The City of Kenora and the Kenora District Services Board are looking to reclassify and redevelop the former Northlands property on Matheson Street South, after a Public Statutory Meeting earlier this month.

The empty lot at 216 Matheson Street South is currently zoned as Institutional and the KDSB is hoping to rezone the area to a General Commercial Zone, in order to build a multi-unit residential development with commercial space on the main floor and affordable housing units above.

A report from the city notes this would be similar to many other properties in the Harbourtown Centre area, such as the Royal Lepage building, the Pharmasave building and the Board Anyone building, and many properties other properties in the same area are already in a General Commercial Zone.

The KDSB notes they are not proposing any development on the property yet, as a bidding process for the contract is still underway. The fully-serviced lot has been vacant since the demolition of the building in late 2020.

The KDSB adds the contract would include a provision to ensure some of the units would meet Kenora’s criteria for affordable housing, addressing the ongoing demand for housing in the community. The housing units would also be located close to three bus routes and is within a 10-minute walk to a variety of services.

City staff and the city’s Planning Advisory Committee both approved the recommendation to council as they found no issues with the KDSB’s application, and no public comments or concerns were received surrounding the project ahead of time.

But during council’s recent meeting, a fellow commercial property owner on Matheson Street South shared concerns about a limited number of parking spots in the area.

The city says since a new building has not been proposed yet they’re not familiar with the building’s potential parking needs, but there are parking requirements laid out in the General Commercial Zone requirements, which could include a provision for off-site parking within 90 metres.

City Planner Kevan Sumner notes the KDSB will need to go through another application and approval process once they submit designs for the building.

Council’s decision on the rezoning process is expected to be made at their regular Council meeting on June 21 at City Hall. The meeting is set to begin at 12 p.m. and can be watched virtually through the city’s website.

In a separate meeting, the city’s Planning Advisory Committee noted that the KDSB’s recent development, a 30-unit supportive housing development on Ninth Street North being built by Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, was originally proposed to the city as a 20-unit facility built by the KDSB, but plans were altered at some point without the city’s knowledge.

The committee noted they looked at what regulations were in place, but had no authority to decline a permitted use of the property if all regulations of the zoning by-law were followed and reflected in the proposal. They add they hope to address these concerns in the future.

The KDSB purchased the old Northlands building in 2018. After an assessment, they found the over 100-year-old building was in complete disrepair and needed to be replaced. At the time, Chief Administrative Officer Henry Wall had proposed administrative space with housing units above it.

Prior to the KDSB’s purchase, Northlands operated as a Supportive Housing program which eventually transitioned to the KDSB’s property on Pine Portage Road as part of Kenora’s Bail Residency program.

The Northlands building was originally built in 1890 as Kenora’s Ottawa Hotel. It later became a tavern before transitioning to support services, adult education and family violence counselling services.