Council votes 8-5 in favour of 86-unit building at Gordon and Lowes
“As Yogi Berra said, ‘It’s déjà vu all over again.’”
That was how Peter Wechselmann started off his public delegation, speaking against a proposal to build a six-storey, 86-unit condo building at the southwest corner of Gordon Street and Lowes Road.
However, the Yankee legend’s famous words won’t be coming back to council chambers just yet, with council voting 8-5 in favour of the proposal, which last month saw a 6-6 tie.
That tied vote later ended with council voting to push a revote to Nov. 12.
As had been the case in previous meetings on this proposal, a number of opponents came to council chambers to speak out on its size.
“We’re not, in the least, opposed to just any development – we’re opposed specifically to a six-storey building in an area of approximately two square kilometers without a single building higher than two storeys,” Peter Kastner, who has helped organized much of the resistance from the project’s neighbours, said.
Coun. Bob Bell, who has spoke against the size of the building in past meetings, continued his position that the length of the project is too much.
“Just because the proponent has a longer lot does not give them the right to build a building long enough to fill it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Mondell, a land development planner with Reid’s Heritage Homes, said the developer “is simply asking to amend an outdated zoning bylaw to implement already approved official plan policies for the property, which was approved by council in only 2018.”
“We appreciate and we sympathize that change is difficult, and we won’t always find agreement, but we do feel that we have made significant changes to the building design as a result of consultation with staff members of public and council,” she added.
Reid’s proposal first made its way in front of council in March 2018. At the time, the developer was looking to build a six-storey, 102-unit building, replacing five homes that are to be demolished to make way for it.
By the end of 2018, the proposal was down to 89 units. Another three units were taken off soon after, reaching its current 86-unit configuration by April.
When the project’s fate was first up for a vote last month, city staff had recommended council approve it. That approval still stood for the Nov. 12 vote.
Before there was any delegations or council debate Tuesday, Coun. Phil Allt asked why this vote was going ahead, as a tied vote in any other circumstance in council chambers would signal a defeat.
In response, Dylan McMahon, the deputy city clerk, said that for planning matters such as this, council needs to vote on a final decision – if the application were to be denied, council would need to vote on a measure saying as much.
Coun. June Hofland also disclosed that council received a confidential legal memo in regards to this file earlier today, but did not specify to what it pertains.
‘Class discrimination is simply not a solid planning principle’
Unlike previous meetings on this project, the residents who came out to speak against the project grew contentious as times. One delegate questioned whether there was “something going on that the citizens are not a party to, you know what I mean, wink wink nudge nudge,” while another said Mayor Cam Guthrie was “turning this meeting into a sham.”
What drew the most ire from council, however, were comments from some residents about who may potentially live in the now-approved building.
One resident said that because people may rent the condo units from their owners, “crime and vandalism is likely to increase with a different demographic,” while another said they wanted to maintain their “executive lifestyle.”
While the units would not be officially affordable housing, as defined in city bylaws, Mondell said Reid’s is looking towards “providing a more attainable housing form in this neighborhood.”
She later said the surrounding area has homes priced at $600,000 or higher, and that these new units would likely be “somewhere in the mid-$400s.”
While he would later vote against the proposal, Coun. James Gordon said he “felt very uncomfortable” by the sentiment of some residents that “potential renters … would be less responsible and less good citizens than those who, I’m quoting, described wanting to protect their executive lifestyle.”
“I have spent most of my life living under the poverty line. Most of my life, a lot of my life, as a renter,” he added.
“I never considered that I was an inferior citizen, and the suggestion that if they’re not of your same income bracket or lifestyle, that they would somehow not fit because of that really changed that tone.”
Coun. Mike Salisbury chipped in that “class discrimination is simply not a solid planning principle.”
Guthrie, the last to speak before the vote, said he shared the sentiments made by his council colleagues around some of the views expressed during delegations.
“I look to my colleagues and thank them for saying the things that I had written out madly throughout the night that I now don’t need to say,” he said.
“Frankly, I’m glad you said it because some of the things I really wanted to say, you probably would have called the integrity commissioner on me.”