State of limbo
By James Jackson
Published Feb. 26, 2014
After 55 years at the corner of King Street North and Noecker Street near uptown Waterloo, the congregation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. Sophia has an uncertain future.
Worried about the potentially negative impacts of a 23-storey and 13-storey twin-tower condo development next door, the church has been put up for sale and church leaders are considering their next move as they look to preserve their parish.
“At the moment, because we’re being hemmed in and they’re changing their plans constantly to try and get approval from council, we’re in a state of limbo,” said Claudia Griebenow, a member of the St. Sophia council.
“We don’t know which direction to take. We have contacted a real estate agent who is going to speak on our behalf and to see if we should be selling and if there is some place we can move to.”
The 0.22 acre property is posted on the Royal LePage website for $2.2 million, which includes the church and a semi-detached home with a combined area of 3,000 square feet. The church purchased the property in 1969 for $45,000, according to their website.
Parishioners do not want to move and feel they are being pushed off their land by the development, which will tower over their church.
The development has not been approved by council.
“The city (does) not understand the spiritual purpose of the church,” said Rev. Myroslav Shmyhelsky, who lives in the semi-detached home with his wife and four children. Another tenant rents the other half.
“The city understands it as (a) building. But we are (a) church. We are not (just a) house. We are (a) church. We are (a) community.”
Coun. Melissa Durrell said the private sale is the church’s business and the community will have to wait on the outcome. She urged other landowners in the area to look at the zoning surrounding their homes, or businesses to understand what may be built around them as the city intensifies, to hopefully avoid future conflicts.
The proposed development from UID Development Inc., referred to as K2 Condominiums, would consolidate several pieces of property directly adjacent to the church, located at 154 King St. N. The properties to be consolidated include 158 and 160 King St. N., 8 and 10 Noecker St., and 11 James St. S.
SRM Architects, designers of the development, did not respond to a request for an interview, and a spokesperson from UID said the company is continuing to work with the city on the design.
The city held an informal public council meeting in November to discuss the development and parishioners filled the chamber and several spoke in protest of the condo. The city hosted another public meeting with the community on Feb. 10.
Parishioners are concerned about noise, both during construction and once the building is complete, as well as disrespectful residents and the loss of privacy. The church has already had problems with vandalism from local students, they say.
During the public meeting in November, the architect said the building would be aimed at young professionals, not students, but Griebenow is wary of that claim. “Why else would they build so close to the (Wilfrid Laurier) university?” she asked.
Since the November meeting, the developer has agreed to pull the building back slightly from Noecker Street and reduce the number of parking spots and the number of units.
Under the original plan the building was to have 133 parking spots and 185 units, the majority of them one-bedroom units. In the new plan, there will be 122 parking spots and 174 units with a mix of one- and two-bedrooms, said Laura Dewar, a development planner at the city.
The developer will also reduce to height of the second tower by several metres, but maintain the 13-storeys.
Wilf Wallace is the realtor representing the parish in talks with the city and the developer, but he hasn’t been able to reach UID Development for the past several weeks to discuss a possible deal.
He admitted the asking price of $2.2 million was a little high, but said it not only includes the property and the buildings, but the added inconvenience of finding a new site to move to. Should they decide to move, several local churches have agreed to grant the congregation temporary use of their space until they find a new home, Wallace said.
The property was listed for sale on Jan. 30 but Wallace said they are holding back on posting any advertising on the property in the hopes they can work out a deal with UID.
“The developer wants to develop that block and it would help them if they also had that parcel the church owns,” Wallace said.
“From my understanding of chatting with the city, they would like to see this development go through, and this would help the development go through if the church wasn’t there anymore,” he added.
Dewar said the city has not sided with the developer in the project and is weighing the interests of both the developer and the church as they move forward.
“The city hasn’t been forceful or overly involved in that decision (to sell the church), that is coming from them,” she said. “They may feel that way but I can’t say that there’s anything to substantiate that claim.”
She also said as the city continues to push for increased intensification, especially along major corridors like King Street, there could be future conflict as large, new developments are built next to original, one- or two-storey homes.
“We are in a period of transition,” she said.
The next public meeting to discuss the development at council is tentatively set for April 7, and notices should be mailed out in the next few weeks, Dewar said. Ultimately it is up to council to decide if the development goes ahead.
The uncertainty is taking its toll on the nearly 75 people who attend the church regularly. They say they need to find a similar site close to the city core because many of their attendees walk or bicycle in the summer, or take public transit in the winter, and the current site is very easy to access.
“We feel like we’re in the middle of a tornado and all around us something is happening that’s beyond our control,” said Griebenow.