Wool­wich res­i­dents get a chance to meet and quiz elec­tion can­di­dates

Three can­di­dates run­ning for two seats in Ward 1, while Ward 2 will have a new rep­re­sen­ta­tive cho­sen from two hope­fuls

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - FAISAL ALI

WITH THE EARLY VOT­ING now opened in the town­ships this week, res­i­dents of Wool­wich had the op­por­tu­nity to prime them­selves ahead of time at a meet the can­di­dates event Oc­to­ber 3 in the com­mu­nity room at the WMC.

Some 125 peo­ple came out for the ses­sion or­ga­nized by the Wool­wich Se­niors As­so­ci­a­tion. The all-can­di­dates meet­ing brought to­gether all five coun­cil hope­fuls for the two con­tested wards in the town­ship.

Run­ning for the two seats in Ward 1 (Elmira) are can­di­dates Scott McMil­lan, Julie-Anne Herteis (in­cum­bent) and Pa­trick Mer­li­han (in­cum­bent). In Ward 2 – the area rep­re­sent­ing the north­west­ern half of Wool­wich, in­clud­ing Flo­radale, Hei­del­berg and St. Ja­cobs but ex­clud­ing Elmira – are new­com­ers Fred Re­dekop and Eric Sch­windt.

Mayor Sandy Shantz and Ward 3 in­cum­bents Mur­ray Martin and Larry Shantz were all re­turned by ac­cla­ma­tion, as no other can­di­dates stepped up.

At last week’s meet­ing, can­di­dates were each given three min­utes to ex­plain their plat­forms, fol­lowed by a ques­tion-an­dan­swer pe­riod hosted by mod­er­a­tors Rob Wa­ters and Se­bas­tian Siebel Achen­bach. Ques­tions were also fielded from the au­di­ence, and ran the gamut from traf­fic and hous­ing con­cerns to the town­ship’s green­ing ini­tia­tives.

The need for af­ford­able hous­ing, par­tic­u­larly for se­niors and young fam­i­lies, was a ma­jor con­cern broached, with mod­er­a­tors ask­ing can­di­dates whether they felt it was a pri­or­ity, and what the so­lu­tions might be.

Can­di­dates unan­i­mously agreed af­ford­able hous­ing was a pri­or­ity of the up­com­ing coun­cil. In­cum­bents Herteis and Mer­li­han, how­ever, noted the chal­lenge of push­ing con­trac­tors and de­vel­op­ers to cre­ate af­ford­able hous­ing.

“We can­not dic­tate to the con­trac­tors and de­vel­op­ers to do that, but we can highly sug­gest it to

them,” said Herteis, who served as Ward 1 coun­cil­lor from 2010-14 and was ap­pointed to coun­cil again ear­lier this year fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of Scott Hahn. “I think what I’d like to do is work with the Wa­ter­loo Re­gion ... and find out if there’s any way of maybe hav­ing a cou­ple units that are sub­si­dized on the hous­ing mar­ket for se­niors.

“I’m not sure how we can go about it, con­vinc­ing the con­trac­tors and the de­vel­op­ers into mak­ing more se­niors’ hous­ing,” she added.

Mer­li­han added that af­ford­able hous­ing, like many ser­vices in the town­ship, ac­tu­ally fell un­der the re­gional gov­ern­ment’s au­thor­ity, and that lo­cal coun­cil was limited in what it could do. He noted the dif­fi­culty with just get­ting the re­gion to main­tain ex­ist­ing af­ford­able hous­ing in the town­ship, let alone fund new projects.

He noted he had hoped to use the site of the old River­side Pub­lic School for an af­ford­able hous­ing project, bring­ing up a mo­tion at the Oc­to­ber 2 coun­cil meet­ing.

“Just last night (Oct. 2) I brought up a mo­tion for Wool­wich coun­cil to start a process with the River­side Pub­lic School on Wil­liams Street. It’s been va­cant for two years; coun­cil has asked staff to se­cure that prop­erty, to have a con­ver­sa­tion with the com­mu­nity and see what we can do with that prop­erty to al­le­vi­ate some of those hous­ing short­falls that we have,” he said.

“That’s some­thing we can’t even talk about be­cause right now the school board is just hold­ing onto the prop­erty.”

The other can­di­dates had their own sug­ges­tions.

“This is one of the most press­ing is­sues to all mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across the prov­ince,” noted McMil­lan, agree­ing there were no straight­for­ward so­lu­tions to coun­cil. “I think we have to be open to all pos­si­ble so­lu­tions. I know the City of Wa­ter­loo right now is work­ing to im­prove the zon­ing process for adding nanny flats and ex­ist­ing suites into ex­ist­ing units. We’re go­ing to need to get creative.”

“We’ve had a great project here in Elmira re­cently called the Foundry ... and that’s through Men­noHomes,” said Re­dekop, a Ward 2 can­di­date. “As Pa­trick [Mer­li­han] men­tioned, it’s a re­gional is­sue. And so we’ll have to con­tinue to ad­vo­cate on be­half of our se­niors.”

“I see the town­ship’s role as an en­abler: and how does the town­ship make it eas­ier for that hous­ing to ap­pear?” said fel­low Ward 2 can­di­date Sch­windt, sug­gest­ing re­duc­ing un­nec­es­sary re­stric­tions in the by­laws could help en­tice de­vel­op­ers with lower costs. Large ru­ral homes were an­other pos­si­ble source of low­in­come hous­ing, he added, such through base­ment apart­ments and in-law suites.

Traf­fic formed an­other ma­jor theme at the meet­ing, with mod­er­a­tors call­ing the is­lands and boule­vards on Church Street in Elmira a “dis­grace” and ques­tion­ing prospec­tive coun­cil­lors about traf­fic in the broader town­ship.

Mer­li­han noted Wool­wich coun­cil had just voted to in­stall left-hand turn lanes at the Church and Arthur street intersection to al­le­vi­ate traf­fic woes in town, at the cost of a few road­side park­ing spots. Can­di­dates weighed in on the lost park­ing spots, with Herteis and Sch­windt lean­ing against the idea, and McMil­lan in favour.

“I think some­times you have to give up space for traf­fic ef­fi­ciency,” said McMil­lan. “But I think some­times it would also be nice to give up space for a side­walk café, or a wider side­walk that you could walk hand-in-hand with your wife... Cre­at­ing a space where you want to spend time, which then al­lows busi­nesses to move in and serve those peo­ple that are spend­ing time in your down­town.”

For traf­fic in Elmira, Sch­windt was strongly sup­port­ive of a by­pass route for trucks, which would take heavy traf­fic through the town’s in­dus­trial area, away from the down­town core. The plan has long stalled on the re­gional gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties, with Sch­windt sug­gest­ing a re­newed push was needed.

“As an op­por­tu­nity lost, we have an op­por­tu­nity now to push that project for­ward, to start that con­ver­sa­tion again about by­pass­ing Elmira,” he said. “Def­i­nitely, down­town, small com­mu­ni­ties weren’t meant for truck traf­fic.”

How­ever, oth­ers pointed out the like­li­hood of suc­cess­fully pe­ti­tion­ing the re­gion for the fund­ing any­time soon was min­i­mal.

“The re­gion is look­ing at a by­pass, but again, it’s kind of like your High­way 7. Even­tu­ally it will get there,” said Herteis.

Both Arthur and Church streets were re­gional roads, she noted, with the re­gion once again hav­ing the fi­nal say on the mat­ter.

“Work­ing with the re­gion is about the best op­tion we have at this point,” she said, adding that res­i­dents too could help ad­vo­cate for the by­pass route. “If you guys want to sub­mit your com­ments to the re­gion too, that might help put a lit­tle fire.”

McMil­lan agreed the re­gion was likely to de­lay the project.

“Prob­a­bly the thing that I’ve heard the most about when I’m out knock­ing on doors, talk­ing to peo­ple is, ‘When are we get­ting the by­pass?’” he said.

“I think right now the strat­egy of the re­gion has been to make our main street as ef­fi­cient for trucks as pos­si­ble, un­til we can spend tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to cre­ate an even more ef­fi­cient way for trucks,” he added, sug­gest­ing a fun­da­men­tal re-think in street plan­ning was needed.

“The main goal of a street shouldn’t be to move a truck as fast as we can from the Lis­towel cut­off to the north end of the town­ship. The main goal of a street should be to at­tract peo­ple, to at­tract di­verse ac­tiv­i­ties, cre­ate room for ac­tive trans­porta­tion, cre­ate space that peo­ple want to spend time in.”

Mer­li­han ad­mit­ted that many of the prob­lems be­ing dis­cussed by the can­di­dates had been present in the town­ship for years. The chal­lenge, he sug­gested, was that many of the prob­lems, from hous­ing to road­ways, were con­trolled at the re­gional level, rather than by the lo­cal coun­cil.

“As the night goes on and we have th­ese ques­tions that all in­volve the re­gion, you’re go­ing to maybe hear a theme come from me. I’m very frus­trated with the re­gion – deal­ing with any of th­ese traf­fic is­sues in par­tic­u­lar, but af­ford­able hous­ing [as well],” he said.

He noted that the re­gion was some­times quick to dis­miss the lower-tier mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s con­cerns, or other­wise claimed there was not enough funds avail­able to in­vest – ei­ther in new hous­ing, road­work or other projects.

“And it’s re­ally un­for­tu­nate. It will take more than just us on coun­cil ask­ing the re­gion. It will take the com­mu­nity to say, ‘Hey, we need this ad­dressed. We say it’s a prob­lem.’”

Elec­tion day is Oc­to­ber 22, though vot­ing is now open early to res­i­dents via the in­ter­net and tele­phone.

[FAISAL ALI / THE OB­SERVER]

A good crowd turned out Oct. 3 for an all-can­di­dates meet­ing at the Wool­wich Com­mu­nity Cen­tre, as the pub­lic asked ques­tions of the five can­di­dates vy­ing for two spots on coun­cil. In Ward 1 in­cum­bents Julie-Anne Herteis and Pa­trick Mer­li­han are be­ing chal­lenged by new­comer Scott McMil­lan, while Ward 2 sees Fred Re­dekop and Eric Sch­windt vy­ing to fill the seat va­cated by the re­tir­ing Mark Bau­man.

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