Henry Walser Funeral Home expansion can proceed, but 5 affordable units will be lost in Kitchener

Kitchener council approved a zoning bylaw change so Henry Walser Funeral Home in Kitchener can expand its operations. It means the funeral home will demolish two homes the Walsers own and are currently affordable units.

Walser told council efforts to communicate with affected tenants continue

The exterior of a funeral home.
Henry Walser Funeral Home can now go ahead with a planned expansion to add a crematoruim and parking. The funeral home, located on Frederick Street, owns three homes on the same lot on Becker Street located behind the facility. The houses include affordable units. Two of the homes will need to be demolished for work to begin. Kitchener council approved a proposal that will keep one of the three homes. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

Henry Walser Funeral Home in Kitchener, Ont., will be able to move ahead with its planned expansion to add a crematorium and additional parking on its property after city council approved a zoning change to neighbouring properties.

But the decision was not an easy one for council to make, says Ward 1 Coun. Scott Davey, because it means two homes that currently provide five affordable housing units will need to be demolished.

"This is one of the more grey decisions I've made and frankly I don't feel great about it, but it was in my mind the better of multiple bad outcomes," Davey told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition on Tuesday.

The funeral home, located on Frederick Street, owns three homes on the same lot on Becker Street behind the funeral home. The properties were all purchased by Henry Walser between 2016 and 2017 and the family kept the rent affordable for tenants. 

The funeral home had requested a change to the zoning bylaw, where the Becker Street homes are located, in January to allow for the expansion of the funeral home.

The original application looked at removing all three homes from Becker Street, but in light of community concern for the displacement of the tenants, the proposal was deferred twice to give the funeral home and city staff time to draft alternative options.

Kitchener council approved a proposal Monday night that will keep one of the three homes from being taken down.

Davey said if council voted to refuse the proposal brought before them Monday night, Walser could sell the property and those homes and another landlord could increase the rent.

Or, he said, "what would be worse is if there was an appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal, which goes above council's head and we lose the one property that we negotiated in saving."

During Monday's meeting, Coun. Bil Ioannidis asked what would happen if council refused the proposal. Walser, who appeared before council as a delegation, said he would look to sell the properties.

"I'm not going to be in the landlord business forever, that's for sure," Walser said. "I would put them on the market. I'd do something."

LISTEN | Why Kitchener councillors approved a zoning change to allow 2 homes providing affordable housing to be demolished:

The Henry Walser Funeral Home in Kitchener has asked the city for permission to rezone property it owns. That would allow the home to demolish two homes to build a crematorium and expand parking. But the request has raised many questions. Coun. Scott Davey explains how city councillors made a decision Monday night.

Why expansion is needed

During his delegation, Coun. Dave Schnider asked Walser why the expansion to the funeral home was needed. Walser told council his business has grown since they started and it needs the physical space to keep up.

"When I started in 2001, we served 100 families the first year. Today we're serving 1,400 families every year," he said.

"The business continues to grow. We need more space to care for the deceased, to give people space to have community come in and gather with them at that time."

Walser also told council during a Jan. 9 meeting that 70 per cent of families accessing his services ask for cremation, but his business often has to rely on other funeral homes to offer that service.

As well, he told council lack of parking at the facility has been an ongoing issue. 

Alternate homes for tenants

The proposal for the expansion had raised many questions and concerns in the community.

First, the concerns were about having a crematorium near a residential area, Davey said. But that later transitioned into concerns around the affordable housing units.

"There's a significant issue that we're dealing with, even though it's not really our jurisdiction to deal with, is the displacement of people and we take that very seriously," Davey said.

"But that's respectfully not Mr. Walser's issue. He's under no obligation to be an affordable housing provider. That's the government's job."

Several councillors also raised concern on Monday about the removal of the affordable units and the displacement of the tenants.

Walser told councillors he had been transparent with tenants since he purchased the properties and that his intentions were to eventually expand his business.

He also told councillors he has found alternate units for the affected tenants on Ann Street and in the Becker Street home that is not going to be demolished, but those units won't be able to be rent out at an affordable rate.

Walser added he has made several efforts to communicate with the tenants about the process, but said he had not heard from them. 

"I did offer $5,500 to each tenant for relocation costs. That expired Jan. 24 with no communication from the tenants," he said.


Carmen Groleau is a reporter with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.