About 200 homes slated for 13-acre property should city give the go ahead
Kiya Morphy feels a proposed subdivision on Hespeler’s Forbes estate property will erode the village’s “small town feel.”
In an open house attended by 90 residents and officials at the Guelph Avenue North home Wednesday night, owners Polocorp unveiled a planned development for the 13-acre property that includes 187 to 207 new residential units, including a 12-storey building facing the Speed River, with 100 to 138 apartments.
A zoning bylaw amendment and draft plan subdivision application was submitted to the city in October and will be brought to the city’s planning committee for a public meeting in early 2019.
“I guess I’m not into the high density,” said the Hespeler resident, adding she enjoys knowing the people she sees in the downtown daily.
“I’ve found since the other apartment buildings went up the amount of people around is just a lot. Of course, it’s good for foot traffic and what have you, but as far as traffic is concerned and safety, a whole bunch of different problems come with more people.
“I’ve been in Hespeler for 27 years; I don’t live in Toronto for a reason. I feel we’re turning into a mini-Toronto.”
To avoid that scenario, Morphy is in favour of keeping the history of the property intact, including fencing off the grounds from the Forbes home and adding trails and park land, as well as revitalizing George Forbes Wood Duck Sanctuary.
“Right now, it’s 13 acres of beautiful, old, mature trees. I walked all 13 acres (Wednesday) night and it’s a gorgeous property and the majority is going to come down. They’re going to keep like 20 trees in total,” she said of the estate and property, which has been a fixture in Hespeler since 1912.
In fact, the proposal laid out by Polocorp stated the trees surrounding the Forbes house will be protected, as well as 40 per cent open space on the entire property.
Within that seven to nine single-family detached homes on 40-foot wide lots will be built on Guelph Avenue, as well as 42 to 53 single-family detached homes on 30- to 40-foot wide lots and 16 townhomes on 25- to 30-foot lots will be built on the property. The apartment building is slated for the back of the property, closest to the river.
There will be links to the city’s trail system and there will be an application to designate the Forbes house under part four of the Ontario Heritage Act. Under that section, the property owner must apply to the municipality to make any changes to the identified heritage elements of the home.
Joseph Puopolo, chief marketing officer for Polocorp, said in a media release the development company was looking to “preserve and restore” the estate and held the open house “out of respect to our neighbours.”
“We encouraged them to offer us their observations and questions, before city hall starts the formal public review of our application next year. We’re proud of our company history of preserving historic properties and hope our neighbours see we care as much as they do about the future of the Forbes estate,” Puopolo stated.
Polocorp, based in Kitchener, restored the J.M. Schneider homestead on Queen Street in Kitchener and won the city’s 2004 Mike Wagner heritage award for the project.
Hespeler downtown businessperson and resident Cory de Villiers thinks Polocorp will meet the needs of the community with the proposed development, while preserving the integrity of the Forbes property.
“I think what it is, is it just creates a more complete neighbourhood,” de Villiers said.
“It’s very close to the village and a very good style of housing, a nice healthy mix of densities … that kind of healthy mix provides more opportunity for pedestrian traffic downtown to the Hespeler village. It provides more people living locally that will support local businesses and it just makes sense to utilize that space for additional housing, while still maintaining the Forbes development.”
With about 200 residential units put on 13 acres of land, de Villiers acknowledges it will be high density housing, but he believes that’s right where it belongs.
“It’s on public transit, it’s close to the village core and it’s new. That’s healthy urban planning procedure, so I think it’s exactly what needs to go over there.”
The one element missing from the proposed development is what’s going to be done with the house. de Villiers said Polocorp has restored the home since purchasing the property about six months ago and believes they will look to rezone it for commercial use for office space, a bed and breakfast or a spa.
“There’s definitely life in that building still and it’s going to be pretty exciting to see what comes into the old estate mansion in the future,” he said.
“I think they’ll make sure whatever goes in there in the future will be a great fit for the neighbourhood.”
The proposal has, as of yet, not caused as much debate as previous developments on the Forbes property. When Mattamy Homes bought a parcel of the land stretching to Black Bridge Road more than a decade ago, residents along Guelph and Milton avenues were up in arms.
Morphy said no one really knew what the open house was about until they arrived. She did say if there was enough opposition to the proposed development, the silence could get quite loud.
“With the number of people there last night, if someone were to mobilize something it definitely could,” she said.
Ward 1 Coun. Donna Reid also attended the open house and said she is in favour of development on the Forbes property, but cautioned it’s early in the process and there will likely be changes after public input into the project.
“I think it’s going to be a boon to Hespeler and to the community,” Reid said, adding housing density encourages transit.
“We’re trying to do a lot coming into the Hespeler core and I think having three estate homes kind of mirroring the other two estate homes that are there is going to look very nice and the development is all behind that.”
Reid also noted the history of building in the area on the Forbes land has drawn the ire of residents and she can understand their stance. However, growth is necessary to keep the downtown area thriving, she added.
“Change is happening, change along Guelph Avenue is happening and what we’re trying to do is make it as attractive as possible for people. We know if we want our core to remain vital as it is now we need to accept these changes. I’m really pleased what’s happening in our Hespeler core area; we’re doing really well.”