Manor Village: Transportation committee backs ‘imperfect’ solution to save homes slated for LRT expropriation

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While some expressed reluctance, transportation committee members ultimately voted together Monday to endorse spending tens of millions more than planned on a reworking of the future Barrhaven LRT route that would avoid the need to expropriate homes, but also benefit a landlord currently “renovicting” many of the tenants in them.

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City staff told the committee Monday it was council direction, stemming from concern over the planned destruction of 120 homes in the Manor Village and Cheryl Gardens communities, that sent them back to the drawing board on a Woodroffe Avenue section of the route endorsed by council in 2020.

The plan they’ve come back with – to run an elevated guideway down the middle of Woodroffe Avenue between Knoxdale Road and Hunt Club Road, rather than along its west side – is on city-owned property and would avoid any residential displacement. It was not recommended originally because of “technical and operating disadvantages,” such as curves that would create noise and increase maintenance costs, transportation planning and environmental assessments, program manager Frank McKinney told the committee. They’ve found ways to mitigate most concerns and manage others “with careful design and appropriate construction procedures.”

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That took a lot of work, creativity and collaboration between different departments, said city planning boss Stephen Willis, in an interview. “We managed to solve problems that we didn’t think were solvable before.”

A number of councillors on the committee shared misgivings about spending the additional $35 million to $50 million the new alignment could cost to build, especially when it appears it wouldn’t save many of the affordable homes people were concerned about losing back in 2020.

The owners of Manor Village are in the middle of an effort to buy out and, failing that, evict tenants in order to renovate and re-list their low-rent townhouses, at prices like $750 for a furnished room and $3,200-plus for a four-bedroom house and yard.

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“It’s frustrating,” said Coun. Diane Deans, “(if) we take on an additional cost to make sure that those affordable housing units are protected and that people can remain in their homes and then they’re renovicted out of their homes, regardless … That is a bit of a dilemma for all of us.”

It’s an “intensely frustrating situation,” Willis acknowledged. But the evictions happening at Manor Village aren’t something the city can step in and stop, he explained to the committee. The owners, Smart Living Properties and Forum Equity Partners, haven’t needed to file any development application with the city to do their renovations, so the city can’t use the approval process to try to get concessions — and it’s the Ontario government and provincial Landlord and Tenant Board that have jurisdiction over the landlord-tenant relationship.

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As for the prospect, raised by a number of councillors, of building new affordable homes nearby to replace those that would be sacrificed for the planned LRT route, area councillor Keith Egli pointed out that eligibility and prioritization processes for subsidized housing mean there’s no guarantee displaced residents would be able to live there.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury noted realigning the LRT route would save the homes tenants had fought for years to retain, but it would also benefit the owner evicting many of them. He asked Peggy Rafter, a longtime Manor Village resident who addressed the committee Monday, for her take on the matter.

Rafter said she and fellow Manor Village residents now facing eviction are fighting against them. But she doesn’t want to see anyone else in the same predicament they’re in now, and the LRT route change would save homes for tenants at the nearby Cheryl Gardens complex.

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“They’re going to be safe. We may lose, but they’re going to be safe,” said Rafter.

Ursula Melinz, a lawyer for the Manor Village owners, told the committee that her clients intended to improve the property when they bought it in September 2020. “It was very out of date,” she said, and they’ve had to undertake substantial renovations, from new HVAC to roofs, “in order to provide improvements, more liveable units.”

In addition to requiring the destruction of 100 homes at some point in the years to come – Stage 3 LRT doesn’t yet have a timeline or funding locked down – staff also warned that the city’s original plan for the contested 0.6-kilometre section of LRT route looks increasingly costly.

The substantial increase in real estate prices that continues today “was unforeseen” when staff originally put together the project cost, said McKinney. There are also previously unaccounted for “injurious affection” expenses (damages, essentially, beyond just the pure value of the land) they’re now warning the city is likely to face from the owners of the property facing expropriation.

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Considering the potential costs now associated with the plan approved in 2020, McKinney said the additional $35 million to $50 million the new alignment is projected to require “may be a wash at the end of the day.”

Unlike LRT Stages 1 and 2, the city is looking to the federal and provincial governments to fund the entirety of the Stage 3 extensions to Barrhaven and Kanata. Willis noted upper levels of government won’t fund property acquisition for light rail and told the committee that “there almost is no ceiling to what the city could end up paying for these properties (at Manor Village and Cheryl Gardens) through this process.”

Egli urged his colleagues on the planning committee to vote in support of the route change, as all ultimately did.

“While this is imperfect … what I’m hearing as the councillor is that this is what the community wants,” said Egli.

It’s also a proposal that satisfies Manor Village’s owners. Melinz said they’d made their concerns known about the chosen LRT alignment, which was going to require up to two-thirds of their 5.74-acre property, and thanked staff Monday for reconsidering the route.

The proposal is slated to rise to council June 8.

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