City says 'yes' to rez
By Brendan Howe
Western's $20 million new residence on University Drive received its final stamp of approval Monday at London City Council but not without a few bruises to the Western ego and the emergence of a new initiative.
Emotions of councillors had to be put aside in favour of the fact the university had met all regulations for the site plan which council eventually approved by a vote of 11-6. Several members of council did, however, emphasize that Western did a poor job communicating with the community on this issue.
Mayor Dianne Haskett said if they were voting purely on an emotional basis the site plan would be unanimously turned down. However, she acknowledged all municipal requirements for the building had been met.
"This makes it very difficult to refuse knowing all the facts we have before us," she said to councillors. The crowded meeting was attended by members of the community, several students and members of the university administration who looked on in silence.
Community members have had various concerns about the new residence including its height, location and noise it would create.
"I think what has happened was the university arranged this in a way that made it very difficult to turn back their design," said Jay Casselman, a resident of Tower Lane, the street located behind the site of the new residence.
Western's VP-administration Peter Mercer said the major problem was the new residence is not on the campus master plan the planning document for construction around campus which the university modified most recently in 1994. He added residents in north London believed the university would not build on that site.
Casselman suspects, however, this may not be the end of university plans for this piece of land. Mercer confirmed the university is currently in discussions with the owners of 33 Tower Lane, the house which will be most directly affected by the construction of the residence, to buy the property.
Bill Peel, chair of the Board of Governors, said the owners of the home, Ralph Sweitzer and Dan Barham, approached the university about selling their property. He said negotiations between their lawyer and the university are currently taking place and have been ongoing since early January.
"The reason [for purchasing the house] is we felt there would be some disruption, primarily during the construction phase," Peel said. He added the university would rent out the house during the construction and resell it once the residence is finished.
Casselman said neighbours have guessed the house's value at being anywhere between $200,000 and $250,000.
The owners of the property at 33 Tower Lane have the best chance with legal action, said George Robinson, a former professor and member of the Board of Governors at Western and a resident of The Parkway, a street just south of University Drive. "They are buying [the owners] off."