Is participation in city-led planning processes a waste of time?

Guest post from Carl Simpson & Anna-Marie Larsen who have been doing a great deal of communication, coordination, navigation and engagement with neighbours and the City of Waterloo on the ODC development, Spurline Common by Reid’s Homes (corner of Moore & Roger). You can find previous posts from 2017 & 2018 about the development here.


We recently learned some disconcerting news about the ODC redevelopment.

Because the community was so vocal and active when the proposal first came up, the City of Waterloo invited us to form a small group to represent all those who expressed concerns. This group met on a regular basis with city staff and the property’s seller. As a result of those meetings, we were able to achieve a few minor but important concessions.

Among those concessions were height, density, and set-back conditions. For height, the City imposed an 11 metre restriction on the stacked townhouses and a 20 metre restriction on the two apartment buildings.

What we learned is that the municipality is ignoring the height restriction that it set. 

We understood that the two apartment buildings would be 6 stories high and built on the lowest part of the land. This meant that from Roger and Moore streets they would be less imposing. Instead, the apartment buildings will be 7 stores high—the bottom floor will be an above-grade parking garage.

This is because the City of Waterloo approved raising the elevation of the land on the vacant property—you will have noticed over the past 2 months truck after truck dumping earth on the land, removing the slope to the south-west corner, and building up the land to the level at the corner of Roger and Moore.

That means on the inside of the complex the buildings will be six stories, but on the outside, they will be seven.

According to the City of Waterloo, this is an allowed “minor adjustment” to deal with an uneven property, and that this is normal. I don’t know how you define “minor” but an extra story is about 15% of the total height! Additionally, there’s some manipulation in these measurements because they’re taken from the new height of the property, which was artificially created by the developer.

Spurline Common – view from Roger Street (note: this image may not be accurate since changes have been made to the site)

This is not what was promised to us. And it negates the effort we all put into shaping the development while demonstrating a lack of value and concern for the residents of this neighbourhood. Many residents think that our meetings were a waste of time.

If this outrages you, as it has me, I ask that you help show the City of Waterloo how disappointed we are that they reneged on its commitment to us. Since the City has already approved the development plan there is little chance this will be changed. But it is important—for this and other, future developments—that the municipality knows we hold them to account.

If you can, please send a brief (or long) email copied to the following City staff and Council members:

John Vos, John.Vos@waterloo.ca —Planning Services

Mike Defoa, Mike.Defoa@waterloo.ca —Engineering Technologist

Wendy Fisher, Wendy.Fisher@waterloo.ca —Development Planner

Tenille Bonoguore, tenille.bonoguore@waterloo.ca —Our City Councillor

Dave Jaworsky, mayor@waterloo.ca 


On a related note, and somewhat interesting timing, the City of Waterloo has just announced that they are soliciting feedback about their public participation in city-led planning processes.

Their email states that they recognize the “need for broader public participation in our planning process. With short review times, we also need to ensure we are efficient with our engagement efforts. To achieve those goals, we are reviewing our current process to determine how we can better communicate with residents so that our planning process is clear, easy to understand and timely.

To get started, please take our survey to share your opinions, ideas and thoughts on what works well, and what changes we could make to improve the way we communicate with the public about our planning process. The deadline to complete the survey is Friday, July 30 at 4 p.m.”

You can subscribe to follow this Engage Waterloo topic to stay updated as the project progresses.

Happy participating.


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