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Western’s massive residence project on Richmond Street exempted from municipal planning oversight


Stakeholders are sounding the alarm after the provincial government stripped municipalities of the ability to make planning-related decisions about residential development on university lands.

“As of a few days ago, the city has no jurisdiction on planning matters on university lands,” Planning and Environment Committee Chair Steve Lehman informed council colleagues and members of the public on Tuesday afternoon.

The planning committee’s agenda initially included a rezoning request by Western University to build an eight-storey (772 bedrooms) student residence at 1151 and 1163 Richmond St., just north of the university gates.

Civic Administration admitted they were still reviewing the impacts of the province’s Cutting Red Tape to Build More Homes Act, but a memo added to the agenda states, “The Bill exempts universities that receive regular and ongoing operating funds from the government from the requirements of the Planning Act.”

Western Graduate Student Brendon Samuels suggests fitting a building of that magnitude on Richmond Street, within the near-campus neighbourhood, would benefit from the type of community input required under the Planning Act.

“There’s a lot of natural heritage back here. There’s emergency vehicle concerns. There’s the congestion of traffic,” Samuels told CTV News. “How these pieces all interlock is a really important set of planning questions.”

The exemption from the Planning Act pertains to post-secondary campuses in Ontario as well as any other land the institutions own.

“Now it’s kind of left up to the discretion of the university, and I think it’s very important that we have transparency around how decision-making is going to proceed moving forward,” Samuels added.

Western University declined to be interviewed.

Diagram showing the proximity of loading area to Kathleen Galil’s home (labelled #15). (Source: City of London)

A short written statement said Western will, “continue to engage our neighbours and the City of London when we pursue new developments.”

It added that, “we’ve had multiple meetings, including two open houses, with the four surrounding neighbourhood associations to review the new residence project.”

According to a news release in April, the provincial government’s intent with the blanket exemption is to, “save years in approvals, avoid planning application fees and remove more barriers to building higher density student residences.”

Neighbour Kathleen Galil and her husband attended the planning committee meeting at city hall because they’ve lived on Tower Street for 40 years.

She understands the need for additional on-campus housing, but had hoped to address traffic concerns if delivery trucks access the building’s loading area that would be next to her home.

“It would be nice to talk with the university,” she said. “I may be wrong, but I didn’t see anyone from the university there at the meeting (at city hall).” Top Stories

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