Last summer, the old Arthur Meighen Public School was demolished. Living beside the property these last eight years, my family had seen it go through many changes. Our daughter was enrolled in the school and attended classes in its final two years. It went from a busy beehive filled with kids, to a quiet and dark building that was neglected and vandalized. We were relieved when the building was finally pulled down as we no longer had to worry about vandals and the reoccurring damage to our property and those of our neighbours. Best of all, the constant threat of fire is gone.
Over those years, we would often walk the dogs through the schoolyard and remark on its great potential for development. Ideally located at the town’s highest point of land, bordered by dozens of mature trees, the nature trail and a shaded creek, this would be considered prime land by any standard. It was hoped that the new developers would respect the site and present something befitting the town – a development in which we could take pride; one which would serve St Marys well. Not knowing what was coming, many questions came to mind:
• Would the new development blend visually with the rest of the neighbourhood?
• Would the plan include single and semi-detached homes with porches?
• Would it include live-work units?
• Would it have a cut-through, encouraging walking and cycling?
• Would the plans include appropriate green space?
• Would the development include allotment gardens?
• Would the plans include shared workrooms such as a well-lit upper-floor art studio, an equipped woodworking shop, a commercial kitchen and an insulated music room?
• Would the development feature thermal heating, solar panels and grey water usage?
In short, would the new development offer a good quality of life for its residents and sustainability for the community?
Rumours of a seniors residence were circulating and I happily thought that perhaps my mom would consider moving to St Marys. Sadly, we now know what is intended for this site: a massive, dense, five-storey complex intended for independent seniors and those requiring assisted living. It is clearly designed with maximum profitability in mind, rather than quality of life for its residents, its neighbours and the town in general. The model of segregating seniors in such a mammoth complex – one so large that it demands a doubling of the maximum density allowed by the Town’s Official Plan – not only shows no vision, but is completely out of touch with the movement toward inclusive and blended community. The proposed development consists of a sprawling building with no breaks or walkways. Not only is it cut off from the downtown, the library, and the Friendship Centre, but most surprisingly the plan cuts off the property from the neighbourhood.
My mother is 89-years-old. She was a geriatric nurse and worked for decades in large seniors complexes. She witnessed depression, anger, loneliness and boredom on a daily basis. Lives were spent indoors, cut off from the community. Residents may as well have been stationed on the moon. My father passed away seven years ago, but my mother still lives in her own house – her home for the last 50 years. She refuses to leave. Why would she give up on her privacy, her garden, cooking for her family, hosting her kids or grandkids when they’re in town, just because she is aged. Why is it so difficult to design seniors residences with quality of life in mind? I’m not saying that all seniors and assisted living residences are bad, but this plan should go back to the drawing board. This is less a residence than a cramped compound. Ghettos do not work for anyone, no matter the age or income.
St Marys’ vision – as reflected in the Official Plan – must be upheld. Bigger does not mean better and quantity rarely equates to quality. I hope the list above can be used and be adapted for consideration in future developments. All of the points apply to senior living. It could be a model for creating new by-laws specifically intended for developers. I kindly ask the developers to work with the community on this one – everybody can benefit from good collaboration.
Anyes K. Busby