Guelph Council Narrowly Denies Dublin St. Proposal

  • 04/19/18
  • |          Guelph

Councillors vote 7-5 to turn down application for five-storey apartment building next to Central Public School

For a second time, councillors have vote against a proposed five-storey apartment building next door to Central Public School and across the road from Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate.

Councillors voted 7-5 to go with staff’s recommendation to not permit the proposal for 75 Dublin St. N.

The staff report prepared for council for the Wednesday evening meeting had recommended that councillors turn down the application for an official plan amendment for the project, now dubbed Churchill Court. The city’s current official plan stipulates that the tallest building that could be constructed on the site is four storeys.

It was this notion, that the proposal did not conform to the original plan, that had some councillors vote in favour of the staff recommendation, regardless of other issues that had been brought before them over the course of this meeting and another in February.

“I’m certainly not here to discuss a land swap or a land sale. We’re here to discuss one thing, the suitability of either four or five storeys, as per staff recommendation,” Coun. Phil Allt said.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s become conflated with heritage, environment green space, educational needs, housing, seniors’ mobility and even drumlins. I do have to support the staff … because I would certainly support a land sale, but that’s not in front of us.”

In its report, city staff determined that “five storeys on this site does not constitute good planning.”

“The applicant’s proposals to add site specific policies to provide additional setbacks for the fifth storey, and to add wording that would attempt to condition the official plan amendment only if there is funding received for affordable housing do not change staff’s opinion, regardless of whether or not the development includes an affordable housing component.”

When developer Tom Lammer brought his first application forward in September 2016, he asked the city to fast-track a zoning change as he wanted a permit in time to qualify for $3 million in federal infrastructure funding for the 20 affordable seniors’ units he wanted in the building.

Scott Snider, a lawyer representing Lammer in this proposal, said that without the fifth storey, there would be no affordable housing as part of this project.

Snider argued that removing the fifth storey, which is set back from the main body of the building, would not make any difference to the overall footprint of the project. He also added that a fair compromise to ensure more affordable housing units came downtown was to put a holding provision on Lammer’s project — approval for a five-storey building would only be given if there is a guarantee of affordable units.

According to the staff report, Lammer brought this idea forward in March. The report also adds that a holding provision would not be applicable in this case as they are only available for zoning changes, not official plan amendments.

“The provision of affordable housing is not the reason for this application, nor is it the reason that staff recommend refusal of this application, rather the additional height proposed is the compatibility concern raised by staff, regardless of whether the site contains affordable housing or not,” the report adds.

Mayor Cam Guthrie, who voted against staff’s recommendation, said the vote really came down to whether there should be more affordable housing in the city.

“I do believe that this is a decision of four storeys, no affordable housing, and four-and-a-half storeys … and 20 affordable units for seniors,” he said, adding that any time a developer comes forward with a new multi-unit proposal, the question of whether there would be affordable units comes up.

“All of a sudden we have a developer that comes forward and says, ‘I’m willing to build 20 affordable units,’ and it’s a big issue.”

Coun. James Gordon said he did not agree with that notion, saying it is “very seductive to be drawn into a discussion about whether or not four or five storeys loses us affordable housing or whether it gains.”

“I refuse to be drawn into the optics where if we support the staff recommendation, we are against affordable housing.”

One of the councillors to support the five-storey proposal, Coun. Bob Bell, said that should the Ontario Municipal Board approve the first proposal for 75 Dublin — something he says is probable — then the city would see a four-storey building at the site, which would not have affordable housing.

Bell added that the building would be a welcome addition to Catholic Hill.

“I believe that this is a handsome building,” he said.

“It makes it a very attractive building that any place else in the City of Guelph would give their eye teeth to have. So the argument that the building is not sympathetic to the neighbourhood, I don’t think is a valid argument.”

Casting shadows

The report also cited shadow among its cited reasons for denying the application. The potential shadows casted by the building on to the neighbouring Central Public School is a main point of contention for the Upper Grand District School Board as to why allowing a five-storey building on the property as the wrong way to go.

Alan Heisey, a lawyer appearing on behalf of the school board, lamented over the reappearance of Lammer’s proposal at 75 Dublin, saying the second proposal is the same as the first, which was denied by council a year-and-a-half ago.

“How many times do you this and how many times does the community have to go through this process?” he asked.

The meeting also saw a number of students from the neighbouring school expressing their desire to not have the property developed, but to instead put a park there.

“The fact you need a 10-year-old child to tell you this suggests that something is wrong,” fourth-grader Kaija Horgan-Liinamaa said to laughter from both the public gallery and the councillors she was speaking to.

“Remember, in eight years we will be able to vote.”

Trading lots

At the public meeting for the proposal in February, Lammer said he would consider a land swap for the Dublin Street property, arguing the land be city-owned and “surplus to its needs that is located within the Downtown Secondary Plan area, is zoned to permit a 5-storey apartment building, is not contaminated and is permit ready.”

One property that had been proposed in correspondence to council and in letters to the editor to the Mercury Tribune is the city-owned parking lot at 34 Macdonell St. Situated in between Himalayan Grocers and Breezy Corners, the property was labelled as one of the top city-owned properties in Guelph that would be ripe for development.

According to the report, prepared by Collins Barrow and presented to council in July 2017, it was proposed that the property could host a three-to-six-storey development. However, it was not seen as the hottest spot to develop — that title went to the Baker District.

“While this property is generally viewed as being relatively straightforward and development ready from a servicing, environmental and approvals point of view, concerns were raised given current city parameters and the existing real-estate market that the property may not yet trigger development given current, anticipated price per unit rates,” the report read.

Lammer, speaking to council, said the property at 34 Macdonell would not be optimal for a land swap, citing concerns with environmental remediation, leaving the site years away from development.

This is the second time that Lammer’s proposal to build at 75 Dublin has come before council. A public meeting for the new application was held in February. The difference from the previous application was that it was Rykur Holdings, Lammer’s company, putting forward the official plan amendment, whereas before it was a city-initiated process.

The first application continues to work its way through the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (the new name for what was the Ontario Municipal Board).

After council denied Rykur’s application in November 2016, the company appealed against the city’s decision, with the Upper Grand District School Board and the Old City Residents Association also filing appeals.

While no official hearing has been set for this appeal, a pre-hearing was held in August 2017, with a motion being heard three months later in November.

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