By Doug Hallett
The developer that wants to build two student highrises across from the U of G has won the first battle against city hall and a neighbourhood association at the Ontario Municipal Board.
At the first prehearing into the case, the OMB sided with the developer Thursday in ordering that the case be heard in September. City hall asked the OMB to delay the hearing until next January – to allow more time for city planners to study a new, revised proposal from the developer, and also more time for public input before city council takes a stand on the issue.
Because of the OMB’s decision, “council will need to take a position sooner than we had hoped,” Todd Salter, the city’s acting general manager of planning, said Friday.
Mississauga-based developer Abode Varsity Living appealed the case to the OMB in December, on the grounds that the city wasn’t moving fast enough on its application for Official Plan and zoning changes to allow the highrises to be built. City council needs to take a position on Abode’s application before the OMB hearing now slated for September, even though the final decision is now in the OMB’s hands.
Salter said the city unsuccessfully sought to have the hearing delayed until January so that planning staff “could conduct a proper review” of the revised application before making recommendations to council. The requested delay was also meant to give more time for public input before council takes a stand, he said in an interview.
On April 12, Abode gave a revised application to the city that would reduce building heights by four storeys and cut the total number of bedrooms by 25 per cent. Abode now is formally proposing building heights of 12 and 10 storeys, down from the original 16 and 14 storeys. The total number of units would be cut from 341 to 264, and the total number of bedrooms would go from about 1,600 down to 1,216.
The Mayfield Park Community Association is against the student highrise proposal.
Official Plan changes
Council is also in the process of making changes to its Official Plan, and Abode doesn’t like the changes being proposed. Salter said the changes might go to council for final approval in June.
The site at the corner of Stone Road and Gordon Street where Abode wants to demolish a three-storey hotel to build the student highrises is currently zoned “general residential.” This is also the current zoning for “much of the city,” Salter said.
The proposed Official Plan update would change the designation for Abode’s site and many other “general residential” sites to a new designation, namely “low-density residential built-up area.”
The aim is to differentiate such sites from the “substantial new areas” in the city that are being designated for “medium and high density” residential development under the proposed Official Plan amendment, Salter said. These sites, including the Abode site, would also be differentiated from “low-density residential greenfield area” sites – a proposed new designation applying to development in greenfield areas of the city, as opposed to built-up areas.
In a letter to council, Abode representative Chris Pidgeon objected to the lower density for Abode’s site.
“Given the property’s superior location, it is difficult to rationalize this proposed down-designation,” said Pidgeon, who works for a planning consulting firm in Kitchener. Abode’s site “is deserving of much more height and density” than would be allowed by the proposed Official Plan amendment, he said.
Both Abode’s original development application and its new revised application seek higher density than is allowed under the Official Plan – in either the Official Plan’s existing form or the updated form that might be approved in June. This is why Abode has been seeking an Official Plan amendment, as well as a zoning change, all along.
It’s not clear whether the proposed Official Plan changes would have any bearing on Abode’s appeal to the OMB. That’s because development applications are generally evaluated against the Official Plan provisions in effect when the application was made.
Salter said the Official Plan changes being proposed are not aimed at making it more difficult for Abode to build the two highrises. “The Official Plan update is in no way responding to this specific application” by Abode, he said.
Asked whether the proposed Official Plan changes might nevertheless have a bearing on the case at the OMB, he suggested in a carefully worded response that it possibly could have an effect.
“I have to be careful not to comment on a matter that’s before the OMB,” Salter said. “What I can say is there is a sort of general principle that (development) applications are reviewed under the policy in place at the time the application was made.
“That said, there are some instances where there may be some consideration given to newer policies” in cases that go to the OMB, he added.
Pidgeon was not available for comment.