Councillors with the City of Kenora have approved a number of zoning by-law changes ahead of the development of the former Northlands building at 216 Matheson Street South.

While approvals for the actual building still need to take place, the Kenora District Services Board had asked the city for relief on a number of requirements to develop the facility in a General Commercial Zone, which the Northlands property was rezoned to earlier this year.

At their September 20 Council Meeting, councillors approved the by-law changes, which included reducing the number of parking spaces available per dwelling unit, an increase in the maximum-allowed building height and the use of retail spaces on the ground floor with commercial spaces above them – the reverse of what Kenora’s downtown has typically seen.

Now, the KDSB says Northlands is set to be developed into a four-storey, 16-unit seniors complex with 28 parking spaces available to residents within 90 metres, with a ground-floor retail store space and a caretaker suite, a fourth-floor pharmacy or medical clinic and a rooftop patio with green space.

''Northlands design courtesy of the City of Kenora and Landmark Planning & Design Inc.

With the building set to be about as tall as the Kenricia Hotel and an already limited amount of parking available in the downtown core, the City of Kenora did receive letters from residents and nearby business owners sharing concerns about the work.

Residents say many businesses and employees already to struggle with parking on Matheson Street South and the purchase of 28 individual parking spaces by the KDSB will only worsen the issue. They add that the height of the building could block views of the lake, and they were worried about the safety of seniors living in Kenora’s downtown.

City Planner Kevan Sumner’s report notes that parking has been a compromise between the city and KDSB – who had originally asked for 0.5 parking spaces per unit, typical for senior’s housing facilities, which the city fought back on.

Sumner also had concerns about the safety of residents as customers made their way through the commercial spaces within the building, which he hopes to see addressed in future design work and planning stages for the building.

The city notes the KDSB will need to go through another application and approval process once they submit designs for the building.

The fully-serviced Northlands lot has been vacant since the demolition of the building in late 2020. It was purchased by the KDSB in 2018, but after an assessment, staff 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. Although, senior’s housing units would be located close to three bus routes and are within a 10-minute walk to a variety of services.

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.

Other housing projects the KDSB is tackling this year in Kenora include a 30-unit facility near Evergreen in partnership with Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, 20 affordable housing units on Matheson Streetsecond-stage housing on Fifth Street South and an expected redevelopment of the Benidickson Court seniors facility.

The KDSB says in 2014, they had about 400 families waiting for affordable housing in the district. By 2022, that number had grown to over 1,300 families. Their data shows that demographics most in need include seniors, families and single residents.