A Rossland builder is taking another crack at turning an empty lot on Thompson Avenue into affordable housing for seniors and young families in the community.
And he hopes to be breaking ground on the project by next summer.
“Half the Emcon lot is being used to build housing for young people,” says Cezary Ksiazek. “Rossland says it is a senior-friendly community. So now it’s time to do something for seniors.”
It’s not Ksiazek’s first attempt to develop the former Cooke Avenue School property, as it’s known. Originally purchased in 2011 by a group of investors, he got the zoning on the site changed from public institutional to mixed residential in 2014. That would have allowed him to build six fourplexes on the site.
However, public opposition to the development, and several years of wrangling with city staff over details stalled the project. He said at the time the city’s demands made the project uneconomical.
But he says a recent meeting he had with Mayor Kathy Moore about the project prompted him to try again.
“Kathy Moore said, ‘Cezare, you have to do something for seniors,’” he recalls her saying. “‘Seniors here need affordable housing.’”
He says there’s a huge demand for seniors’ affordable housing in town.
“I noticed at Esling Park Lodge the waiting list for apartments is so long… if we applied when we were 20, we would have a chance,” he says. “It’s so long they’re not even accepting new applications.”
Instead of building six fourplex units, Ksiazek says he’ll build three fourplexes for young families, and use the larger second lot on the property to build one multi-unit building for seniors.
“The idea is to put something for [people aged] 55-plus, with elevator, carports, wheelchair accessible, a clubhouse, etc.,” he says. “The idea is to make it one building. My architect says he can come up with a nice design here.”
Ksiazek says the property is one of the last empty lots in the city, and is close to downtown by foot or by public transit.
“This is a good spot. We have to make changes, it needs rezoning,” he says. “It’s zoned for fourplexes. We can’t build fourplexes for seniors. So we have to talk to city planners. We have to talk to council about how many units we can squeeze in here, because more units makes it less expensive.”
Ksiazek says he plans to start geotechnical work on the project in October. He’ll then work with an architectural firm for a rough design, and bring that plan to council and the public for approval.
He figures the total cost for the Cooke Street project will be in the $8 million range.
He plans to do the affordable housing in conjunction with a more upscale project he’s planning on Iron Colt Road, in order to cut overall construction costs.
Ksiazek, known as the Rossland Builder around town, has been building homes in the city for nearly 20 years.
Now that he’s nearing retirement, he says he wants to give back to the community that welcomed him all those years ago.
“I am 63,” he says. “When I was 10, my dad passed away. When I was 12, my mom passed away. I know what it’s like to be growing up hungry, with the refrigerator empty.
“But basically my life after that — I can’t complain. I have a beautiful wife, beautiful kids and grandson. So God has taken care of me. So maybe I should pay back.”
But after almost a decade of wrangling over the site, he’s not counting his chickens before they’re hatched.
“There’s a saying in Polish, ‘don’t say it was a good day before the sun sets,’” he says.