Enough with the NIMBY neighbours in Guelph

Opinion: high-density housing near campus makes sense
Guelph classroom photo by Andrew Tolson

A developer hoping to provide students with much-needed housing directly across from the entrance to the University of Guelph got tired of waiting for the city to decide on its proposal.

Abode Varsity Living was so tired, in fact, that it appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board to make the decision instead, reports the Guelph Mercury.

Good for the developer, I say. The site at the corner of Gordon St. and Stone Rd., a five minute walk to the University Centre, couldn’t be a better place to build a large student housing complex.

High-density housing near campus is much better for students than low-density suburbia, which is the increasingly common option in Guelph. Besides, the needs of 20,000 students should trump the demands of roughly 20 NIMBY neighbours.

The City has taken more than a year to make its recommendations for the project, in part because 20 residents of the Mayfield Park neighbourhood across from campus registered their opposition last January. The up-to 16-story development housing 1,600 students is simply too big, they said.

In response to the opposition, the City hired a facilitator to bring the two sides together. According to the Mayfield Park Community Association’s Kate MacDonald, the developer was willing to decrease the buildings’ height and lower the occupancy 18.75 per cent, from 1,600 to 1,300.

“But that’s still not acceptable,” MacDonald told The Mercury.

Personally, I think it’s unacceptable that other parts of Guelph will suffer more urban sprawl and clogged roads if developers can’t build dense housing close to campus. Personally, I think it’s unacceptable that many of the 1,300 students who might live at Gordon and Stone will endure longer commutes and more crowded buses if they’re forced to live on the suburban periphery.

Guelph has 20,000 students and counting. There was a 10 per cent increase in first-year students in 2011 alone. Those students need somewhere to live. Across from campus is the best option.

I know the options well. In my five years at Guelph between 2003 and 2008, I watched the campus population leak farther and farther into the city’s low-density south. In my final year, I moved into one of the south’s single-family homes and realized just how badly the neighbourhood works for students. The low-density makes buses few and far between. It makes the grocery stores difficult to reach by walking. There’s little recreation nearby. It’s OK if you have a car, but most students don’t.

If I’d lived closer to the school, I would have had a higher quality of life in that final year, plus less time spent on buses, which I could have used to study, work or volunteer.

In other words, I would have had a better experience in Guelph. Permanent residents of Guelph should care about that. The university is undoubtedly one of the reasons its unemployment rate remains one of the lowest in North America—4.1 per cent—at a time when similar cities without universities, like Barrie, Ont., have seen their unemployment float up to 11 per cent.

If residents near the university want low-density neighbourhoods they should consider moving south. The land beside the university is the best place for students—and the best thing for Guelph.