It was an emotional evening Tuesday as dozens of concerned citizens gathered at the Rhineland Pioneer Centre in Altona to raise their objections to a proposed amendment to a local rezoning bylaw.

1820 Properties and Brookstone Capital, the new owners of Parkside Village, have requested Town Council rezone the mobile home park from Residential Mobile Home to Residential Medium Density in order to facilitate plans for multi-family units to be built on the property. The intent, as outlined by property owner, Owen Reimer, at Tuesday's public hearing is to build a series of two- and three-story apartments and townhouses on the six-acre lot for a potential total of 140 housing units.

"The benefit of this development for the community is it allows people to stay that are going to look for housing, let's say in Winkler or Morden or Plum Coulee or Morris or farther away," said Remier. "We want to create a lot of units that have variety, that would suit everybody in different stages of life. We're looking at putting in some elevators in three story buildings to allow for 55+ or mature living."

"The parcel fits the requirements of good planning for a multi-family site," added Reimer. "Technically, it is a multi-family site at the moment as a mobile home community. It is zoned for multi-family in that this current situation, if maximized, will allow for 50 units within the bylaws of Altona with no hearings required." He noted, the lot located just east of Parkside Village is the site of a current condo project and has already been rezoned.

Among the benefits of such a development that includes attractive and affordable neighbourhoods, noted Reimer, is the creation of a diverse economy and diverse tax base. Keeping things local, he said the intent is to also work with area contractors and suppliers to construct the units.

With 27 mobile homes currently located on the site, Reimer says the big question being asked is why they want to rezone and redevelop the parcel.

"The infrastructure is close to 50 years old, and is reaching the end of its lifespan, and is close to one bad winter of sewer lines being dug out and water lines etc. Roads, water, sewer services and lift station are toward the end of their lifespan. Major upgrades to the whole site would not be possible with the existing mobile home units on site, and they would have to be required to relocate for the work to be completed safely. For the cost of doing that, 27 units on site would not be feasible, and require at least 50 units on site to do that," explained Reimer. "The average lifespan of a mobile home built today is 30 to 50 years if maintained and kept up to building codes. A majority of the units on site are between 35 to 50 years of age."

Additionally, Reimer said rezoning allows for incentives to provide housing built to current building codes he says will last for over 100 years and provide significantly more housing in the long term.

According to information presented at the hearing, currently, 17 of the 27 mobile homes located at Parkside Village are rentals - 7 owned by 1820 Properties and the remaining 10 by others. The remaining 10 occupied by their respective owners.

One of those owners/residents is Loretta Neustaeter spoke during the public hearing. She's lived in Parkside Village for 19 years and was the first to speak against the amendment.

“I am recently widowed. I lost my husband to cancer two years ago. I worked hard to pay off the trailer, so I could live on my income alone. I have raised four kids there. I have a grandchild on the way. My parents owned it before I did. I understand mine is one of the originals, it is 50 years old, I get it. I do not think it can be moved,” she started, before presenting five pages filled with signatures of people also opposed to the bylaw revision.

"Where the heck are we supposed to go? I'm a frontline worker. I work full time and have for 24 years in this town. Where am I supposed to go? Take into consideration some people are not losing any sleep over this. 27 families are...this is my home. This is my husband’s home. This is my children’s home, and it's not right. People that come into the community that don't live here and have a say of kicking us out. I do believe in history. We've already taken land from people. Why are they taking our land again? I don't get it. I pay my lot fee. I pay almost three-grand ($3,000) a year, and that's just me. So, you can’t say the Town does not get money from us.”

She added, it doesn't make any sense why this long-time neighbourhood has been targeted for development.  

“It's not my fault the previous owners didn't keep up with infrastructure. I pay my fees, everybody else pays their fees. Money could have gone in to keep it the way it's supposed to be, but that's not on us. We do our best. Please take into consideration that you are literally pulling the carpet out from underneath our knees. My trailer can't be moved. If this gets rezoned, I'm completely homeless. A frontline worker saving people’s (lives) at the hospital – homeless.”

Another delegate encouraged Council to consider what it wants Altona to be known for - how it treats the marginalized and low-income families.

Richard Bage, a local pastor, also encouraged Council to ponder a question.

"My concern isn't so much with the project itself. The condos look beautiful. I'm sure people would love to live there. My concern is the location. As we've heard, 27 families currently reside there, and it is my understanding that at this moment, there is no plan in place for where they would go next. There is no plan. We have talked about moving homes. We have talked about moving mobiles. Yet, we do not have a plan in place as to where they would be moved. Until such a plan is in place, I cannot support this proposal because, as it looks right now, if this plan goes forward, 27 families, largely seniors, largely young families, largely the working poor would be displaced. And I can't speak in favor of that,” he said.  

 “I have the privilege of serving as lead pastor of the South Park Mennonite Brethren Church, and the only reason I bring that up is because our building is located on the far southeast corner of town. So far southeast in fact that less than 100 yards from where I work every day, where our congregation gathers to worship weekly, is a large, beautiful sign that says, 'Altogether Altona’.  My question for Council, my question for the mayor, my question for all of us here this evening - is there room in our Altona? Is there room in our 'altogether’ for all residents, including those at the Parkside Village? I have spoken long enough. This time for other voices to be heard. So, as a good preacher I will end my remarks this evening by quoting Jesus. “For I tell you the truth. Whatever you've gone to. One of the least of these. You have done to me.”

June Voth and her husband Peter are in their 80s, and they live in Parkside Village as well.

“First of all, before I start anything else, Mr. Mayor I would like to congratulate you on your new position. You can be assured you and your councilors are in our prayers in our home. We have had some tough times a few years back where we lost everything, but my husband and I were not willing to go to welfare, and so, we worked very hard to build up our equity again, and we feel we have done well, so we invested in a home here in Altona. We feel that we have a very nice home, and the investment would be for our senior place. We are so stunned to realize that now this proposal would literally take it all away. Please Mr. Mayor, we ask and we pray that you will deliberate with your heart and not with the bankbook. Thank you.”

Corney Klassen owns one of the mobile homes in the neighbourhood, and rents it out.

“It's an older trailer, I understand. I don't do it to make money. I do it to give somebody a place to live. I was caught by surprise by all of this. When the lot was sold...I never heard about it. I was never given a letter, never given an e-mail or phone call. Nothing, no heads up. I found out by surprise one day (when) I got a call from one of the new owners asking if I can give them a water meter reading, and I was like, 'What's going on?'” he explained. “I'm just wondering why I wasn't notified.”

Additionally, Klassen says he wasn’t notified about the proposed amendment and subsequent development plans until the Sunday prior to the public hearing.

“I know my trailer there in the Court is an older trailer, but it's still livable. I put an addition on it a couple years ago. I was seriously considering putting a new trailer up there about a year ago. Now today, I'm really glad I didn't invest any more money there than I would have invested already. So, with all of this, my view as well is, if there's an option given, as for myself, I would love to replace my trailer, to make it a better appearance for the community, to make it a better living space for someone. But at the same time, if it's so unsure right now, I'm not going to spend any money. I build homes for a living. I know sometimes you have to take down something old to make something new. You have to do that to improve things, but you have to have a plan that fits for everybody. You can't just go and take something from somebody just to put something there for yourself. You have to consider the people living in the trailer court right now. If they were bought out and given the chance to buy a new place when the new places were up, that would be one thing, or if there's a new development put up there, if they were offered a space in there with free rent for some time, I think then at least we have an option. Right now, just pulling the rug from under their feet, I think that is morally wrong, because then we know, we see, it is only money driven. It is not giving people a better place to live. It is about the bottom line for someone. So, I would like you to also consider that.”

He went on to share how the change would impact the owner of a neighbouring mobile home.  

“There's a young girl that lives there. She bought the trailer just recently. She's partially handicapped, and she's doing really well - to have a job where she has her own income, where she's not living on social assistance, and she's actually putting effort into making her own living. She bought this trailer because she could afford it, and now she's about to lose everything just because somebody is driven by money."

23-year-old Steven Ursell purchased his mobile home in June only to find out two months later that could have to move.  

“I spent all the years leading up, saving up money to have a home as my first home. There are two additions. I have a garage and it's not on beams or anything. Well, I won't be able to move it. So, I don't know what's going to happen. All I can say is, I wanted to move here and I wanted to build a family and I wanted to live the rest of my life here. But yeah, is really how new young people that want to build a life here, is this how they're treated?”

These were just a handful of the nearly two-dozen pleas made at Tuesday's public hearing. No one spoke in favour of the change.

A common theme that emerged from the hearing had people asking for a plan about how to help the current residents of Parkside Village.

Reimer, the developer, explained that finalizing the rezoning allows them to have time to find solutions.

"We're not looking to move any mobile home units in phase one, and this would be a multi-year development. This would give us the opportunity to work with the existing mobile units there to find options," he explained. "A lot of people have asked us, 'Can you come up with ideas or plans?', and at this point in time, without anything being done, and we don't do anything, we can't just start saying, 'Hey, we're going to make 15 different agreements' and then nothing happens, and it's kind of a wash in that regard. So, we're trying to see what happens in this regard (referring to the rezoning process) before we go to the next stage."

In order for the amendment to be approved, the proposed new bylaw must go through three readings at the Council table. Once the first reading is given, a public hearing is required under the Planning Act. 

Dan Gagne, CAO for the Town of Altona, reported the Community Planning Branch in Morden solicited feedback on the new bylaw from various provincial departments, and no concerns were expressed based on the changing in the zoning. As well, he said the Planning Branch also did not have any concerns and indicated that the zoning bylaw amendment that's under consideration conforms to the overall intent and policies of the RPGA Planning District Development Plan bylaw. 

Unless objections are received from at least 25 eligible persons, or 50% of the total number of property owners located within a hundred metres of the property, Gagne explained Council may proceed with second and third reading of the proposed bylaw, at which time notice of the Council decision must be provided in accordance with the Planning Act as well.  

Those in attendance were given the opportunity to sign an objector's log, providing an official record of objections to the proposal.

Devin McAuley is the Planner at the Community Planning Branch. He joined the public hearing via video link. 

He explained, official objectors to the proposal will be notified if Council proceeds with second reading of the revised bylaw, and they will be given another opportunity to object further. Should there not be a sufficient number of objectors reached a second time, the application will be forwarded on to the Municipal Board for a decision.

Should the rezoning be approved, Gagne explains the current use of the property as Residential Mobile Home will be able to continue until the property owner decides to move forward with the project.