KITCHENER — The big white bus stops on a quiet residential street, filled with modest, postwar one-and-a-half storey houses.
But the lots are big and deep, and the existing zoning allows anyone to buy up a couple of them and put in an eight-storey building right next to the smaller homes.
The east-end neighbourhood was one of several on a tour organized by Kitchener’s planning department as part of its study on the rules Kitchener has around new development in existing neighbourhoods.
Those areas often already have a distinct feel and character, and new development can spark an outcry among neighbours.
About 30 city staff, city councillors and members of the public trundled around in the bus Tuesday afternoon for a two-hour tour, held to give people a sense of how varied the city is, said city planner Janine Oosterveld.
“We wanted to get out into the community, because the area is so diverse, to see the different examples of how, if we change the rules, how it might affect a particular neighbourhood,” she said.
The tour went through areas with wide lots and elegant homes on quiet, treed streets; others with more modest but charming homes; still others with a hodgepodge of styles from suburban homes dominated by garages, old-fashioned homes with porches and dormers, and tiny, wartime houses on huge lots.
Under current rules, the city has little control over someone who wants to tear down an older home and build something very different than the other homes in a neighbourhood, said Nick McDonald, president of Meridian Planning Consultants, the firm hired to steer the study.
“Right now, most people just have to apply for a building permit to make major changes,” he said.
The review is looking at three key ways the city could ensure more compatible development, he said:
- A height limit of 8.5 metres, or two storeys, in older areas, rather than the current 10.5 metres.
- A requirement that new construction be about the same distance from the street as the houses on either side. Setbacks would be calculated by averaging the setbacks of the abutting properties.
- Double-car garages would only be allowed on lots of more than 50 feet, and couldn’t jut out in front of other homes on the street.
Other possible recommendations would give the city more say on the actual design of a building, in neighbourhoods that have been named as cultural heritage landscapes, such as Cedar Hill, Central Frederick, Westmount and Caryndale.
Developers like Stephen Litt say the city needs to find a balance between ensuring compatibility with existing areas, and allowing some greater density, or else development will simply spill into the surrounding countryside. Any new rules also need to recognize market demand.
“A lot of those housing types were built for a different era,” he said. “People today want three, four, five bedrooms, and three, four, five bathrooms.”
Resident Jane Pellar said she thought the three recommendations about height, setbacks and garages would “really help to make neighbourhoods that are esthetically pleasing and harmonious,” she said.
Her neighbour Burnie Root agreed. “We saw some monstrosities today.”
The study covers the central area from the border with Waterloo down to the Conestoga Parkway and bounded by Westmount Road to the west, as well as the Vanier neighbourhood bounded by Highway 8, Fairway Road and Courtland Avenue.
A new policy to present to city council is expected early in 2017. The next public meeting on the review is set for Oct. 27 at Rockway golf course. There’s more information on the city’s website