The local Habitat for Humanity president says he hopes the agency can take a leadership role to redevelop the former IMICO site in The Ward, just days after the city announced a three-way deal between the city, Habitat and a developer had fallen through.
Even though the memorandum of understanding (MOU) expired for the proposed development at 200 Beverly St., Habitat for Humanity Wellington Dufferin Guelph CEO Steve Howard said there is a great opportunity for the site.
“I think there is good appetite in the Guelph community to support a project that has significant affordable housing component and I believe there are a number of viable partners that can be brought in to make this project a success,” said Howard.
Habitat has not been a party to all of the recent discussions about the site, said Howard. His understanding is the negotiations between city staff and the developer fell though and the MOU was allowed to expire as of Dec. 31.
The MOU for the project was made in 2016 between the City of Guelph, Habitat for Humanity and Waterloo-based developer ARQi R&D Inc.
Howard said at the time Habitat had contacted the city independently in a hopes of taking a leadership role in planning and developing the site.
Coincidentally, said Howard, the developer formerly attached to the project also expressed interest in the project at the same time as Habitat, so city staff married the two entities to work on it together.
“That made our leadership of the project subordinate to the developer’s leadership,” said Howard. “What I have signalled to the city staff recently is we are ready to go back to square one and take on leadership of the project as a whole.”
During the public meetings that were held, Howard said he heard from neighbours in The Ward that the proposed development was out of scale for the neighbourhood. During a 2018 public meeting, people in the room audibly gasped when a consultant told them some buildings on the site could be as tall as 25 storeys.
“That was probably driven by a profit motivation,” said Howard. “If the project was driven by a more social motivation with less need for profit margin, then the scale and format of the project can change.”
Those original plans also included sections of the 13-acre property dedicated to light industrial zoning, as well as some retail. Howard likened that proposal to the Distillery District in Toronto.
“That would have been nice and beautiful, but 10 acres of residents on that property is still viable without that,” said Howard. “What I heard in the meetings I attended there were concerns about the mass composition of that project from a transportation point of view and an infrastructure point of view.”
Habitat for Humanity WDG recently completed its Cityview Village, a 28-unit multi-residential affordable housing development.
Howard said a new Habitat-led development at the former IMICO site could include supportive housing and market housing and would bring a different flavour to the currently vacant site.
“Everything that falls within that spectrum should be a part of this project,” he said.
Now that the previous project is dead in the water, Howard expects city staff will eventually make a new recommendation to council. He said he has done his due diligence by letting staff know about Habitat’s continued interest in the project.
“There is a significant interest in something like this coming to fruition, so we are in the game still,” said Howard.
“If they don’t go that way and we are not involved — and I hope that we will be — we will then turn our mind to the next project and more likely we might focus in the short run on something in Centre Wellington,” said Howard.
Habitat for Humanity WDG will soon be dropping Dufferin from its name and handing that responsibility for that county over to its Halton Region counterpart.
Howard said that will allow his agency to concentrate on Wellington County and Guelph and he expects it will be a better fit for everyone involved.
“I have worked on other projects with the leaders in Halton and it was a very easy and, I think, logical transfer,” said Howard.
In addition, Howard said the Guelph and Fergus ReStore locations, which provide much needed funds for Habitat projects, will soon begin selling online.
“We were as confused as everybody else was about what the province has released, but we do understand we can do online sales so we will do that with curb-side pick up,” he said.