Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Seniors Housing in Breslau

Hello Breslau,

As many of you would have received a notice in the mail about Breslau Mennonite Church's plan to sever off a section of vacant land on the north and northwest side of the church for an apartment building. (Zone Change Application) What you may not know is that this apartment building is being designed for a seniors community. Now as we can't discriminate against age is it labelled as a 4 storey apartment.  That being said, the marketing and the reach for renters will be exclusively geared towards healthy, independent seniors aged 55 and up. I am a member of Breslau Mennonite Church and I have been a member of the church committee working on this project since 2012. However, this committee had been working on this project for much longer than that.  I wanted to take some time to explain the history of this project and how we have now come to the community once again to discuss the zoning of this land and the construction of this project.


A committee was formed to address the churches mission to help and support the seniors in the local community of Breslau.  The final recommendations of this committee was that Breslau Mennonite Church (BMC) should approach Forwell for the opportunity to purchase additional land around the church.

Forwell approached the church and stated they were willing to sell the land that the church was requesting.  At the time, this land was to be used for cemetery expansion and potential development of seniors housing in future when such a project would be economically realistic.

A deal was completed with Forwell including access to BMC from the subdivision that was being planned in the area north of the church.

The trustees of the church and the committee recommended purchasing the house next door for the immediate need of expanding the parking area for BMC and to increase the potential size of a seniors development in the future.

BMC met with representatives from Empire Communities the new owners and developers of the Riverland subdivision.  BMC requested the service opportunities as per the Forwell agreement which they honoured.

Woolwich Township Needs and Capacity Survey identified an immediate need for housing geared toward seniors throughout the township, particularly in Breslau as the community was rapidly expanding.  When BMC approach the township at this time they were extremely supportive of the concept.

Empire Communities serviced the streets around the church which included sewer, water and storm water outlets to the property line.  Church membership at this time reaffirmed the mission to build a property development geared towards seniors in Breslau.  The committee became more focused on developing more defined site plans.

Church consulted with professional planners and engineers on what would be feasible on the site.  Through the discussions it was recommended that BMC purchase the last remaining property between the church and the Empire subdivision.  This was presented to the church membership and it was passed.  The church proceeded to purchase the property and the remove the buildings and decommission the lot.  This allowed for more options and access to the future seniors development.

The committee began to seriously solicit developers who would partner with BMC to make the 20+ year old vision become a reality.  A number of developers were contacted during this time.

May 18, 2012
The township held a public meeting about the Breslau Secondary Plan.  The plan presented at this meeting and as part of the over all plan it stated that the lands outlined by BMC for the seniors housing development were pre-zoned as medium density residential.

November 14, 2012
BMC held an open house meeting at the church providing an update to some of BMC new neighbours.  BMC was concerned that since many new residents of Riverland had moved in to the new subdivision they may not have been aware of this project.  Flyers were distributed throughout the subdivision specifically to the houses that were backing onto BMC property.  At this meeting BMC indicated that a small field of new trees that had been planted several years earlier would be available to the residents of Breslau if they were looking at creating a natural barrier between the seniors development and their home.

This meeting was attended mostly by hopeful seniors who were looking for a chance to stay in Breslau in their later years.  Many questions were asked about the size of the units, how many units would be available, parking, etc.  Several of BMC new neighbours were concerned about the loss of the natural space that they thought they were living beside.

Various iterations of the Breslau Secondary plan are discussed some of the versions had a potential school located behind the church and others had possible commercial or medical facilities.  All plans during this time still stated the church lands as medium density residential.

Formal applications were made to the township to continue the development.  BMC wanted to have township sign off before formalizing a relationship with a developer.  However, there where many applications relating to Breslau at that time (Thomasfield, Empire, Smart Centres, etc.) and the secondary plan was being contested.  The township also informed us of cross border servicing agreements with Kitchener needed to be worked out.  BMC cautiously continued talking to potential developers knowing that they would not be able to formalize a relationship until the secondary plan was fully in place.

A developer was selected as a partner in good faith who had developed these types of buildings before and had experience with setting up and maintaining them.  The committee and the developers planners passed plans and priorities back and forth.  BMC was then faced with a decision to sever off the land and sell to a developer, or hold the land and become a full partner with the development.  Throughout many discussions it was decided that BMC would sell the land to the developer pending various conditions.

The offer of purchase was accepted both by BMC and the developer after the developer conducted various tests on the property.  The developer came back to BMC with what they decided was a viable project plan.  

The develop came back to BMC with a site plan for a 4 story apartment at the back of the property with a parking lot between the building and the edge of the property line to try and minimize the impact on the new houses that were built by Empire Communities.  In order for the developer to officially break ground and begin construction a finalized zoning change was required.

February 6, 2018 - Public Meeting Zone Change Application
For everyone who has concerns or would like to learn more about this process there will be a public planning meeting occurring at the Township Council in Elmira the meeting begins at 7:00pm.

Ok So What Now

That was a long piece of history to help you understand that this isn't some developer who is just trying to cram more people in Breslau.  This is not the township trying to make Breslau into some type of urban jungle. This has been a meticulously thought out and scrutinized plan that has been a mission of Breslau Mennonite Church for 30 years.  This project is specifically and directly geared towards seniors who have spent their lives building and defending Breslau.  Those healthy seniors who no longer want the responsibilities of the large properties they live on but want to stay connected to their community.  This project is a thank you to them and a sign of deep respect that they are valued members of our community.

Now just like all projects I know there is a voice out there of people who do not want this project to go forward.  I respect their voice and I respect their opinion.  I also understand that a petition that has been started on to protest this project.  If I have not convinced you otherwise and you don't want this to happen then you should visit their petition and voice your opinion.  I have read through some of their statements and frankly, I disagree.

This project is directly in the character of Breslau supporting those who have build our town.  Were you not moved by the support of Herb and his team when they were generously granted a free lunch by members of our community.  Many more members of the Breslau community are just like Herb as they have poured their heart and soul in the place that we now get to enjoy just for moving in a few years ago.  This project isn't for you, it is for them!

This project will not be an eye sore, the church has painstakingly vetted developers who will realize our vision.  We as a church will be living beside this building just as close as you and we can't move out.  It is in our best interest to make sure it is a beautiful building.  Considering that BMC bought and took down two older properties on Woolwich street that were not in the best repair, the comparison to what will be built is a bit of a silly one.  In addition, this building is intentionally being set back away from Woolwich street for a safe place for seniors to get themselves in and out of their homes. 

I am sorry that you moved into your property without realizing that the land behind you was not designated green space or a park.  I am sorry that the developer didn't mention that as far back as 2012 it was deemed to be future medium density.  I am sorry that your view will be altered, but I must say your house has altered the view that we have had in the church but we knew you were coming and we welcome you to our community.  The church still has strong young trees that we have offered to residents in the past and if you are interested in getting a tree please let me know and I can get you in touch with people who can make that happen.

I am not a realtor so I can't say anything about property values and how a seniors building would affect them.  What I can tell you that if the church did not purchase these three different properties back in 1989, 2002, and 2012 then you would be backing on to houses anyway.

I obviously strongly support this project and I am will to talk with anyone about their concerns.  I personally don't know whether a 4-story or 3-story building or something else is the correct type / size of building to put in this space but to care for our earth is to intensify our residential spaces where appropriate. We are in a growing community and as we grow our residents age, if not here in this building in the heart of our community then where do you recommend they go?  If they can't take care of a property on their own what do you recommend they do?  This project keeps families together and keeps friends and neighbours together.  I believe in the churches vision and I again believe in something that benefits us now and in the future.

I look forward to the debate.