Enough with the NIMBY neighbours in Guelph

Opinion: high-density housing near campus makes sense


Guelph classroom photo by Andrew Tolson

A developer hoping to provide students with much-needed housing directly across from the entrance to the University of Guelph got tired of waiting for the city to decide on its proposal.

Abode Varsity Living was so tired, in fact, that it appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board to make the decision instead, reports the Guelph Mercury.

Good for the developer, I say. The site at the corner of Gordon St. and Stone Rd., a five minute walk to the University Centre, couldn’t be a better place to build a large student housing complex.

High-density housing near campus is much better for students than low-density suburbia, which is the increasingly common option in Guelph. Besides, the needs of 20,000 students should trump the demands of roughly 20 NIMBY neighbours.

The City has taken more than a year to make its recommendations for the project, in part because 20 residents of the Mayfield Park neighbourhood across from campus registered their opposition last January. The up-to 16-story development housing 1,600 students is simply too big, they said.

In response to the opposition, the City hired a facilitator to bring the two sides together. According to the Mayfield Park Community Association’s Kate MacDonald, the developer was willing to decrease the buildings’ height and lower the occupancy 18.75 per cent, from 1,600 to 1,300.

“But that’s still not acceptable,” MacDonald told The Mercury.

Personally, I think it’s unacceptable that other parts of Guelph will suffer more urban sprawl and clogged roads if developers can’t build dense housing close to campus. Personally, I think it’s unacceptable that many of the 1,300 students who might live at Gordon and Stone will endure longer commutes and more crowded buses if they’re forced to live on the suburban periphery.

Guelph has 20,000 students and counting. There was a 10 per cent increase in first-year students in 2011 alone. Those students need somewhere to live. Across from campus is the best option.

I know the options well. In my five years at Guelph between 2003 and 2008, I watched the campus population leak farther and farther into the city’s low-density south. In my final year, I moved into one of the south’s single-family homes and realized just how badly the neighbourhood works for students. The low-density makes buses few and far between. It makes the grocery stores difficult to reach by walking. There’s little recreation nearby. It’s OK if you have a car, but most students don’t.

If I’d lived closer to the school, I would have had a higher quality of life in that final year, plus less time spent on buses, which I could have used to study, work or volunteer.

In other words, I would have had a better experience in Guelph. Permanent residents of Guelph should care about that. The university is undoubtedly one of the reasons its unemployment rate remains one of the lowest in North America—4.1 per cent—at a time when similar cities without universities, like Barrie, Ont., have seen their unemployment float up to 11 per cent.

If residents near the university want low-density neighbourhoods they should consider moving south. The land beside the university is the best place for students—and the best thing for Guelph.


Enough with the NIMBY neighbours in Guelph

  1. you REALLY need to remove the bit about Barrie at the end, since it DOES have a university presence – and furthermore, it’s not a major contributing factor to the city’s unemployment rate. it’s just a pointless reach at the end of an article that’s going out of it’s way to be sensational. and i’ve complimented your articles before, Dehaas, but this is week.

    • B—You’re right that Laurentian university has presence in Barrie. But at 1,100 students, it’s really still quite small, so I think it’s reasonable to make the economic comparison. The cities are about the same size. They’re both diversified economically, but with one big difference—Guelph has the University of Guelph. Barrie has no institution of comparable size or research clout. The university has been a stable provider of jobs, plus spin-off jobs in life sciences and services throughout the recession and post-recession years, while manufacturers have laid off workers in both cities. That’s probably why Barrie’s city council has been forcefully lobbying for a new campus.

    • i think you meant weak, not week.

  2. Georgian College is one of, if not, the premiere destination for automotive and aviation programs in the country. Laurentian, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and York University all have programs offered through the Georgian College UPC. Furthermore, the city is little more than an hour away from about a half dozen other post-secondary institutions with sterling reputations.

    Barrie’s unemployment rate is tied to it’s lack of meaningful employment opportunities outside of retail sales representatives and the city council’s willingness to hand-out public land for retail and condominium developments, neither of which provide lasting careers. The lack of a university is a small factor in a sea of many larger ones that have caused the 11.1% unemployment rate for the Barrie CMA.

    I simply must, considering my knowledge of the local labour market and economic conditions, respectfully disagree with your assertion that a lack of university is responsible for the city’s unemployment rate. A claim you’ve clearly made.

  3. The point I wish to make is that even if a University institution were to come to Barrie, there would be no jobs for the graduates to move into, and it would be an import/export system of students coming into the city.

    As I mentioned earlier, Georgian College has a very attractive automotive program – but Barrie itself has an incredible lack of career opportunities for people with these skills. and THAT is the heart of the unemployment problem – it’s not a lack of intelligent, skilled youth. it’s a lack of opportunities for them.

  4. Hey Josh, I understand that you have the perspective of a student, since you’re a recent graduate. Mine is slightly different, since I am a resident in a neighbourhood that abuts a large university. You wrote:

    “If residents near the university want low-density neighbourhoods they should consider moving south. The land beside the university is the best place for students—and the best thing for Guelph.”

    This statement implies that residents in this neighbourhood bought their houses knowing full well that high-density housing was likely to spring up nearby, but is this really the case? Many of them may have been there for decades. Or, like me, they may have paid a premium to move into such a neighbourhood so that they would be able to commute on foot. Your piece seems to suggest that such people are simply SOL, and should cut their losses and move further away. Yet many of those hypothetical student residents will be gone once they have completed their educations, so is it really valid to place their needs over those of the long-term residents who have made a substantial commitment to that neighbourhood? Do the needs of the many always outweigh the needs of the few, even when the many are mostly transient?

    I don’t know the Guelph area, so I have to ask honestly: are there other nearby options? Does the new development have to go there?

    • Hi GrumpyProf

      There’s no where else that’s undeveloped near campus. Every parcel of empty land is a significant distance away. In fact, to build this the developer would be knocking down a hotel. I hope my argument didn’t come across as blunt, because I’m not suggesting local residents SOL. I am suggesting they should have accepted some level of density—they’ve been offered significant compromises from the developer. Also, I would guess that most of the neighbourhood’s houses are much newer than the university itself. The campus’s Agriculture College and Vet School are each more than a century old. Most of the south end of campus was built in the 1960s. They can hardly be surprised.


      • Clearly Josh doesn’t know what he’s speaking of. The University has acres of undeveloped land ON CAMPUS, and trust me, if the university felt there was a need for housing (and they don’t based on their research and their website which states,take your time finding housing in Guelph, there is plenty available both on campus and off), they would take care of it themselves and develop more residential housing. Furthermore, temporary residents (students) do not contribute to long term intensification goals. The south end part of Guelph contributes SIGNIFICANT tax revenue for the city, how much do students represent. This development makes no sense in terms of responsible development, we are all in favour of that!

  5. Thanks for the additional info, Josh. As I said, I don’t know that area, and it may be that people living there had every reason to expect the appearance of high density housing. Also, I had forgotten from the Mercury article that this would be built on the site of a hotel, which is already not all that desirable, so maybe the new project would not be that big of a change.

    And in general, I am a believer in evolving our urban models towards greater density and less sprawl. I just thought I picked up a little bit of dismissiveness about the other side of the argument, when (in my experience, at least) residents are often willing to work with developers, and actually may have valid concerns about some aspects of the project. At the risk of overgeneralizing, I think it can be said that most developers are interested in maximizing their return by building as much onto a property as they can fit, While there was an offer to decrease the total occupancy, I have to assume that the height (and the shadow cast by such a wide structure) would still be very substantial. I guess I can’t fault the nearby homeowners for being alarmed by such a project. Can you?

  6. Stone Road is a busy road. Anyone who purchased homes near a road that has a large shopping mall and a number of plazas around it should not be surprised by a request to increase density. Compact urban development such as this proposal is good for the environment. The students can walk to class, get groceries and many necessities without needing a car or public transportation. Everyone agrees that it is better to build up than to build out. It is the only way we can keep cities sustainable. People who live in residential neighbourhoods in large energy consuming single family homes are the real problems for cities. They gobble up land, and force people to rely on vehicles to get around. Very few people realistically need a sprawing 3 or 4 bedroom single family home, especially with our aging population. People who live in these homes and perpetuate this lifestyle are dinosaurs. It is time for cities like Guelph to modernize and move forward. Being stagnet will never help improve a city.

    • I think you missed the fact that the neighbourhood understands and accepts the need for intensification. If you read the newspaper articles and any related blogs it is clear they have retained planning experts and the consensus is that they are not adverse to a mixed-use medium density development for that site. The developer’s proposal far exceeds all of the high density limits for the city.

      The properties in the neighbourhood were built long before Stone Rd West became a commercial district and long before the University lands stretched as far south as Stone Rd. This complex is not intended to provide new housing for the general population of Guelph as the Developers intend that at only students will live there. Which is, in all likelyhood contrary to Human Rights legislation.

      I read that over 700 people signed to petition against the development and I haven’t counted the houses but I think that number is far closer to the population of the area instead of 20. I am sure you are not seriously proposing that people who have lived in the neighbourhood for years sell their single family homes and move to the far south end so that the neighbourhood surrounding the University can be filled with high rise developments that are higher than even the highest allowed by the city by-laws.

      What the area needs is responsible development with some thought given to what makes Guelph a great place to live for everyone. The City should be developed in keeping with good planning principles that allow for intensification.

      It is expected there will be 341/ 5 bedroom units in these building and the rent for each bedroom will be in excess of $600.00/month plus hydro,cable,parking etc. That is well over $3,000.00 /month per unit. This is not affordable housing for students… this is a multi million dollar investment opportunity for out of town ( maybe even US ) developers. Given the layout what will happen to a single use designed facility if the price tag is just too high for students and the developer’s business plan is flawed?

      Take a walk by the site and try to picture a 14 and 16 storey building there this is Guelph not Gotham.

  7. I can’t help but be struck by the resonance to the ‘Living next to an airport’ excuse.

    I very much favour ‘the development’ at Stone and Gordon, but beside that, I’ve seen this argument against time and again. You can’t stand in the way of Progress!

    If the Developers didn’t have a financial case, then they wouldn’t be building. These folks have a background of these kinds of projects, lots online.

    UofG should have realized they had the need….for years! Why does Private Enterprise even have to be involved?

    Because there’s a Demand! How can supposedly university-educated types be so stupid? Guelph’s housing market is horribly distorted by desperate students looking to rent anything…and Guelph inspector(s) just doesn’t seem to notice the abysmal standards kept.

  8. SJ writes:
    [This complex is not intended to provide new housing for the general population of Guelph as the Developers intend that at only students will live there. Which is, in all likelyhood contrary to Human Rights legislation.]

    You know, I couldn’t read any further when I read that. It’s SO off. I expect pure conjecture from anything else you write after that.

    OF COURSE they can rent to “Students Only”. The application of HR leg is that “Students Only” must be applied equally.

    How do you think every other campus in this (Province)(Nation) does it?

    And do the incredibly simple math: Those students in that residence are ones not taking up the rental market in the rest of the community. That means standards will rise. Market Forces….I’m not even Right Wing, but c’mon!

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