” Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said about Monday’s 7-2 decision to allow the 19.5 metre-tall, 46-unit build.

“It sends a very clear message that we are a mixed-use community, and we will deal with issues to help people and go through the bumps of negative public reaction, at least in the case of the neighborhood, to achieve a much better and higher goal,” he said.

Half the units would be affordable for at least a 20-year period, which means being rented at less than 80 per cent of the median market rent, under the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation National Housing Co-Investment Fund program to which project proponents are applying for up to 95 per cent of the estimated $12-million cost, officials have said .

“We have all heard from countless citizens about how desperately our community needs affordable housing,” said Coun. Bill Dennis.

Other than a portion of the 21-unit Wellington Flats apartment building beside the Vision Nursing Home and a 24-unit expansion underway at Lambton County’s 54-unit Maxwell Park Place, there are few affordable options available in the city, said Brian Mundt of Wellington Ridge Development, the non-profit owned by Vision ’74 Inc. that’s helping land-owner St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church with the project.

“There’s a lot of people that need housing,” he said. “We’re hoping we can help inspire others.”


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Building could start by spring of 2023, Mundt said.

The project is designed to help the church – remaining on the 1299-1331 Murphy Rd. property, along with a daycare – with revenue losses amid lower attendance while helping address the critical lack of affordable housing in Sarnia, he said.

Work has been underway since August 2020 on the Murphy Road proposal and, now with rezoning approved, the application for funding can start, he said.

That means re-engaging consultants, he added.

“The reality with the pandemic climate is things take longer than normal,” he said, but remains “optimistic that we’ll be able to file for application this year.”

Neighbors in the largely single-detached housing subdivision northwest of Michigan Avenue told council they’re worried about apartment-dwellers peering into their backyards, as well as lights and noises from the parking lot, and the building being out of character with the neighborhood.

“All in all, this creates a great uneasiness to the residents of Severin Drive North and Severin Drive South,” said Bill Hoad.

There were also written concerns expressed about increased traffic, low-income tenants in the building, property grading and fencing, and property devaluation.

A traffic study predicted no significant impact on Murphy Road. Several councilors also suggested fears about property devaluation were unfounded.

City planners said a six-storey building would be an appropriate transition between nearby commercial, noting the property is located along an arterial road.


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Sarnia’s minimum intensification for new residential is 40 per cent, the staff report noted.

“I don’t think that neighborhoods exist in vacuums,” added Coun. Nathan Colquhoun.

“And as much as I want to honor and respect the neighbors that have preferences, I also think (council’s decision) needs to fall in line with an overall city strategy.”

Sarnia’s sprawl needs to be built up amid expected population growth so city services are more affordable, but the Murphy Road project is also a vital step to address the current housing crisis, Coun. Brian White said.

“It’s time we step up, move out of the ’80s, and support not only what is a fairly modest development of an arterial road, but make a stand and say that we support affordable housing for all members of our community.”

count. Terry Burrell, meanwhile, called the proposal “the definition of an overdevelopment of a site.”

He said the “blockbuster” move will lead to similar builds and disrupt stable neighborhoods.

Eighty-nine parking spaces on the site – enough to meet weekend church and weekday daycare demands that don’t overlap, as well as apartment building needs, proponents said – is way off the 178 spaces needed under a strict reading of city bylaws, Burrell said.

Requiring one spot per eight seats at the church because of lower attendance, instead of one per six, and only one per apartment unit instead of 1.5 because they’re geared to seniors and women older than 60 is a rationalization that ignores the potential of the property changing hands, Burrell said.


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“So as this develops over time and as there are changes in owners and changes in uses and whatever, they’ll say ‘Well this was approved, so we can go ahead,’” he said.

“This is just too far from reality for me, so I will not be supporting it.”

count. George Vandenberg also voted against, arguing six storeys was too high based on his conversations with neighbours.

“It’s their neighborhood,” he said, adding “if it was a four-storey building, I’d be all over it.”

A certain number of units are needed to make the project financially viable and building wider creates more problems, Mundt said.

He expressed thanks for council’s decision.

“It’s been a lot of work and a lot of energy put in, so we’re very thrilled and pleased with the outcome.”

-with files from Paul Morden

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