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Wellington County council cautiously endorses $135M plan for seniors' community

Whether or not the project gets the desired level of government funding is the deciding factor on moving forward with building
An architectural rendering of the proposed seniors' community at the Wellington Place grounds. Screenshot from committee report

COUNTY OF WELLINGTON – A $135 million plan for a proposed seniors’ community was approved by county council at a special meeting on Thursday. 

This doesn’t approve building but directs staff, the warden and the IHS committee chair to lobby with local MPs and MPPs for funding from upper-levels of government with an agreed-upon plan.

The Continuum of Care (COC) is a county-led seniors’ focused housing project that features 254-units of retirement living, market rentals, attainable rentals and life lease apartments and semi-detached houses. 

The plan is to build on the county-owned land at Wellington Place between Fergus and Elora next to Wellington Terrace long-term care facility. 

This was designed by a committee in partnership with Salter Pilon Architecture to include greenspace, common amenities, commercial spaces and seniors’ focused programming.

A 2018 feasibility study showed housing for seniors’ was lacking throughout the county and almost 70 per cent of respondents to a survey said they would consider moving out of Wellington County for more options. 

Warden Kelly Linton opened the meeting by explaining the idea behind this was to give locals a chance to age in their own communities while moving through different levels of care.

This development comes in at an estimated cost of $135.8 million which would require nearly half to be taken on as debt if there was no funding from the upper levels of government. 

“To be viable I think this project requires support from the other orders of government,” Linton said. “I don’t think we could take on this level of debt and impact the taxpayer with this project. I think it has to be a cost-neutral project.”

Another scenario presented by treasurer Ken DeHart showed that in order for the project to be revenue-neutral, the county would need $36.6 million in government funding along with $26.7 million in debt.

DeHart stressed that this debt would not affect the status of any planned projects.

“The debt, if it’s covered by the revenue, it’s not an ongoing concern,” DeHart said to council.

Tax contributions for the project would total $13 million under this scenario.

Some on council were okay with moving forward with an ask but were hesitant on full approval without the increased funding. 

“I see the numbers, they’re staggering I must say but I understand it’s a massive project so I understand where they’re coming from,” said Minto mayor George Bridge. “I can not support it unless we would have that maximum financing.”

Councillor Campbell Cork made it clear at a committee meeting earlier this month that he didn’t support this project and had not changed his mind since then. 

In his view the high-cost, taxpayer contribution, and lack of perceived benefit for all residents were among some of his reasons for being against the project.

“To me it’s doubtful that some of our poorest will be able to even afford attainable (units),” Cork said. “This kind of money could go a lot further, it could help a lot more than 254 residential units.”

Councillor Diane Ballantyne, who said she supports increased seniors’ housing options, was not convinced that this would be affordable for a majority of the county’s seniors.

“Market rents of $1,650 for one bedroom and garden suites at $650,000 are serving a very small privileged segment of our community,” Ballantyne said. 

“What am I supposed to say to the thousands and thousands residents living on small pensions … aging with dignity matters with everyone and I’d like to see a design that serves more of our residents.”

Guelph/Eramosa mayor Chris White said despite worry about asking for too much, this money would be spent elsewhere in the province or country without any difference to their tax dollars.

He said he felt they should present this plan to the government as it’s been taken this far anyways.

“For me, I’m fairly confident if the $36 million doesn’t show up, this thing is dead,” White said. 

“It’s worth asking the question … it shows we have a commitment to the housing problem we have.”

The plan was endorsed by a vote of 11-4. 

Councillors in favour: David Anderson, Doug Breen, George Bridge, Earl Campbell, Gregg Davidson, Jeff Duncan, Andy Lennox, Kelly Linton, Mary Lloyd, Don McKay and Chris White.

Councillors against: Diane Ballantyne, Campbell Cork, Steve O’Neill and James Seeley. 

Absent: Allan Alls.

Keegan Kozolanka

About the Author: Keegan Kozolanka

Keegan Kozolanka is a general assignment reporter for EloraFergusToday, covering Wellington County. Keegan has been working with Village Media for more than two years and helped launch EloraFergusToday in 2021.
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