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Niagara Falls
Friday, June 21, 2024
Letter:Parliament Oak plan is just wrong for the neighbourhood

Dear editor:

When the public meeting for the proposed redevelopment of the former Parliament Oak school site was delayed and I heard there would be revisions to the original proposal, I was so hopeful that the proponents had perhaps finally read the official plan and the zoning bylaw and/or spent some time in our town trying to discover what makes it special.

Sadly, after watching the proceedings of the town's urban design committee meeting held on Oct. 26 it appears none of these things occurred. The height, density and total incompatibility of this proposed infill project are totally at odds with the official plan and zoning bylaw.

The Parliament Oak site is classified as open space and community facilities in the official plan and institutional in the zoning bylaw. So why is this high-density residential development even being considered?

I agree, the town would benefit from a diversity of housing types. And there are sites identified for intensification in the official plan, but 325 King St. is not, nor should it be one of them.

It is in the middle of an established residential neighbourhood of one-, one-and-a-half and two-storey homes. Medium-density residential is defined as a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 units per acre, not the 20 units per acre now proposed for the Parliament Oak site.

There are some who hopefully see this as affordable housing just because it promises apartments. There are more than two underground parking spaces per unit, an indoor swimming pool and multiple entertaining rooms and terraces. This will not be affordable to most people.

The “Great Wall” of the proposed three storeys plus a mechanical penthouse stretches the entire block along King Street. The latest proposal does drop down to two storeys for a short distance at either end, but this gesture, along with the “heritage walk” identified on the site plan and depicted in the artful renderings will do nothing to diminish the oppressive nature of the wall.

The linear park already exists. The developers are simply adding some plant material and paving stones and claiming authorship. The surrounding streetscape and neighbourhood is composed of a rhythm of built form (houses) and open space (gardens and side yards). This is the syncopation that creates the charm of the town.

In the latest presentation to the urban design committee, the developer and architect have proposed some thoughtful (though ultimately useless) gestures.

Yes, dipping the road down in the middle of the block subdues the entry/drop off area, but the road still has to rise up to meet the residential roads of Gage and Centre at either end and therein the problem lies.

These two roads are residential roads and meant to serve single-family or semi-detached homes – as stated in the official plan – not the comings and goings, garbage collection and deliveries of a 71-unit apartment building. Is this new two-way street parallel to King Street even necessary? Why not use the existing (arterial) street?

From the rear yards of the new single homes proposed for Regent Street, it appears to be a four-storey building. Who would want to sit in those rear yards, both looking at the building and being looked down upon?

The road access to these 11 dwelling units seems excessive. They are surrounded by roads. Why is there so much paving? Eliminating the mid-block road might allow the semi-detached and singles to be set back farther and have a more traditional access, rather than creating yet another unnecessary street system.

Raising the grade to allow the apartment units to have access to terraces on King, Centre and Gage is a great idea for those suites but this does not change the overall height of the building – 16.4 metres (53.8 feet) to the top of the mechanical penthouse.

Even if the mechanical penthouse is excluded, the true building height is 13 metres, not 11 metres as noted on the drawings and in the application. (In the official plan and zoning bylaw, 10 metres is the maximum building height.) Why is the true dimension never shown on the drawings?

The bylaw's definition of building height says: When used in reference to a building or structure, (it) means the vertical distance measured from the average finished grade around the structure to the peak, except: (a) In the case of a flat or shed roof, the highest point of the roof’s surface; (b) In the case of a structure not having a roof, the uppermost part of such structure; or (c) Where an exterior wall other than a required fire wall extends above the top of the roof of a building, the topmost part of such exterior wall.

Adding the singles into the mix has been done “to mitigate” the transition from the existing neighbourhood to the apartment building. Maybe it is a radical idea, but why not have a proposal that does not require mitigation? A proposal that is inherently compatible with the town and the neighbourhood? One that achieves “a harmonious design and integrate(s) with the surrounding area and (does) not negatively impact the lower density residential uses”? (Official plan, 2019

To quote an article published in The Lake Report on July 15, 2021, “… the town does not have many options to influence infill or redevelopment areas such as the Parliament Oak development,” according to planning director Craig Larmour.

If the town has no control, who does? The developer? This is absurd. As my husband says, “It is time to put the NO back in NOTL.”

Connie Tintinalli

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