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Oakville Ward 2 by-election infill concerns

March 16. 2016
Leah Wong

The changing appearance of older neighbourhoods in Oakville is at the heart of the Ward 2 by-election, as residents grow concerned about the number of larger infill developments replacing older single-family homes.

The infill issue has emerged as a hot topic among the 11 candidates vying to replace former councillor Pam Damoff, who was elected as the Oakville-North Burlington MP in last fall’s federal election. In interviews with NRU, candidates also raised Oakville’s housing affordability, transit and economic development as issues in the by-election set for April 11.

On infill development projects, several candidates said some neighbourhoods are in transition and the town needs to change how it deals with applications for minor variances.

“You’re seeing a lot of teardowns and much, much bigger homes being built [in Ward 2],” said candidate Hart Jansson, contending that local residents do not have enough say about the type of changes that come with infill development.

Jansson, a former president of the West Harbour Residents’ Association, questioned the minor variances being approved by the Committee of Adjustment. He said that the four criteria for minor variances are too subjective, particularly the test of whether or not something is desirable for a neighbourhood. However, he’s hopeful that Oakville can add another test when the province further defines what constitutes a minor variance—a change coming as part of the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act.

“In Oakville we have a comprehensive set of urban design guidelines for established neighbourhoods. I’d like to see a test that, in some manner, tests whether the proposed development meets the urban design guidelines as defined for stable neighbourhoods in Oakville,” said Jansson. “I think it would go a long way in making this a much more sensible process.”

Candidate Chris Kowalchuk, a past president of the West River Residents’ Association, would like to see the town reform the operation of the COA or get rid of it altogether.

“We have an official plan and we have standards and by-laws in place to control development and growth, but every other application, it seems, goes to the Committee of Adjustment and [its] four criteria [for a minor variance] are so vague that there’s no accountability,” said Kowalchuk. “We have by-laws and we have existing zoning in place, let’s just enforce that.”

Candidate John Pilcher said that as the town benefits from the extra property taxes that come with the reassessment of infill developments, it could use the additional tax revenue funds community projects.

“We need to put that [extra] money collected from taxes back into local neighbourhoods,” said Pilcher.

With the construction of larger and more expensive homes, some residents are concerned about the impact on their property, such as the potential for increased property tax assessment.

“It brings forward a bunch of issues… because all of a sudden people who have lived in an area for dozens of years, many who are on fixed incomes, find themselves with their property taxes going up simply because the house next door to them was bought by a developer, torn down, [and replaced by a more expensive house],” said candidate Dirk Soeterik.

Candidate Ruth Anne McAuley suggests the town look at initiatives in other municipalities to provide residents with relief from rising property taxes. For example, she said the town could allow homeowners to defer a portion of their property taxes until they sell their home. This could assist seniors living on a fixed income to stay in their house as their property increases in value, she said.

“Surely there are some creative ways that we could help them. It’s something that’s worth investigating,” said McAuley.

Other candidates cited what they see as a lack of affordable housing options in Oakville as a concern for local residents.

Candidate Fraser Damoff, the son of the former councillor, said Oakville needs to encourage the development of a mix of housing types, rather than just single-family homes, so that younger people can aff ord to live in the town.

Candidate Cheryle McCullagh also raised housing affordability as an election issue. “Oakville is quite expensive for purchasing a home and rental units are also quite expensive,” she said.

McCullagh noted that some local Catholic schools have experienced declining enrollment because young families cannot afford to buy homes in older neighbourhoods. As a result, she said, some students now have to travel further to school. She wants see the town to work with developers to locate family-friendly affordable housing development near schools.

As the town grows, residents are also experiencing increased traffic congestion on local roads. Several candidates recommended more options than currently available to get around the town.

Transit is a priority for candidate Julie McLeod, who says Oakville should follow the lead of the City of Mississauga in making reducing the cost of transit for seniors. Mississauga is running a pilot project that allows seniors to ride transit for a $1 cash fare during off peak hours and on weekends.

McLeod said a transit fare break would encourage seniors to use transit and boost off -peak ridership.

While Metrolinx is improving commuter connections to Toronto, Damoff said he would like to see the town provide additional transportation options around the GO Transit stations.

Presently he said most residents drive to the station even though their trip is short enough to make cycling an option. However, he said there are no safe connections to the station. He would like to see a network of bike lanes around the station to encourage residents to trade their cars for bikes.

Some candidates suggested they would add a different voice to council.

As an immigrant to Canada, candidate Shiba Anjum said she would bring the perspective of someone who has integrated into a new community. She also noted a major gender gap on council—only two of the 12 councillors are women. Whatever the election results, she hopes that the election will add a female voice on council.

In addition to the demands of representing local residents, candidate Sean Neville said anyone elected to council will need skills and capability to steer a multi-million budget. He said that, as a local business owner, he understands the needs of local businesses and how they use municipal services. He said he would also engage local businesses to ensure their concerns are being heard at council.

Oakville By-Election Ward 2 candidates