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Hamilton setting a new precedent in its student housing fight

On the surface, it looks like just another bureaucratic planning decision at Hamilton's city hall. But Aidan Johnson says it's much more than that – it's a new era at city hall in fighting what he calls bad student housing.
The city will spend thousands on an independent planner to fight a student housing proposal at 111 Winston. The applicant says her father bought the place for her and her friends. (Google)

On the surface, it looks like just another bureaucratic planning decision at Hamilton city hall. But Aidan Johnson says it's more than that — it's a new era at city hall in fighting what he calls bad student housing.

Councillors voted Tuesday to hire an outside planner to fight the case of 111 Winston Ave., a proposal to turn a single-family home in Ainslie Wood into 15 habitable rooms for at least seven students. Johnson, a Ward 1 councillor, says the move, combined with a committee of adjustment decision that sides with residents, is precedent setting.

If Hamilton is able to use an outside planner and eventually win at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) with that person's opinion, it'll bolster the city's efforts at fighting what Johnson calls excessive "studentification" going forward.

If we can establish a binding legal precedent that bad student housing is contrary to planning principles, then that's a major legal weapon.- Aidan Johnson, Ward 1 councillor

It will cost the city as much as $5,000 for each day of the OMB hearing, but Johnson insists that it's worth it.

"If we can establish a binding legal precedent that bad student housing is contrary to planning principles, then that's a major legal weapon," said Johnson, who is also a lawyer.

The 111 Winston case is just the latest in the city's effort to control the amount and quality of student housing around McMaster University and Mohawk College.

Johnson tells of west-end neighbourhoods with more students than long-time residents, and the two make an uneasy mix.

"Right now, we have an unhealthy imbalance in Ainslie Wood-Westdale where we have an excess of student housing and not enough of a balance of students and residents," he said.

Johnson says for the sake of students, student housing needs to be safe, appropriate and "hygienic."

"I have no reason to think this would be an unhygienic student housing, but I do have concerns."

The city already has reason to think it will be successful, Johnson said. City planners approved 111 Winston, while the committee of adjustment — an independent board that makes planning decisions — rejected the proposal.

That's already unusual, Johnson said, since the committee of adjustment tends to side with student housing landlords.

Morteza Irevan and his daughter Annalyia filed the proposal. Annalyia Irevan is a McMaster University student from Oakville, and her father bought the house for her and her friends, she told the committee of adjustment earlier this year.

When she moved in last year, she said, she hired a contractor to build a few more rooms to help with the mortgage, property taxes and other expenses.

The home will have seven bedrooms for a maximum of seven students, she said.

She understands the neighbourhood's struggle, she told the committee, but she doesn't know how the city expects to keep students out of a neighbourhood so close to the university.

City council will ratify the planning committee's decision on Friday.

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