Homeowners oppose expansion of McMaster's off-campus housing project

Homeowners near McMaster University are balking at an apparent increase in the number of units planned for a new student residence building a stone’s throw from campus.

'We're opposed to it as it stands,' said president of Ainslie Wood/Westdale Community Association

A "very preliminary" rendering of a project planned for east of McMaster's campus was released in January 2017, before the project had grown to encompass a planned 1,400 beds across two phases. (McMaster University)

Some homeowners near McMaster University aren't happy with an increase in the number of units planned for a new student residence building a stone's throw from campus.

The Ainslie Wood/Westdale Community Association, one of two neighbourhood associations near McMaster, has written a formal letter opposing the project's current iteration. They say 1,400 beds are too many for the project.

McMaster says the project is still in the early phase and it is "eager" to hear feedback from the community.

"We certainly want to hear from neighbours in the community," said communications director Gord Arbeau. "The question now is, how do we work together to get an optimal plan?" 

McMaster bought a cluster of nine houses in the neighbourhood about a year ago with plans to build a multi-storey, 800-bed residence with Knightstone, a real estate company. 

A developer assembled a package of houses on the south side of Traymore Avenue with intent to build a multi-storey student residence, then sold nine to McMaster. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

But in December, the association learned that the university and its partner developer had filed plans with the city to build 1,400 beds, according to association president Ira Rosen. 

"We're opposed to it as it stands," Rosen said. "We need to let them know that we're unhappy about it."

The university has acquired five more houses since last year, which allowed it to think about expanding the project to 1,400 beds, Arbeau said. The project has grown, he acknowledged, but he said it has grown out but not up.

The first phase of the project will be 950 beds, with a second phase bringing another 450 beds, Arbeau said.

Height, parking and number of beds

Sticking points for the association are where the foot entrances to the project will be (on Traymore or on Main Street), how much parking is contemplated and how tall the project is.

Arbeau said the plan as envisioned currently is highest — 12 storeys — along Main Street, then it "steps down" to eight storeys, and finally is two storeys on Traymore across the street from other two-storey homes.

There are six parking places included in the current plan.

"Where exactly are they going to park their vehicles to move in to the building?" Rosen said.

Arbeau said move-in day is a well-oiled machine for campus residences, and he imagines there could be a solution for that day at the off-campus residence, as well. Plus, McMaster students have HSR passes and the "majority do not have cars," he said.

"Parking will be one of the issues that we receive some feedback on," Arbeau said. "We'll refine and revise the proposal as we move along." 

'Density on Main Street West is appropriate'

The association is glad to have McMaster in charge of the development, as opposed to it being a private market project, and said they hope to negotiate with the university.

The McMaster Children's Hospital towers over the end of Traymore Avenue, where the university plans to build a multi-storey development. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Coun. Aidan Johnson, who represents the area on city council, said he hopes to see a compromise and that the university takes the neighbours' concerns about parking, height and shadows into account.

"I continue to believe that density on Main Street West is appropriate," he said. "The question is, what form does it take?"

At the same time, the university is building a 500-bed student residence on campus as part of a 12-storey project also containing teaching space and a childcare centre.

"Why does it have to be bigger in the community?" Rosen said.

Arbeau said both projects are necessary to meet the demand. There are usually between 5,500 and 6,000 students in an incoming class at McMaster, and only 3,900 housing spots on campus.

"We turn students away now that want to live on campus," he said. 

An open house information night about the project is scheduled for Feb. 7 at McMaster.


About the Author

Kelly Bennett is a freelance reporter based in Hamilton. Her writing has appeared in CBC News, the Toronto Star, Voice of San Diego and elsewhere. She can be reached at kelly@kellyrbennett.com.