Brussels, (Brussels Morning)- In the Wilderstraat in Sint-Agatha-Berchem, vzw ‘t Pasrel has plans to build a home for the temporary shelter of young people. Local residents are not exactly enthusiastic about these plans, because they fear that the project is far too big for their neighbourhood. A petition to stop the project has now been signed about 250 times.
Vzw ‘t Pasrel is a facility for special youth care. The organisation helps young people and their families to escape difficult situations, through outpatient or residential assistance.
“Young people and families who no longer know what is needed, come to us,” says Katrien De Koster, director of vzw ‘t Pasrel.
Property no longer meets the standards
The non-profit association currently has three houses in Brussels and the surrounding area: one in Schaerbeek, one in Vilvoorde and one in Halle. But because the house in Schaerbeek no longer meets the standards, the organisation had to look for a solution, says BRUZZ.
“There are bedrooms where there are still two in a room,” says the director. “Everyone lives too close together, conversation areas are at the limit and the house is completely worn out.”
Originally, ‘t Pasrel wanted to create an extra floor on top of the house in Schaerbeek. Those plans were already well advanced, but after a ground drilling it turned out that the building was located on marshland and the foundations were not strong enough to carry out this type of work. And so the non-profit organisation started looking for a new building, although that turned out to be easier said than done.
“The building must have at least nine bedrooms, a meeting room, a kitchen, a living room… An ordinary house is never big enough and renovation is completely unfeasible financially,” says the director.
The non-profit organisation was looking for a building for fifteen years, until they learned that the church factory was selling a piece of land in the Wilderstraat in Sint-Agatha-Berchem. “The land was extremely expensive, but for us it was a great opportunity,” said De Koster.
“First, it is much more affordable to build a new house than to renovate one. Moreover, in this way we can design the building according to the needs of our operation”, says the director.
But the residents of the Wilderstraat are not exactly enthusiastic about those plans. They fear that the project is too large for their residential area, causing various problems.
“We are not opposed to the idea of a home for young people in the neighbourhood,” says a local resident. “For me, the biggest problem is that the project is so big. It concerns a mastodon of about 750 m², in the middle of a typical residential area with terraced houses.”
The neighbourhood also denounces the lack of political voices in the debate.
“It is a pity that the neighbourhood has to organise itself again to give a signal. The municipal development plan literally states that Berchem-Sainte-Agathe defends an absolute ban on building within street blocks,” according to the local resident. “And yet, since the information session in April, not a single political voice has arisen to raise just that priority.”
The petition to stop the project has meanwhile been signed about 250 times.
Shadow and look
Because the project is so large, local residents fear that it will create too much privacy and shadow. According to De Koster, however, this is not so bad.
“There will be hedges, green screens and willow screens to ensure that we cannot see into each other’s gardens,” explains the director. “And there are also a lot of trees on the sides. This doesn’t mean there won’t be any views at all, but the houses are quite far apart and we’re still in an urban context,” she continues.
“I understand that people don’t feel like this,” says De Koster. “The Wildestraat is a small, green oasis and people want to keep it. But it is still a building plot and actually it is just a very large house.”
The plot in Wilderstraat is formerly owned by the church factory. Until the late 1970s, another building stood on it. After the demolition, nature took over and there was a proliferation of trees.
Local residents are dissatisfied that some of those trees – 27 of the 43 – are now disappearing. The explanatory note of the public inquiry states that the trees on the plot are mainly mature maple trees. According to the report, it is “not about remarkable trees, nor about individuals of interest in the landscape”. But according to the petition, this will ensure that the various bird species that are housed there will disappear.
“It is very important to us that the building blends in as much as possible with the greenery”, responds De Koster to that criticism. “We made it very clear to our architect that as few trees as possible should be felled. So many (sixteen, ed.) trees simply remain standing.” In addition, three new, native trees will be planted.
Not enough parking space?
The fact that there is only one parking space in the project has also been criticised. “This is not at all in line with the number of visitors and employees that the centre will receive,” the petition said. It also states that the district is already struggling with significant parking problems due to the presence of two cultural centres.
“It is true that there is only one parking space. Not because we necessarily only want one, that is imposed by urban planning,” says De Koster.
“But it is not the case that families come here every day. Sometimes young people go home at the weekend and are picked up, but that is always tailored to the family and therefore very spread out.”
In addition, the team meets once a week for a team meeting. “But that is during the day and the building is located in a dead end street where there are few houses. During peak hours we will therefore not cause any additional problems,” said the director.
De Koster acknowledges that the organisation could have handled it better in terms of timing. The public inquiry has only started since Saturday, August 27, while the information session took place in April. In the meantime, local residents were not able to view the plans. “As a result, there is a lot of information circulating that is completely incorrect,” said the director.