Guelph Tribune Article re: 716 Gordon Development

Scaled back high-rise plans likely: councillor

By DOUG HALLETT, Guelph Tribune
News
Jan 11, 2011

The proposal for two university student high-rises is likely to be changed significantly before council holds a final vote on the issue, says Coun. Leanne Piper.

The developer’s application for zoning and Official Plan changes goes to council’s Jan. 17 planning meeting. It could be altered later as a result of public feedback, said Piper, a Ward 5 councillor. Her ward is where the proposed 16- and 14-storey student high-rises would be built at the corner of Stone Road and Gordon Street. “I suspect that this application . . . may not be the final proposal that we see when it comes back for decision, based on the questions and the concerns and the input” heard by council during the public consultation phase, Piper said.

Until she sees a final proposal, Piper won’t be commenting on whether or not she supports it, she told the Tribune.

People living near the site, where a thre estorey hotel now sits, have formed the Mayfield Park Community Association to fight the developer’s application. The group holds its second big meeting tonight (Jan. 11) at 7 p.m. at Harcourt Memorial United Church.

“This is an unprecedented development with far-reaching implications” for the city, the association said in a news release Monday.

Piper said she has been getting “significant correspondence about this application, primarily because it brings up a lot of questions and issues that we haven’t had in this community since Places to Grow came about. This is a much more dense application than any other Places to Grow application we’ve had in the last few years.” Guelph is designated as a growth centre under the province’s Places to Grow legislation, which requires more intensification of development within built-up areas of affected cities.

The application from Mississauga-based developer Abode Varsity Living calls for a total of about 1,500 student bedrooms to be built in the two high-rises, within 341 apartment units each containing four or five bedrooms.

In addition to the density issues, Piper said, the application “also raises the debate whether or not students should be housed all in one location or integrated into the community.

“So that is a debate we should be having,” she said.

Randy Reimer, a spokesperson for the Mayfield Park Community Association, said the proposal for two high-rise student buildings “raises serious issues related to parking, shade, light pollution, privacy, traffic congestion, security, respect for property, vandalism, noise, litter and, last but not least, our property values.

“We would think that any increase in the tax base as a result of this development would, in the longer term, be offset by decreasing taxes as a result of decreased property values,” he said in an e-mail sent to Ward 5 councillors and to the media.

 

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

I have had a few questions from residents about why I would not publicly declare my opposition or support for this development application.  To clarify:  I do have many questions, concerns and opinions on aspects of this application.  However, it is never appropriate for a city councillor to form a final position until the planning process is over.    The “planning process” involves giving the applicant an opportunity to formally present the proposal to Council (coming up on January 17th) and then a period of feedback and consultation with the public, where many voices and arguments are heard for and against the proposal.   Until this process is complete, and until a final plan is brought back to Council, accompanied by a detailed planning analysis by professional city staff, it would be premature and irresponsible to state a position.   Feel free to contact me if you have questions or want to provide your feedback about this development application.  leanne.piper@guelph.ca or 519-822-1260 ext. 2295

Gordon/Stone (Best Western) Planning Application

Monday, January 17th, 2011

7:00 pm in Council Chambers, 1 Carden Street

All of the planning documents related to this application can be found here.

To register as a delegation to speak at the council meeting, contact the City Clerk’s office at clerks@guelph.ca.   If you do not want to speak, you can still submit your comments in writing to the same email address and your letter will be circulated to all members of Council and city planning staff.

LP

108 Forest Perspective

Preamble: Infill and intensification are widely-used buzz words these days. Places to Grow and the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan (GGHGP) will put pressure on municipalities like Guelph to grow smarter. Terms like “mixed-use” and “walkable communities” are being used by planners and the development industry to describe desirable forms of growth. But it remains unclear — in Guelph at least — what that means on the ground. What does it look like and what impact will it have in established neighbourhoods? Like everything in life, there is good and bad in everything. There is good development and bad development. Such is the case with infill and intensification projects.

In the case of the proposed development of 108 Forest (former site of St. Pauls School), it is really important that we get this right. It is one of the first infill development proposals to come to Council since the GGHGP came to light.

The site developers (Dr. Doug Friars and Thomasfield Homes) have come forward with a plan that includes six medical offices, nine loft apartments and 12 stacked townhouses on a 1 hectare site.

View the proposal.

On the surface, it sounds great. It has the “mixed use” component, and provides a medium-density form of housing that adds diverse housing forms to the neighbourhood and helps to achieve intensification goals. What’s so wrong with that? Nothing really. Guelph needs more office space for medical doctors and more housing within walking distance to shopping, schools and ammenities.

So what’s the problem?

Each site is unique, and this proposal is specific to the 108 Forest property. So the question is whether or not this specific proposal fits on this specific property?

Good Points

To be honest, the proposal has some good points.

1. Both developers are local reputable chaps. Dr. Friars has been involved in developing medical offices in the past (Dawson Road). Thomasfield Homes (Tom Kriszan) is a quality builder with an excellent reputation.

2. They’ve assembled a good team – architect Lloyd Grinham, planning consultant Nancy Shoemaker and engineer Chris Sims are all tops in their field and have done many quality infill projects in Guelph in the past.

3. The site has two mature elms that have been spared in the plan.

4. Medium density housing adds a new mix to the neighbourhood – which is mostly single family detached and large apartment building complexes.

So What’s the Bad News?

1. The school additions are overdone – a parking garage and two floors on top. Technically, the top level is one-and-a-half story lofts, but the visual effect will be three stories from ground level. The apartment entrances and another second parking garage will be on the eastern property line where the neighbouring home owner will be negatively impacted. The windows of the proposed apartments will look into the backyard, which contains a pool.

2. The term “medium density” does not equal affordable housing. Each unit will be more than 2000 sq ft with a projected selling price in the $450K range. This is not the type of infill and intensification that the GGHGP encourages. Granted, there is a market for retirement housing within the community as the population ages and that’s fine – but let’s just not pretend this proposal contains affordable housing for seniors.

3. Second and third floor balconies on the townhouse units will overlook existing private backyards.

4. The site needs severe grading. Retaining walls will not be small landscape features – there will be extreme grade changes and 8 ft high walls in some places.

5. Office uses within a residential street is precedent setting. The city’s official plan prescribes mixed-use commercial and office uses on arterial and collector roads. Forest Street is neither. The fact that it’s only five houses away from an arterial road is not a valid argument. There is a complete mixed-use node less than a block away that is ripe for intensification. The Edinburgh-Municipal node should be intensified in order to accommodate additional needed office space.

6. The neighbourhood is already mixed-use. Within a 5-10 minute walk: beer store, convenience store, hair salon, gas station, vet clinic, doctors office, optometrists, restaurants, fitness centre, and much more.

7.  Streetscape.  There is none.  The view from the street is a parking garage.  The development turns its back on the community and does not integrate with existing streetscape or complement the park across the street.  This is an urban design issue.

Is there a solution?

I think so. Let’s avoid going to the OMB. In my opinion, we can do better with some compromise from both sides….

* How about 21-24 smaller medium density units?

* How about the one-story school building retrofitted as apartments, with medium density townhouses all around?

* How about live-work studios or loft apartments in the school building?

* How about senior’s flats in the school building and smaller retirement townhouse blocks?

* How about removing the parking garage from the front of the building and making a streetscape entrance?

* Other ideas?

As with all issues, I am interested in hearing what others are thinking? Can we do better on this site? Share you ideas…

Leanne