Council approves county’s plan for affordable housing 4-3

The vote might have been closer to unanimous had Centre Wellington council waited an extra few weeks before it approved a bylaw that will permit 55 units of afford­able housing on Gordon Street in Fergus.

As it was, council approved the affordable housing project by a 4-3 vote.

Wellington County had ask­ed the township to change the zoning of a 6.5 acre parcel of land on the north side of Gordon Street, east of Highway 6.

The land is desig­nated highway commercial and core greenlands and is zoned for highway commercial and en­viron­mental protection. The county also asked for an official plan amendment to change the land use to residential and core greenlands.

Wellington County recently received  $4.3-million in grants for affordable housing, and designated Fergus as the coun­ty’s highest priority. County officials recently ex­plained to Centre Wellington council they looked elsewhere in the com­munity for some land, but the parcel on Gordon Street was the best land available, and the most suitable.

But when council consid­ered a bylaw for the changes on Monday night, councillor Fred Morris said he was re­luctant to give all three read­ings at that meeting.

He told council there are some residents in the area with some questions about the pro­ject. Much of the talk appears to centre on a fear of social housing being placed in the neighbourhood, but that is not the case.

County planner Gary Cous­ins told council a few weeks ago the building would have 37 one-bedroom units and 18 two-bedroom units.

It could be for people with mobility issues, and rents would be 80% of average rents in the town. It would attract families, seniors, and people with disabilities.

Cousins said it will be for people who are em­ploy­ed but cannot afford housing in the area.

Morris told council there is “a lot of misinformation” about the project being spread through the town, and he would like to see a delay so people can have a chance to comment.

Morris said he is not opposed to the project, but he simply wanted some extra time.

But Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj pointed out the township received no negative comments at its public meeting of last month, and only one letter of concern.

She asked staff if there had been any complaints or comments about the county’s proposal.

Township planner Brett Salmon said there had been one question directed to his office, but that was all.

Councillor Bob Foster told council he is finding that people are “misinformed” about the project, and that the building will be for “working poor – not social housing. It’s been misunderstood.”

Ross-Zuj said the project is “something our municipality has been in need of.”

Foster agreed, “We’re looking at affordable housing.”

Morris said that is a term that is not clearly understood by some people, so he would like a delay.

Council was unanimous when it passed the first and second readings of the bylaw. However, Morris asked that the third reading be separated for the vote from a number of other bylaws. There was no formal motion to delay the third reading, and since it was on the agenda, council held a vote.

The result was 4-3 in favour, with Ross-Zuj breaking the tie. Those in favour included councillors Shawn Watters, Kirk McElwain, and Ron Hallman.

Morris, Foster, and Walt Visser voted against it. Visser always opposes three readings of bylaws, believing that there should be some time for final comments.

Wellington County coun­cil­lor and social services chairman Gord Tosh also attended the meeting to hear the debate.

Tosh said later that he was pleased that the project was approved, even if the vote was close.