Unanimous: Downtown improvement plan heads to council

The downtown core is one step away from a grant based community improvement program for residents and commercial property owners.

'It doesn't fix everything but it's definitely a tool to help residents move forward'

Windsor's planning committee has sent a strategy to improve the city's downtown core to council. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The downtown core is one step away from a grant-based community improvement program for residents and commercial property owners. 

Windsor's planning committee voted unanimously Monday to send the Downtown Windsor Enhancement Strategy and Community Improvement Plan to council for approval.

The plan features grants ranging from $500 to $20,000 for everything from minor residential property work to the construction of new residential buildings in the city's core. 

"The incentives and the size of the incentives and the robust suite of incentives, I think, does an excellent job and it's definitely an A+," said Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin, Chair of the Downtown Windsor Planning Study Steering Committee, who addressed the city's planning committee Monday. 

The plan also received support from the head of the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association, along with a reminder of previous failed plans. 

"It really is a step in the right direction," said Larry Horwitz.

"The old plans were not adequate. By the time people got through the whole process - and I hope this won't be an issue going forward - with getting legal papers and some of the interest charges made it unusable," he told the committee. 

Horwitz, in particular, praised a grant program that would help commercial property owners convert the upper levels of their buildings into residential units.

"Some of the plans you have with this CIP can work very well hand-in-hand with the downtown business association," said Horwitz.

Downtown Concerns

One long time resident of the downtown core addressed the committee with concerns about safety in the Victoria Avenue area. 

"You make it really hard to live downtown," said Peg Dorner, who believes the grant money is being weighted towards business owners instead of homeowners. 

Dorner, who has lived in her home for 38 years, said she needed to call the police six times some days this summer as she worked on her garden. 

"Shooting up drugs, you know that people are ripping apart bikes that are stolen," said Dorner. 

Her concerns were echoed during a panel discussion, hosted by CBC Windsor on Facebook, by panelist Sarah Cipkar of the Downtown Windsor Community Collaborative.

"That's one of the areas that this grant, I think, needs to go a little bit further, to be honest," said Cipkar. "I think residents have a right to be able to sit in their backyard, enjoy their property without feeling unsafe."

She said that the revitalization plan addresses some of these issues but doesn't believe it's a solution for safety concerns in the downtown core. 

"It doesn't fix everything but it's definitely a tool to help residents move forward," she said. 

Emily Coupland has lived downtown for a few months after moving from Sarnia and has already noticed some of the issues people face.

"I had to use my phone to see where I was going and there were potholes so it's kind of dangerous to bike alone at night in an alleyway," said Coupland.

Despite some drawbacks, she said living downtown also has positive points.

"We love that there's a lot diversity, we love the walkability, we love that we can walk to school, it's only a minute walk for my daughter," said Coupland.