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Posted July 20, 2020 by Sarah Law

Gravenhurst landlord says hurdles in the way of offering affordable housing

Adam Kitchener wants to provide affordable housing in Gravenhurst — but he says there are hurdles in his way.

Kitchener purchased 280 Bishop St. in April 2020 and said he wanted to fix it up, operate it as an affordable fourplex as it always has been and use it as a long-term investment.

The building is currently placed under a fire order after an electrical fire in October 2019 led to firefighters' discovery of a lack of adequate smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Kitchener said he assessed the property with members of the fire department to see what had to be done to bring the building up to code, which would cost well over $100,000.

He decided to go ahead with the renovations. The problem? Town staff said the property must be rezoned to allow it to operate as a fourplex.

Melissa Halford, the town's manager of planning services, said in an email to this newspaper that the property is currently zoned in the commercial service zone, despite many inquiries about whether multiple residential units are permitted there.

Kitchener said he has proof the property has operated as a fourplex for decades and wonders why the town did nothing about it before.

"They're not only overlooking the fact that it's not allowed to be a fourplex, they're also overlooking the fact that the property is not even supposed to hold people in it. So, if it was the case that there were eight people living in that house improper, why didn't they do anything in October 2019?" he asked.

He said that the town should grandfather the property in and allow it to be legal nonconforming so he can complete the renovations and have people move in before winter.

"The town is very supportive of facilitating added safe and legal affordable housing stock, particularly in our urban centre," said Halford.

To submit a rezoning application, a landlord must have a preconsultation with the town's planning team, submit an application and fee of $1,592 and supporting documentation, she explained.

She said it "takes a month or so between when the application is deemed complete and when the report is taken to a planning council meeting for the public meeting. Then the decision lies with Council."

"If they approve the application, there is a 20-day appeal period. Provided there are no appeals, the matter can be finalized at the end of that period, meaning the whole process can take around two or three months," said Halford.

More than 25 people have already inquired about when the units will be available and Kitchener hasn't even listed them yet, he said.

He said he has spent thousands of dollars already in architecture drawings and permits that the town will not provide him until he submits the rezoning application.

"The biggest cost of this project is going to be equal time," he said. "This is just making something official by a piece of paper. It's not like anything would be required to change."

"Meanwhile, people are going to continue to look for homes. I think that's the bigger issue," said Kitchener.

"I'm trying to build these as nice and as cheaply as possible so that I can keep the cost down so it keeps the cost of affordability within a certain range," he said. "We should be working with landlords to increase the supply, not putting up roadblocks."