Proposed senior housing project panned by local residents

When the Making Markham Age-Friendly Committee presented recommendations a few months ago, it proposed a grand plan to make the city more livable and affordable for seniors and suggested taking otherwise unused land such as parking lots  at shopping malls, churches and other open spaces and building affordable senior residences.

After all, who doesn’t want a senior as a neighbour?

They’re responsible, not too loud and don’t cause much trouble as a rule.

So, it must have come as quite a surprise when a proposal by Unionville Presbyterian Church to do just that was met with a wall of anger at a recent overflow meeting with mostly local community members who wanted nothing of the sort for the still- quiet Village Parkway location.

Billed as an information meeting, it was clear by halfway through that most in the audience were in no mood for information and were intent on shutting down the church sponsored plan, heckling supporters and assembled politicians with seniors and good intent be damned.

It was not pretty at times.

Tempers flared and harsh words spoken at the meeting- even by those who didn’t live near the church.

However, invective aside, several more level-headed speakers did offer legitimate concerns for the project including the appropriateness of the location given the small amount of developable land, the lack of amenities within walking distance, poor bus service on the road and the elimination of parking spots that outside of church hours are used by residents to access Carlton Park which is adjacent to the parking lot.

In addition, questions involved whether the units would be owned, rented and to whom – local or people from away or people with mental disabilities while others noted traffic congestion in addition to that already imposed by commuters using the Parkway as a north-south route to work, local schools and condos at the south end of the street near Highway #7.

“Where is the most appropriate place to situate affordable housing?” asked Neil Martin, a local resident and part of the Our Voice Matters group, who promoted participation in the discussion.

“It seems to make sense that it be within easy walking distance of amenities and commercial/health services.  The proposed site offers none of those.  Traffic in the mornings and evenings is a nightmare, and the spot is very poorly served by public transit.”

Other’s took issue that a leadership team of 11 people at the church would decide to change the neighbourhood without consultation from others nearby.

Unionville Presbyterian Minister Marty Molengraaf, explained that it wasn’t lack of respect for the community that drove the desire to investigate this project, it was about “loving and caring for our neighbours and we begin, as Christians, that loving for those that are most vulnerable…we recognize those as seniors.”

But Molengraaf, in a conversation after the meeting clarified that so far as the church is concerned the project discussion has “always been in the form of a question, Is there something we can do here?”  He stresses there was never any predetermined size or number of units on the nearly two-acre site. Nor was there a predetermination of who would be invited to live there.

Molengraaf allows, that it is maybe the lack of a clearly articulated vision that has allowed rumours and fears to cloud the discussion.  “I understand their concerns…but that is what the feasibility study is for,” he says noting the study would suggest what is appropriate.

Both the church and politicians agreed that in addition to a feasibility study that would include feedback from residents, a stakeholders’ group would be formed to guide discussion.

Deputy Mayor Don Hamilton stressed patience saying, “there have been all kinds of rumours going on since the election and I want you to know that nothing has been decided. There is a process to be followed and rules to follow.”

Ward 3 Councillor Reid McAlpine added, “there is still a long way to go for the church to explore appropriate changes to the use of their site, if any. That exploration must involve a respectful conversation among all the stakeholders. I look forward to helping to facilitate that conversation via a stakeholder’s group, including community representatives”.


Photo: A heated meeting was had over a proposed seniors complex at 600 Village Parkway that included local politicians (l-r) Ward 3 councillor Reid McAlpine, MPP Billy Pang, MP Bob Saroya, Deputy Mayor Don Hamilton, Regional Councillor Jack Heath, as well as church leadership.

2 thoughts on “Proposed senior housing project panned by local residents

  • 07/05/2019 at 10:39 pm

    As a local resident, I want to clarify we do not oppose to “senior housing”. We opposed to switching the one and only one parking lot in our community to any buildings. In walking distance from the parking lot in the article, around 2km, there is a new project to add 2 buildings, 260 affordable senior units and there are another 100+ existing affordable housing units. We just need one parking lot.

    Village pkwy has been jammed every morning and night. With the additional development at hwy7/village pkwy and “York Downs” it means another 5000 cars will be introduced to this area(Ref: Shanta Sundarason’s website). We do not want any more high density buildings in the area.

    Many local people including seniors attended the meeting. We all should be included if they are talking about an inclusive community. Have they heard/care what seniors said on the scene? I doubt any people are eager waiting for redeveloping a parking lot into housing unit. The people in need would prefer more and faster available units. If plan efficiently more units can be built in any available place. Have anyone calculated how much money are waste by just switching parking lot to underground parking?

  • 07/11/2019 at 4:08 pm

    As a long time resident of Unionville, I feel it necessary to comment since my name has been used in the above response. Permit me first to say that I am a very proud Canadian. I have been immensely privileged to be given the great honour of becoming a citizen of this country and all that it entails. Acceptance, inclusivity, kindness are just some of things that describe us Canadians. And so when I chanced upon some members of the Unionville community bearing signs saying that they wanted their voices heard I was curious. I was absolutely astonished and perplexed that the residents holding signs were vehemently against a proposal by a church to convert its privately owned car park to an affordable housing complex. The reasons offered me when I met with the sign holders and then during a public discourse are beyond comprehension. Let me share a few. 1) That a complex to provide affordable housing for seniors and those with some development challenges would somehow be a danger to the residents. 2) That somehow there would be an unmanageable increase in traffic. 3) That there would be ‘crazy’ and dangerous people. 4) Or like the author of the above letter has penned that this private church parking should not be converted to housing because it means one less parking lot. With all due respect to the sentiments of the ‘concerned’ residents, and as they say in my neck of the woods, this is all ‘kodswallop.’ The primary reason for this vociferous objection is nothing other than some ill conceived notion that property prices are going to drop if an affordable housing complex is introduced into the neighbourhood. I applaud the church for spearheading this amazing initiative. I applaud my councillor for supporting this despite the numerous threats to him that he would not be voted for during the next election if he lends his support. I am extremely disappointed in the myopia displayed and more so in the fence sitting of some of the elected officials. To all those residents whom stood on street corners with signs and to all those whom attended the church session I say this. We are Canadian. We are inclusive, We are kind. We are accepting. This is whom we are. And we will not change. An affordable housing complex is absolutely what our community needs and if a church wants to do so on its privately owned parking lot, then that is their decision. Count yourselves lucky that you have a minister whom is willing to provide a platform where your concerns can be shared even though he was not obligated to do so. The level of disrespect that he was accorded by some members of the community attending the meeting was shameful.


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