Petitions surface over housing initiative


A proposed housing initiative has sparked online debate and multiple opposing petitions.

The discussion surrounds the proposed zoning amendment submitted to Council by the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, to retrofit St. Micheal’s School into a mixed-use complex, including senior’s apartments, and an EarlyON children’s centre. The plan calls for the existing playground to be moved closer to the building, and the former school yard to be converted to five 8-plex buildings. The vision is a mix of affordable and market-rate units, with each 8-plex containing six one-bedroom and two bachelor apartments. The goal was to fill a gap in the community for apartments suited to single people, young people needing their own first apartment, and downsizing seniors, who want to live on their own, but not in a senior’s complex.

The plan was the topic of a public meeting, which took place during the last council meeting, on April 12. The proposal requires zoning for the area to be altered from I (institutional) to R2. Those opposed at the meeting felt there was insufficient time for the public to view the plan, and called for more consultation.

Although both petitions state their support of the school retrofit, they part ways on what’s to become of the yard.

A petition titled “Save the Green Space at St. Michael’s School” was launched by Caitlyn Morrison. It argues that the destruction of green space, “is not in the best interest of the citizens of Fort Frances.”

“It is a well used park that has been green space for over six decades. It has been used by the community for many activities such as soccer, exercise, picnic area, dog exercise, golf lessons, football and just a great safe area for kids to play.

“We are not objecting to the school retrofit that would allow the repurposing of the existing school into senior apartments and a day nursery. We are specifically objecting to section four, where it states the potential of five to eight multi resident buildings. We feel this area could be utilized better for the benefit of the community and surrounding residents.”

Those who signed argue that the school yard a safe place to play, because it’s not secluded, but is centred around a residential area, not on a busy street, and is fully fenced. Some argued that housing could go elsewhere in the town.

“This park/green space is the perfect place to bring a family. Please keep it as it is. There are so many other places apartments can go,” said one responder.

“There is no question that affordable housing is needed in Fort Frances, but I don’t agree that this large green space should the place for this,” said another signer. “I am NOT opposed to the actual school building transitioning into an EarlyON Centre and Housing Units at all. Just keep this large green space in the east end of town as it is the last of its kind, and provides a playground and field that is NOT located by a high traffic, busy street or a bush line. This space is used daily by many families in the area. There are many other locations in Fort Frances that can be used for housing units.”

A petition in support of the housing development, titled “We Support the St. Michael’s Housing Development” was launched by Dawson Mihichuk. Although it supports the housing plan, it calls for RRDSSAB to work with the town to preserve as much green space as possible in the area.

“…our town is in desperate need of more housing,” the petition reads. “We recognize that there are concerns about green space and what will happen to the park. We request that you work with the RRDSSAB to tweak the project so as to preserve more green space, however we do not want you to oppose the construction of the 8-plexes. Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater and build more housing!”

The lack of affordable housing in Fort Frances was the inspiration for many who signed the petition.

“Our town is severely lacking in affordable housing and many people are suffering and living in crisis due to this. A housing development like this would significantly help the lives of those in need,” said one commenter.

“I live in low income myself. I have a good job that doesn’t pay minimum wage but as a single mother I cannot afford housing in Fort Frances. Everything is inflated in Fort right now and it’s HARD for regular people that are not employed at the mine. I’m 100 per cent for this development and can’t wait to see it started,” wrote another signer.

The request for rezoning could be revisited by council as early as Monday.