St. Michael’s in council tonight

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

The rezoning request submitted by the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board (RRDSSAB) to change St. Michael’s zoning from Institutional Type One (I) to Residential Type Two (R2) is making an appearance on tonight’s council agenda.

This comes after a public meeting was held two weeks ago where some members of the public had the chance to express either their support of or opposition to the development request.

If council approves the rezoning request tonight, the property on which the former St. Michael’s school was located will be renovated to 13 housing units for seniors, with the inclusion of an EarlyON nursery.

The rest of the property will be utilized to construct five 8-plexes, which would add up to 40 units of bachelors and one-bedroom apartments.

Dan McCormick, chief administrative officer at RRDSSAB, said although the five 8-plexes are partly community housing, it is predominantly market rent apartments, with some units being 30 per cent less than market value.

“These are higher end apartments, but a portion of them have to be classed as affordable and that depends on the funding source that we actually use,” McCormick said.

The potential development of these five 8-plexes concerned some residents around the area who wrote letters to council and created a petition to voice their opposition to the development.

A letter submitted by Scott Fawcett, 63, expressed his support for the redevelopment of the former St. Michael’s school for senior housing and the EarlyON Centre, but is opposed to the construction of the five 8-plexes.

This opposition, Fawcett said, stems from concerns that the town would lose the third and last significant recreational green space that existed east of Frenette Avenue in 1980.

“Where do young teens and families get to go where there’s greenspace? The answer is there won’t be any,” Fawcett said.

Coupled with the loss of parkland, Fawcett said properties around St. Michael’s would lose the two features that added to the value of their properties – backyard privacy and a quiet neighborhood.

Dave Legg, 59, concerned about the timeline, also wrote to council asking for more time to gather around a virtual table to ask questions about the developments the neighborhood would potentially witness.

Cody Vangel, chief building officer and municipal planner, said they met all the legislative timelines from the day they received the rezoning request from RRDSSAB.

The request was submitted on Feb. 26, 2021, the public meeting notice was put out on March 4, and the public meeting took place on April 12.

“I just felt that there wasn’t enough time since those plans were made public to allow the public to make a decision and provide comments to council,” Legg said. “We weren’t allowed to ask questions about the proposal that DSSAB has because council’s only concern was should they rezone it or not. It had nothing to do with what was being built on there.”

For example, during the public meeting held on April 12, Legg’s wife asked whether DSSAB has a policy on the number of individuals who can stay at one apartment.

During the same meeting, McCormick said there is no such policy in place as these apartments would be similar to any other apartments for rent in Fort Frances.

This lack of regulation, Legg said, concerns him.

“Some of the RRDSSAB housings in the area are visited by the police on a regular basis,” Legg said. “We don’t necessarily want that to be happening in our neighborhood.”

On the other hand, Dawson Mihichuk, 22, also created a petition for those in favour of seeing the five 8-plexes constructed. Mihichuk said the greenspace argument does not hold up because there are plenty of parks 75 metres away from St. Michael’s.

“People seem to really be opposed to those five 8-plex housing units,” Mihichuk said. “Some people say it’s about the park, but many people are saying that they don’t want affordable housing in their neighborhood. They don’t want poor people in their neighborhood. Some are worried about property values and crime.”

Mihichuk said affordable housing developments do not result in increased crime, and they do not result in decreased property value.

After graduating from the University of Ottawa, Mihichuk moved back to his hometown only to find rental apartments on par a with what he would find Ottawa. Mihichuk said this is why young people move to Thunder Bar and southern Ontario.

Although this is not the only reason young people choose to relocate, Mihichuk said if you do not work at the mine and pull in a six-figure salary, you cannot buy a $500,000 house in town.

“The reality is, we have a severe housing shortage in this town. I can tell you who’s going to live in those buildings. It’s going to be people you know. It’s going to be your friends, neighbors, grandparents, brothers and sisters.”

And while Fawcett disagrees with one part of the plan, being the construction of the five 8-plexes, he said compromise is the solution.

Fawcett said should the town consider swapping the five 8-plex development at St. Michael’s in exchange for space in the Shevlin Woodyard development, it would provide youth the advantage of being geographically close to recreational opportunities at the Memorial Sports Centre.

All letters in favour of and in opposition to the rezoning request are attached to council’s agenda tonight.

Vangel said he is glad to see that of the members of the public are writing in with their concerns.

“We’ll make sure that council has that information to address,” he added.