Chautauqua residents are up in arms over a proposal to rezone a Circle Street property and sever a lot for a large house they believe will endanger a mature tree and spoil the streetscape of their neighbourhood.
They are also concerned about the future of their unique community, with small cottage-style character homes being replaced by larger, out-of-place houses that will lead to Chautauqua looking like any other subdivision.
Susan Wheler, a planning consultant representing the owners of 6 Circle Street, was at a meeting Wednesday at the town hall to explain the proposal, but those in attendance quickly made it clear by their tone and comments they were there to strongly oppose the large two-storey home that is currently planned.
The property owners have applied for a division of a 9,100 square foot lot into two smaller ones, and also a zoning amendment for a reduced front yard setback from 7.5 metres to less than 2.5 metres. They want to build a large house with a height of 27 feet at the front of the newly created pie-shaped lot, the only place on the property it will fit.
The tree that is of concern, a 75-foot silver maple thought to be more than 100 years old, is on Town property, and will be about eight feet from the front of the house if the reduced setback is approved.
Wheler said the large property is well-suited to be divided for an infill lot, and the new house will comply with the zoning bylaw in every way except for the reduced setback. There are at least 10 other homes on Circle Street with reduced setbacks, she added.
The newly created lot would be similar to others in Chautauqua, she said, but several people in the audience disagreed, defying her to identify another that’s the same shape.
“We object to you saying it’s similar. It’s not,” said architect Victor Tarnoy, a Wilberforce resident.
“We hate it.”
He also asked her not to refer to the 27-foot house as a two-storey.
“Your design is a two-and-a-half storey house. There is nothing like that in Chautauqua,” said Tarnoy.
His concern, he added, is that once the severance is approved there will be no opportunity for the public to comment or object to the design of the house, which “will loom over the street and is completely out of character for Chautauqua.”
When Wheler said the house was of a similar scale and massing of others in the neighbourhood, another neighbour called that statement “foolish.”
Wheler said she and the property owners had looked at other options for dividing the property, but because of where a small house sits on the existing lot, the pie shape is necessary.
Tarnoy suggested that house is likely to be torn down and replaced by something much larger. “A lot of us feel you are shoving something down our throats. There is no way we’re going to allow that lot.”
The arborist report also came into question. Michael Burns, who has objected to the Town planning department about the reduced setback and the lack of a detailed tree protection plan, said the arborist was asked to prepare a report for a severance, not for the construction of a house just feet away from the silver maple. By using the report in the planning impact analysis for the rezoning application, he told Wheler, “you are trying to circumvent the process.”
Burns also had an issue with a page of the original arborist report being changed, but no mention of a revision, and previous to the meeting had asked for an explanation but received none. Wheler addressed that at the meeting, saying it had been revised, and the report met the requirements of the Town planning department.
Town planner Jesse Auspitz agreed he had reviewed the report and determined it was complete.
“Determined it was complete for a severance,” Burns responded. “Nothing more.”
As time ran out on the scheduled half-hour time slot, residents called for a second open house on the issue before councillors debate the rezoning in a January meeting of the planning committee.
Tarnoy said there is a lot of work to be done before the Jan. 7 meeting, “or it will be a noisy mess. A lot of people are absolutely furious about this. This is serious for us. You either arrange another public meeting or the next one (in January) will be embarrassing.”
He suggested the lot configuration, the size of the house, the reduced setback and the tree protection plan all need to be resolved.
Lord Mayor-elect Betty Disero stepped in to say she would organize another open house to be held at the community centre before the issue comes to the planning committee.
Arborist Robyn Pollard was not able to attend Wednesday’s meeting, but said there is a good explanation for the substituted page of her report — there was “nothing fishy” about the replacement, she said, which showed a new layout with the driveway in a different location.
“There was no ill intent. They changed the site plan, and asked me to relabel that document, which got put into the report.”
She agreed with Burns that her report should have been labeled to indicate it had been revised. She also said she would have included more detailed information about tree protection if she’d been asked to do a study for a planning impact analysis on the rezoning and the location of the house, but she wasn’t, nor was such a report requested by the Town.
She wouldn’t expect the applicant to “volunteer” a more detailed and more expensive report, she said, and the Town doesn’t have the policies in place to require one.
A request for a tree protection plan for the silver maple would have to come from the Town, and the Town arborist, J.B. Hopkins, agreed with her that the maple is not in good health. It will likely need to be removed within 15 years, regardless of development, she said, so shouldn’t prevent a project from going forward.
‘If it was in good condition, I would fight tooth and nail to save it, but it’s not.”
She doesn’t do a lot of work in NOTL, she added, because there are no policies in place to require it.
Her report for the severance included a basic tree protection plan, suggesting hoarding around the silver maple, “but I put that in as added value.
I didn’t see where the new house was going. If the Town wants more protection of trees they need to put more policies in place.”