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Sunday, March 3, 2024
Council rejects town planner recommendation, refuses to approve controversial King Street condo plan
A new sketch of the proposed building shows the entrance will face into the side yard and will back onto agricultural lands to the west. SOURCED
Resident Endre Mecs is among the many residents in his neighbourhood opposed to the construction of a three-storey condominium on the vacant lot behind him. EVAN LOREE
Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa voted against rejecting the Bice company's condo proposal on King Street. He said the decision "is telling a group of people what they want to hear, but I'm afraid that massive disappointment will hit them when the (land tribunal) hearing is concluded." EVAN LOREE.

Town staff recommend approval of King Street condo plan

 

The town planning department says yes, residents say no.

Niagara-on-the-Lake town staff are recommending a three-storey, 17 unit condominium be built on vacant land on a cul-de-sac at the end of King Street.

Though staff recommendations are, like the rest of the project application, subject to an impending Ontario Land Tribunal hearing, council decided to hold a public meeting on the recommendations on Wednesday evening.

The project has ruffled more than a few feathers since it was first announced in July 2023.

At every stage of public debate, residents have objected to the bulk, height, location and infrastructure impact of the proposed project.

Owner and developer Josh Bice has appealed the project to the land tribunal and councillors and staff have stated publicly they were waiting on Bice’s resubmission when he appealed.

Staff have since said they received his resubmission after being notified of the appeal.

Sketches appended to the report show the reoriented building backs onto agricultural land to its west and faces residential properties to its east.

The new design now includes 24 parking spaces, up from 18, the report said.

The revision would require exemption from additional requirements in the official plan.

With the new design rotating the building to face inward, the entrance will no longer comply with the official plan which mandates main entrances face the street, the staff report said.

Resident Endre Mecs said the new amendments should be discussed in a public meeting.

“The Planning Act requires at least one public meeting prior to any amendment to the official plan or zoning bylaw,” the town’s official plan says. 

The updated proposal also asks for exemption from planning requirements that restrict the construction of medium-density buildings on local streets like King.

“Does development follow the law or does the law follow development?” said Mecs.

The resident, who lives across from the vacant lot, said developers don’t have a right to a bylaw amendment and must provide good justification for getting one.

For example, Mecs said Bice has not explain why he shouldn’t include a children’s play area in the project.

“The applicant does not feel that an equipped children’s play area is needed based on proximity of the lands to nearby parks,” the staff report said.

Mecs said a feeling is not a reason to exclude a requirement in the official plan.

Heading into Wednesday night’s meeting, Mecs said he would be arguing the town is not justified in granting the amendments sought by Bice.

“I don’t see how they could settle (at the tribunal),” he said.

He argued the additional requests from Bice in the application resubmission still need to go through a public process.

“If there are significant changes to the application that differ greatly from what was previously presented to the public, an additional Public Meeting will be required,” Director of planning Kirsten McCauley said in an email.

However, McCauley also said applicants can request exemptions from the planning legislation at the resubmission stage without subjecting them to public meetings.

The difference is one of scale, and McCauley said staff has to assess the need for additional meetings on a “case-by-case basis.”

She said the intention of the new amendments requested in Bice’s resubmission are captured in the original draft.

The official plan recommends that medium-density projects not direct traffic to local streets.

Other design changes identified in the staff report include the position of the parking and the rear yard set back.

The staff report said the project is consistent with the town, region and  province’s planning policies.

In papers shared with The Lake Report ahead of the meeting, resident Patrick Gedge said the intent of the staff report appears to be to “keep the developer whole.”

The resident presentation package said the revised submission asks the town for permission to break even more of the official plan’s rules.

Staff said the project will help the town meet the intensification targets set out in Niagara Region’s official plan and will also more efficiently use the sewer, street and drinking water services that support the cul-de-sac. 

Gedge’s presentation said the official plan gives principles of compatibility priority over intensification targets.

The staff report concludes that the proposed residential structure is compatible with surrounding land uses.

It said the neighbourhood does not have any heritage value and is made up of new homes with a range of styles. 

The report also said the building is compatible on the issue of “bulk mass and scale, though residents have vociferously argued it is too tall.

From ground to roofline, the structure is 10.2 metres. The rest of the almost two metres in height is used by “parapets” and store much of the building’s mechanical equipment.

The extra height is not subject to the same height restrictions as the rest of the building, the report said.

“The surrounding properties to the north, east and southeast are permitted a maximum building height of 10.0 metres,” the report said.

The report said the developer’s request for 10.2 metres to the roofline and 11.8 to the parapets “represents a minor increase” over what’s allowed in the area. 

In his presentation, Gedge said only 30 per cent of the surrounding homes are two storeys and none of them have three.

Though medium density only permits 30 units per hectare, the 17 units proposed for this lot would ratchet the density up to the equivalent of 52.8 units per hectare.

Citing the official plan, the town report said there is an exception if the applicant can provide an analysis showing “minimal impact on surrounding neighbourhoods.”

Aaron Butler, a planner retained by Bice, said in a report submitted with the application that the project would have minimal impact on the area because of it being set far back from the street and having ample landscaping for screening.

The staff report cites this in its conclusion that the proposed density fits the area.

Gedge’s presentation says the developer’s analysis is incomplete as Meritage Lane, north of the site, was not included in its research.

Bice did not respond to interview requests from The Lake Report and has not spoken publicly on the project since it was first unveiled.

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