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Jul. 31, 2021 | Saturday
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Parliament Oak plan 'outrageous,' incompatible with Old Town, residents say
Representatives and consultants with Liberty Sites (3) Ltd. listen to residents' comments during a virtual open house on July 6. (Evan Saunders)

Proposal for 92 units, including apartment building, faces backlash at open house 

A proposed development on the old Parliament Oak school property is "outrageous," inappropriate and ignores the character of Niagara-on-the-Lake's Old Town area, residents told a virtual open house meeting about the project Tuesday.

Residents were highly critical of the proposed density, size of a planned apartment building and what they view as lack of conformity with the town.

Liberty Sites (3) Ltd. is proposing an 80-unit, three-storey apartment building and 12 semi-detached homes on the former school property.

“There is absolutely no question that this is an outrageous and flagrant disregard for the character of this neighbourhood and the houses in the neighbourhood,” NOTL resident Alan Gordon told the development team.

The development will have 92 units on four acres of land resulting in 23 units per acre.

The town’s maximum allowed density for an intensification area as stated in the official plan is 12 units per acre, Gordon said.

“And this development isn’t even in an intensification area,” he said.

Intensification areas are designated high-density development areas.

The 2019 official plan, section 4.14.4.2, states that council shall ensure any new development in existing residential areas fits with the character of adjacent residences. This includes building height and lot depth.

Consulting architect Ralph Giannone said the apartment would be level with the existing school property with a maximum height of 11 metres.

“That is a complete fabrication,” Gordon said.

The official plan says buildings in Old Town are not to exceed 10 metres in height, he said

The existing Parliament Oak building is 1.45 metres above the surrounding grade according to Liberty Site’s own submitted survey.

Therefore, the building's actual height is “12.45 metres. I’d like everybody listening to be aware that this is equivalent to 41 feet,” Gordon said.

“It may have three floors, but this is the equivalent to a four-storey building that’s being put into a neighbourhood of one and two-storey dwellings.”

Gordon called it an “outrageous disregard for the heights of existing buildings within Old Town.”

The official plan also states that new development should be consistent with existing lot depth and width.

The proposed semi-detached homes have widths ranging from 10 metres to 14.5, Gordon said.

“The majority of the lots (in this neighbourhood) are between 20 and 30 metres wide.”

“This is nowhere near consistent, as required by the official plan, with the surrounding neighbourhood.”

Representatives from Liberty Sites did not respond to Gordon’s comments.

Other attendees were equally frustrated by the proposal.

“This is an outrage and it is insensitive to everybody,” Parliament Oak neighbour Atis Bankas said.

Bankas took offence with a local newspaper report that said the developer had consulted with neighbours.

During an earlier virtual meeting, “we were not even allowed to speak,” he said.

Residents had to submit their questions before the meeting in written form, said Bankas, “which was quite demeaning.”

Paul DeMello, lawyer for Liberty Sites, commented on the free-form nature of the open house.

“We didn’t have pre-prepared questions, so we don’t know exactly what people are going to ask,” he said.

Speakers were also concerned the apartments will be run as short-term rentals.

Town planner Mark Iamarino noted the town's rental bylaw only permits single-detached dwellings to be licensed as short-term rentals.

In March, town council reviewed a report from Granicus Host Compliance, a consultant hired to review the state of short-term rentals in the municipality.

“Assuming Granicus’ figures are correct, there may be over 200 illegal unhosted (short-term rentals) in NOTL,” the staff report said.

Gracia Janes, speaking on behalf of the NOTL Conservancy, said she worried about the project setting a precedent.

“The density is extraordinary. It is a precedent,” she said.

“There’s no need for this. It’s just a commercial endeavour to take advantage.”

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