Collaboration with industry required for local housing crisis, says area developer
A major factor impacting the region’s attainable housing crisis is the lack of collaboration between the municipality and the development industry, according to Thomas Vincent, president of Global Hospitality Inc. and Collingwood’s Balmoral Village.
“How serious are these municipalities really about developing attainable housing if they don’t even approach the industry that is going to build it?” said Vincent.
“Why wouldn’t you sit down with people in the industry as quickly as possible – i.e. several years ago – and collaborate? Get us all in a room and say here are the issues and here’s what we have to do. They have to work with the industry, so why is there no dialogue?”
For the past 30 years, Vincent has been involved in the building and development industry in South Georgian Bay. As an employer and involved industry member, Vincent has been aware of the region’s growing housing crisis for several decades.
“If we don’t get this done, we are going to fail as a community. We’re failing our young people now. We are not going to have people up here. We’re not going to be able to provide services,” he said.
Almost four years ago Vincent presented an attainable housing concept to the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM).
The proposal involved a public-private partnership agreement between Global Hospitality and the town for the creation of 400 rental units on town-owned land in Craigleith.
“My employee village concept consists of dorm-style accommodation, small housing and four-storey apartments…all for rent. With this mixed-use of attainable accommodation, we are able to cater to entry-level workers in the dorm-style; middle-level workers in the rental apartments and small families in the `tiny housing’,” he explained.
After conducting research on available land in the area, Vincent selected a nine-acre plot of town-owned land along the east side of Grey Road 19 between the intersection of Craigleith Road and Birches Boulevard.
He said the site has several factors that make it appealing for attainable housing _ its proximity to several large employers; easy access to all amenities for tenants; connectivity to active transportation; as well as the ability to create setback space from the neighbouring residential properties.
The general nature of the public-private partnership proposed with TBM suggested TBM would own and maintain the property, while Global Hospitality Inc. would invest $40 million for the planning and development of the site and then lease the property from TBM, as well as have the option to purchase after 15 years.
“We are prepared to invest up to $40 million for this employee village. We can provide this much-needed development in a way that TBM can be proud of,” Vincent said.
He added that with cooperation from TBM, the employee village concept could have been built in nine months.
TBM council addressed the proposal most recently at a meeting held in March of this year.
“Why wouldn’t the town want to do that? Well, you know, I think there are two good reasons, the primary one is we may need the land as we probably need an operation centre on that end of the town,” said Mayor Alar Soever.
“But the other one was simply that, financially, this deal would be great for the proponent but not so much for the town. They would be able to almost guarantee that their rental accommodation is going to be profitable for them, and then at the end of it, they have an option to purchase. I think most operators would love a deal like that, but our taxpayers not so much,” Soever continued.
Soever was the only member of council to address the proposal’s financial aspects, with the majority of council members and staff pointing to the fact that the town does not know what it wants to do with that nine-acre parcel of land on Grey Road 19 yet, and that more analysis is required.
“Consideration of that proposal at this time would be premature until town staff have the ability to conclude the eastern municipal facility project,” stated Nathan Westendorp, director of planning and development for TBM.
At the March meeting, TBM council deferred Vincent’s proposal until staff have concluded the east end municipal facility project, which involves the creation of a new Craigleith-area multi-use operational facility.
Sharon McCormick, executive director for the Blue Mountains Attainable Housing Corporation said she is aware of Vincent’s proposal.
“I’ve spoken to him and he’s presented to the board,” she said. “We recognize that attainable housing in that part of the town certainly would be a priority for us. And, we want to continue to work with people but the town is currently looking at what the best use is for that land,” McCormick said.
During a committee of the whole meeting held earlier this week, TBM council members endorsed the use of the Grey Road 19 site for a town operational hub “in-principle.” The recommendation for the proposed preferred project location will be sent to the July 12 council meeting where a decision may be made to determine a preferred location.
Now, almost four years after initially pitching the attainable housing concept and the town eyeing up the land for alternative use, Vincent said he has lost any and all motivation he had to bring this project to fruition.
He explained that he has made four appearances before TBM council where he received predominantly positive feedback and very few questions. But then received no follow-up dialogue, conversation or any attempt at collaboration.
“Everybody walked out of the meeting saying, `yes, this is great and we really need this.’ And then nothing,” he explained.
As a long-time business owner, Vincent said he did not anticipate the town accepting his initial proposal but, because of the need for this type of project, he thought TBM would be open to discussion.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about providing something that we need in this region,” he said. “And we love the region so much that we’re willing to work with it. But there’s just no cooperation there. There’s no working with the developing community.”
Vincent said he was unaware of the council member’s concerns about the proposal until his interview with CollingwoodToday, and that no one for the town or town council spoke with him to discuss what kind of mutual agreement could be made.
“You’ve got to start somewhere, right? So, here’s an opportunity, how can we make this opportunity work? But don’t tell me three-and-a-half years later that well, we didn’t really like that part? if you’re telling me you’re progressive and you want to actually do something about this problem, then you need to be open and active in the discussion.”
Regardless of the progress on his proposal, Vincent said TBM needs to get serious about attracting and creating attainable housing, and in order to do that, it must do a better job of collaborating with the development community.
He suggested holding a roundtable discussion with the town’s planning department and the major development players in the region to look at what the town needs in terms of diversifying its housing stock.
“In literally one day, you could have a group of developers sit down with the planning department in any of these towns, and hash out the issues that I had presented to TBM, and come up with a compromise. I don’t understand why they don’t understand how simple it is to dialogue with the development marketplace,” said Vincent.
“If you’re not going to sit down and have a dialogue with the development industry about attainable housing, and you’re trying to deal with the issue in a silo, you’re wasting your time,” Vincent added.