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Friday, September 29, 2023
Neighbours push back against King street condo plans
Sheila Cameron smiles during a moment of laughter from the audience at a public meeting on the King Street condo. EVAN LOREE
Endre Mecs thinks the developer was concealing its intentions for the development when it first asked the committee of adjustment to create the lot. EVAN LOREE

Residents came in like a wrecking ball at a Niagara-on-the-Lake council meeting Tuesday night.

After receiving 430 letters and other correspondence from 152 residents over a controversial condominium proposal on the northwest side of King Street, the council chambers were filled with people itching for a chance to speak.

“This is a half-cocked idea,” resident Bill French said at the end of almost two and a half hours of discussion.

The three-storey building proposed by Butler’s Gardens Development Inc. is just under 12 metres tall, and contains 17 living units and 22 parking spaces.

The building’s footprint covers about 22 per cent of the lot’s 0.8 acres. Another 49 per cent is proposed for landscaping and the rest for parking.

At 17 units, Meritage Lane resident Patrick Gedge said the proposal averages 22 living units per acre and argued that is four times the maximum density of what’s permitted by the current zoning and nearly double that of the proposed zoning.

“Not only does he want to switch over to another zone, but he wants to blow by the maximum that is there,” Gedge said.

“You better have one very compelling reason why a maximum should be tossed out,” he said.

Gedge said the project’s reduced setbacks had only been proposed because the “lot is too darn small for the size of the building.”

He wasn’t the only one.

“It’s like trying to fit a size nine foot in a size six shoe,” Alan Dickson said.

Developer Josh Bice has also asked to be exempt from a town bylaw that would require including a children’s play area.

The developer’s planning report, written by NPG Planning Solutions, says a play area is unnecessary because there are “various recreational and community facilities,” such as Rye Park and the community centre.

But Jason Quesnelle said the developer is only seeking an exemption because the lot is too small and the building too big.

He said the community centre does not have a publicly accessible play area and its nursery school is at capacity.

Quesnelle also said the plan left out sidewalks.

“The builder didn’t forget, there’s no room for a sidewalk,” he said.

For Quesnelle, this increases threats from traffic to people who may be out for a walk.

Scott Robinson, a former resident and housing advocate who now lives in British Columbia, was the only person to speak in favour of the proposal.

“The concerns over traffic are actually wild,” he said.

“This proposal is on a publicly funded, dead-end cul de sac, which basically acts as a publicly funded private driveway for these 10 houses,” he said.

Those residents are the only ones who would routinely use the street, he said.

Robinson also argued that the 20 per cent height difference between the proposed building and its neighbours was “unremarkable.”

Gedge said though the height difference seemed insignificant, the proposed structure would cast long shadows onto its neighbouring houses throughout the day and into the evening.

Robinson was unmoved by this.

“I don’t remember this council making protecting millionaire sunset views one of your strategic priorities,” he told councillors.

Robinson also said the 10 existing houses near the end of King Street would “never pay enough in property taxes to cover the eventual replacement cost of their infrastructure.”

“Infill projects like this are exactly what we need to help us climb out of the suburban debt spiral,” he said.

Aaron Butler, who presented the proposal, argued there is a need for affordable housing like what was being proposed.

Robinson broke ranks with the developer over this and said the proposal likely would not be affordable.

When Butler was pressed on whether the units would be for rent, he acknowledged the developer planned to sell the units as condos.

Kevin van Niekerk said he and his neighbours are not against development, but that 17 units was too much.

“Two homes would fit well,” he said.

Initially, the developer went to the town’s committee of adjustment on Oct. 20, 2022, to change the property lines for 727 and 733 King St.

Sheila Cameron, daughter to the former owners of 733 King, told The Lake Report in July that her parents agreed to sell the back half of their home to Bice, who owned 727 King next door, in the belief that he planned to build a single-family house on the vacant lot.

The adjustments led to the creation of the pie-shaped lot now subject to development.

Resident Endre Mecs said the application brought to the committee of adjustment last year did not disclose what the intended purpose of the boundary adjustments were.

He said the adjustments were granted on the condition that the newly created lot would be for a single-family home and cover a maximum of 15 per cent of the land.

This project, according to a 2022 letter signed by Aaron Butler, could be just for a single-family home.

That idea was scrapped in favour of the one brought to council Tuesday night.

Town planner Aimee Alderman said there were “no provisions” in the Planning Act that prevent a developer from bringing forth a new proposal for the same land.

Mecs suggested the developer had concealed its intentions for the land when it asked the committee of adjustment to create the lot.

He presented the developer’s application regarding a three-storey building on the new lot.

The application was dated Dec. 15, 2022, about two months after the committee of adjustment’s decision.

Several residents took umbrage with the developer’s assertion that the project had “no impact” on the neighbours.

Gedge said it was as if the residents on Meritage Lane did not exist to the Bice.

Weaver called the developer’s assessment “incompetent.”

And Coun. Gary Burroughs said the assertion “can’t be factual” and asked if neighbours had been consulted before the application was submitted.

Butler said he did not believe the developer had approached the neighbours. Bice was not at the meeting.

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