A group of Westdale residents say a 1400-bed student residence being planned for Main Street West next to Dalewood School will overwhelm the neighbourhood by its sheer size and by the number of students who will flow through the neighbourhood every day. The complex, which is a joint venture between McMaster and a Toronto developer, Knightstone Capital which specializes in student housing, will have two towers—one 10 storeys high the other 18 storeys. McMaster purchased the property about 30 years ago and in the last few months has bought up a number of homes on the south side of Traymore Avenue to accommodate the residence.

Alan Livingstone who lives near the proposed development is worried about the impact it will have on a neighbourhood where student issues are already a concern. “The latest planned encroachment will really tip the present livable balance in the area away from permanent residents,” he said.  He thinks McMaster should consider using their own campus for the project, noting that on-campus student residences average something like 300 beds.

Speaking for McMaster, Gord Arbeau says there is a crucial shortage of student housing for the roughly 6,000 first year students who arrive at the university every year, many of whom are away from home for the first time and are often only 17 or 18 years of age. “This residence will be operated under control of the University,” he said, “There will be staff on every floor and rules and regulations that will need to be adhered to. It’s a much better environment than having first year students living in off-campus housing where there are no controls,” adding that for years Westdale residents had been asking Mac to build more student residences to offset the conversion of single family homes to student housing with absentee landlords. Arbeau says the University has held several meetings with area residents and has made design modifications based on feedback received, and will unveil further modifications to the design by year’s end. Some of the existing modifications include having garbage and deliveries moved to an underground location and widening sidewalks to accommodate larger numbers of pedestrians.

But for Lynn Goruk who lives across Main Street on the original Stroud Property the changes are not enough. “When I look out of the front of my house, I will be looking at an 18 storey building. We have the (McMaster Children’s’) Hospital here which is a monstrosity…now it will be dwarfed by this.” She also regrets the loss of the homes the University purchased, which were student houses. “Homes can be returned to being homes, but once the houses are gone they’re gone forever.” Lynn says she had hoped the arrival of LRT would eliminate the need for students to be living on or next to the McMaster campus.

Jill Kronby who has seen a steady encroachment of conversions of homes to student housing in her 34 years on Forsyth Place is still worried about the impact of the new residence. “I can’t imagine 1400 students going through the neighbourhood every day,” she said. “There’s no smoking allowed on the McMaster campus so now the smokers are spilling out onto King and Forsyth.”

The neighbours are being represented by Urban Planner Terrence Glover, who says his clients understand the need for more student housing, but not of the size and mass being proposed. The University and the developer have filed a notice of appeal with Environment and Lands Tribunal, the former OMB, but Gord Arbeau says the step is taken to protect rights that existed under the old system and the university will still be working towards an amicable settlement with neighbours. The OMB was seen to be friendlier to developers than the new tribunal.

The new building will be zoned Institutional, which means, like the McMaster Campus and city Hospitals and colleges, it will be exempt from property taxes, something that irks neighbour John Thomson. He says the university will make a payment-in-lieu of taxes of about $75 dollars per bed or $105,000 a year to the city which is far less than a similar sized apartment building would pay. “Essentially we are subsidizing this developer,” Thomson said. Joe Mancinelli of LIUNA confirmed to the Bay Observer that in the construction of the 400-bed William Thomas student apartments in downtown Hamilton, the union “did not have nor request student zoning.” The tax bill on the LIUNA property will be about $450,000 based in 400 beds, but a 1400-bed commercially zoned project would likely yield about $1.5 Million in taxes.

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