Westdale residents voiced their fierce opposition to the University’s proposed rezoning of a house on Forsyth Avenue at a community consultation meeting last week.
“It’s truly an incredibly stupid idea,” said one audience member at the Jan. 16 meeting in Gilmour Hall. The idea, to move services into an off-campus house, is attractive to a University short on space but unwelcome by the neighbourhood.
McMaster purchased 88 Forsyth Avenue in December for $735,000 with the intent of turning it into student lounge and office space. The Society of Off-Campus Students, Student Community Support Network and the Off-Campus Resource Centre are three MSU and McMaster organizations that would inhabit this 3,000 square foot home.
The thought to relocate these services came from the successful test drive of a SOCS student lounge in a vacant Wentworth House prior to its demolition last year. SOCS had temporarily taken over the old Phoenix restaurant and bar area and had found that having a large, dedicated lounge and quiet study space was beneficial to off-campus students between classes.
The Forsyth house would operate in a similar fashion. The building would be open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and may be open on some weekends. Students would be welcome to access the formal services offered by SCSN and OCRC or enjoy quiet study space, a lounge and kitchen area, and a basement games room.
Supervision of the space would be provided daily by regular campus security personnel.
While no structural changes are planned for the blueprint of the house, fire regulations for a rezoning would require reinforced separation between floors. Other planned renovations include painting, updating the wiring and re-carpeting.
The property was previously owned by the Muslim Association of Canada, which used the space in a way similar to what the University has planned. Under the Association’s ownership, the property was called Cordoba House and operated as a library and resource centre for Muslim students. Since it was not being used as a family home, Cordoba House had been run without the proper zoning status for the past many years. The quiet nature of its mandate and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, however, meant that the neighbours who understood its illegal zoning status weren’t bothered. Now, with fears of late-night activity and backyard parties, the community is ready to challenge the University on its intentions and oppose the rezoning of the house.
Residents potentially affected can lobby City officials to veto the rezoning. A presumed decrease in property value and potential noise issues were the major concerns of the community members opposed to rezoning the property for non-residential use. “We will fight this all the way,” said one Forsyth Avenue resident at the meeting. Rezoning involves a lengthy application to the City and progress is not expected for several months.
The significant renovations to the roof and windows will be put on hold until the zoning matter is resolved. In the meantime, the property has been added to McMaster’s regular groundskeeping and security rotation.
No new occupants were identified for the spaces in the student centre that OCRS, SOCS and SCSN would vacate if their relocation to 88 Forsyth is successful.