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Pace of North End change is stressing people out, residents say

The mood was mixed at a gathering of North Hamilton community leaders and residents Friday morning as they considered rapid changes coming to their relatively low-income neighbourhood.

'We would be disappointed to have people have to leave': North End homeowner

This image shows the North End neighbourhood and the waterfront, part of which the city plans to develop in the coming years.

The mood was mixed at a waterfront gathering of North Hamilton community leaders and residents Friday morning as they considered how to handle the many changes coming to their relatively low-income neighbourhood. 

Their future is a "great balancing" act for the city, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, as it tries to address broader city goals around waterfront and community development and preserving an affordable liveable neighbourhood.

"This neighbourhood matters to me; it matters to our entire city," he told the group.

On the positive side, new condos and train service in the heart of their neighbourhood promises to change the perception from elsewhere in the city and make North End a destination rather than a place to avoid.

An influx of new people, some with higher incomes, could help to de-isolate the neighbourhood and immerse kids growing up there in a broader sense of their city. New businesses could bring new jobs and investment in the look and feel of the neighbourhood.

But, as resident after resident sitting at roundtables Friday mentioned, the pace of change and a lack of clarity about what's coming to their neighbourhoods is stressing people out.

"The elements of what can make a healthy community aren't all fiscally based," said Zeb Demaiter, a social worker who owns a house with his wife in the North End.

He attended Friday morning's meeting in hopes of learning more about the new developments. 

He said as a homeowner, the boon to home values nearby evokes mixed feelings for him. Some of his friends and fellow church members don't own their homes and may be displaced if rents rise further or the properties they rent are sold to cash in on the boom.

"We have some more control, and it feels nice to know that values are going up," he said. "But we would be disappointed to have people have to leave."

 The city has outlined plans to put 1,200 to 1,600 condos on piers 6, 7 and 8. They say there are no more specifics available until formal plans come from a developer. In the meantime, those lack of specifics appear to be contributing to a fear that a huge wave of gentrification is coming to the North End, and people who live there now can do nothing about it. 

The gathering was meant to change some of that helpless feeling.

The North Hamilton Community Health Centre and the neighbouring Hughson Street Baptist Church put the morning together. They commissioned a study released at the gathering to indicate how the demographics, education, health and incomes of North End and Keith neighbourhoods have changed.

They invited city staff to speak about general plans for the harbour and the waterfront, including the 2012 Setting Sail plan.

And then they opened up the discussion to the 75 or so people in the room to brainstorm how each of them can advocate for the neighbourhood to be a welcoming, balanced place.

'Great balancing act'

Eisenberger said the balance had be found between seeing the waterfront as a citywide asset with great redevelopment prospects, and a feature of a neighbourhood where people are already living. He cheered the effort of wrestling with the questions about what the neighbourhood should become.

 "What kind of community are we going to create? What kind of tolerance are we going to build into that? Part of what the rest of the city sees is an opportunity to also create a district that has vitality, entertainment, recreation opportunities, all kinds of things. So there's that balance of how do you make all of that work?" 

Those gathered voted for priorities they hope the health centre board will focus on in advocacy efforts.

The top vote-getter was to play a role in fostering "good communication" that helps "eliminate fear" around the pace of change in the city's northern neighbourhoods

Attendees also supported the centre making sure the neighbourhood continues to have "appropriate services" available. A majority of attendees said a mix of housing sizes, styles and price points is crucial to maintaining a "balanced neighbourhood." 

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