Consider Stephen Litt the ultimate recycler.
The University of Waterloo engineering grad, who founded Revel Development while he was still in school and has since gone on to be the director of operations of Vive Development Corporation, has always had an interesting philosophy when it comes to repurposing old housing stock and refurbishing it for the market.
“I believe in renovating, not detonating,” said Litt, who came before Waterloo council recently for a zone change application for a building at 50 University Ave. E.
The building was once built and owned by Wilfrid Laurier University as a student residence, but was eventually bought by Vive Development Corporation and leased back to the school to provide student accommodation.
But with a surplus of student housing in the local market, the site itself may become an unique opportunity to reconvert the existing six-storey apartment to type of one bedroom units that will bring back some rental affordability and availability to the local housing market.
“There’s a lot of overhang in the student housing market right now,” said Litt. “The housing is built right by the campus so it makes it less desirable for students to rent places further away from school.
“What’s going to happen to those buildings?”
It’s exactly the type of project that fits in with Litt’s vision for design and problem solving that grew out his studies as a systems design engineer at UW.
And it isn’t the first time he’s done it. He began his development career by turning a sidesplit single family house in Waterloo into a technology incubator on Batavia Place.
More recently, when an absentee landlord let his building at 154 Erb St. E. go to pot, the city issued a closure order in February 2016. Vive Development Corporation came to the rescue and the restored the project and called it 154 Uptown in what Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky touted as a model of revitalization in the community.
Vive Development’s agreement to lease back 50 University Ave. E. will also be up soon, and it’s their intention to turn the development from the existing model that features three to four bedrooms and cut the number of bedrooms from 161 bedrooms to 108 bedrooms.
“Our goal is to turn a lot of three and four-bedroom apartment units into one-bedroom units,” said Pierre Chauvin of MHBC Planning, which is the consultant on the project. “The total occupancy load will be reduced with this application.”
Coun. Whaley described the existing structure as the epitome of student warehousing and said there is an opportunity to apply some of the city’s new design standards to the project.
Chauvin said what is driving the changes is housing affordability, and the redeveloped building will have market rates and will provide a better mix of housing stock in the area.
“This utilizes and maximizes existing infrastructure and is an efficient use of land and is also consistent with providing intensification in a built-up area,” he said.
With vacancy rates still historically low around the region, it doesn’t help the housing market to demolish a building like this and take years to rebuild it to get it to the optimal state. It also doesn’t make financial sense, when the opportunity exists to do a planned renovation that will be highly desirable and up-to-date rental units back on the market like they at 154 Erb St. E.
The worry is that the housing mix in Waterloo could price people out of the city with the cost of homes, and this project gives people choice in staying in the community if they choose to downsize and relocate.
Litt, who grew up in the community and is a big believer in its future, said they’re working to get that housing mix right with some of the projects Vive Development has taken on.
Especially with projects like the Ion coming on line, and the increased transportation options available in the city, intensification will be the future of Waterloo and it makes projects like the ones they’ve undertaken even more important.
“This is the ultimate in green building,” said Litt. “We’re recycling existing structures and repurposing them for the future, keeping all the waste and materials out of the local landfill. We do more for the environment when we renovate existing buildings than tearing them down and starting all over again.”
The zone change for 50 University Ave. E. still needs approval from council, and work wouldn’t start at the earliest until next year.
Oct 16, 2017 by Bob Vrbanac Waterloo Chronicle