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County Council moves toward increasing housing in downtown Paris

CouncilCounty Council moves toward increasing housing in downtown Paris

County of Brant councillors approved, in principle, a motion to increase residential and commercial density in downtown Paris, during its regular council meeting on Tuesday, January 30, 2024.

Councillor Lukas Oakley moved a resolution based on council’s desire to urgently improve the affordability and availability of housing and the County of Brant.

The resolution stated that increasing the supply of residential housing in the downtown core has a wide range of benefits including, “providing housing where businesses and services already exist to reduce pollution, to provide year-round economic benefit to downtown businesses and to improve the liveliness and feel of the heart of an urban centre.”

It also noted that the current Special Policy Area (SPA) in the new Offical Plan, “limits the potential for growth in downtown Paris” and suggested that the council be directed to approve of, in principle, increasing residential and commercial density in downtown Paris.

The final part of the resolution directed staff to work with the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) to increase the number of permitted residential units within the SPA, “considering both the economic development and residential safety, to coordinate with downtown Paris Master Plan public consultation process.”

Councillor Robert Chambers noted that while he supported the operative clauses, he would not be supporting the resolution.

“Usually, policy directions such as what is outlined in the resolution are incorporated in policy documents such as the Official Plan. Setting policy by resolution with extensive policy parameters is not good municipal practice,” he explained. “I understand what the trust of the resolution is, but the avenue to put it in place is not by resolution, but by policy such as the official plan.”

Chambers then expressed his concern regarding public input and suggested an alternative way to implement Oakley’s clauses.

“…The policy that is reflected in the resolution can be incorporated into the Official Plan, and then that way you have a policy document that is policy,” he continued. “…The second thing is, when you do municipal policy, you usually have public input on that policy and by passing a resolution such as this, you circumvent the public input on policy. So, when I vote against the resolution, I’m not voting against what’s in the resolution, just the method by which the operative clauses are attempting to be put forward.”

Councillor John Bell on the other hand, noted that when he ran for this term of council, one of his biggest agenda items was to “get the downtown Paris Master Plan, recast, on the road, heading towards success and completion before the end of this term.”

“This town buzzes during the summer and during winter, it kind of struggles to get by. …I think we need to work hard to make it the ‘prettiest little town’ again, but without repopulating it and without making it vital year-round, we’re going to struggle,” said Bell. “I think we do have a time constraint and Robert [Chambers] is quite right, there might be a different process we could have followed, but we are time bound. We need to get this downtown Paris Master Plan recast before we start digging out Grand River Street North. We need to have a holistic and a completely thought through story.”

Bell said that with developers willing to work with them, it’s a once in a lifetime offer.

“Right now, we have developers who are willing to work with us to deliver what is needed, at least in my opinion, and I think in the opinion of others, to make Paris revitalized. …They’re making a kind of a once in a lifetime offer, I think, for us to work with them for the benefit of our community,” he said. “I’m fully supportive of this motion and it can’t go quick enough for me. … All the interactions I’ve seen with the GRCA is that they will work with us, and I think the provincial government will be delighted that we’re trying to put some denser population in the location in Paris.”

Oakley clarified that as far as public consultation, there will be an opportunity.

“We are attempting to route this through the Downtown Master Plan public consultation process, which will continue throughout this year,” he said. “So, there will be an opportunity for public consultation there, though I do admit it is not through our regular route for this type of engagement.”

Alison Newton, Chief Administrative Officer of County Staff, noted that they are working on the detailed design currently, and that the plan is to have the public consultation process throughout the summer and finalize the planning by the end of 2024.

Councillor David Miller asked staff where they were with the flood study and how it would work with the resolution.

“When Council accepted the Paris Flood Mitigation Plan report, we said that we would do a schedule C study, or higher-level study, for the west side of the Grand River, just across Grand River Street. So, we’re going to do more studies there on what’s been referred to by the public as the ‘great seawall,’ and that’s going to happen in 2024,” said Robert Walton, County of Brant’s General Manager of Operations. “For the rest of it, it’s ready to go. The two highest priority projects are N1 (Nith River north bank) and N2 (Nith River south bank), and we have quite a bit of designs done on that, …but we’re very close to a position to tender those when some federal money comes available.”

Councillor Christine Garneau said that personally, she would also be voting in favour of Oakley’s resolution.

“I’m a process person by training and I respect where Councillor Chambers is coming from, but I worry that we’re going to miss the bus on a bigger level if we don’t go ahead and start to send the right signals to make the changes to increase the density through the revitalization of downtown,” she said. “… With that in mind, I will be supporting the resolution.”

Miller then inquired with Oakley how they would go about avoiding making conflicting decisions regarding the resolution and flood mitigation studies.

Oakley said that he believed that working closely with the GRCA to take floodplain issues into consideration will help to avoid issues.

Newton then noted the key to making this resolution work is by collaborating with others to make sure they are checking all the boxes.

“Internally we’ve assembled a sort of multidisciplinary team and we will be working with external agencies as well,” she said. “The key to making this work is going to make sure that all of those respective studies dovetail and that we’re looking at this on a holistic basis. We’re going to be very conscious about bringing in as many people as possible to make sure that we’re checking all those boxes.”

Councillor Brian Coleman then asked that they take a recorded vote for this particular item.

The resolution was then passed on a vote of eight to two, noting that Councillor John Pierce was not present, and that Chambers and MacAlpine voted against the resolution.

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