A highrise proposed in downtown Waterloo could be another flashpoint in a city that’s struggling with growing up rather than out.
The 11-storey tower proposed at the southwest corner of Princess and Dorset streets would overlook the historic Carnegie Library across Dorset Street. It would replace two vacant houses, one block west of King Street.
The highrise, proposed with 59 dwellings and retail space on the ground floor, needs council permission to trim parking spaces, to fill up its lot, and to stay flush to Princess Street.
The public got a look at a recent council meeting. The developer, a limited partnership, has proposed the highrise under current planning rules.
But the city intends to replace its planning rules by October. That’s meant to bring outdated zoning, which governs land use, into line with an overall plan that’s guided Waterloo’s growth since 2012.
Planning consultants for the developer warn the highrise could be doomed under the new planning rules, not for being too high but for being too bulky.
What’s more, new rules could make it impossible to develop many downtown properties, consultants warn.
Based on early drafts, proposed changes to city zoning “would result in the lands being severely compromised, with significant reductions in height and density and new setback regulations that render many (downtown) properties, including the subject lands, undevelopable,” MHBC Planning warns in a report written to support the 11-storey highrise.
Waterloo planning commissioner Cameron Rapp disputes that new city rules will make it impossible for developers to build. “To render a property undevelopable, I don’t agree at all. But it might need them to modify their plans,” he said.
New zoning rules will restrict height and bulk because the public dislikes buildings that are seen as too tall or dense, Rapp said.
“It’s a balancing of interests,” he said. “If the community all thinks this is a wonderful project, then I would imagine our council, five out of eight of them, would raise their hands to approve it.”
Waterloo intends to unveil new planning rules in July, for public review and council consideration. Coun. Melissa Durrell, representing the downtown ward, intends to examine the impact after seeing the final version.
“It’s really difficult because a lot of people have bought land underneath the old zoning bylaw and now that property is going to be worth less because it’s being downzoned,” she said.
Durrell also knows the public is opposed to letting developers build too high or too bulky.
“That was one of the things that we heard very clearly from residents, is that looking from your single residential backyard to a 20-storey tower is not acceptable,” she said.
In considering the highrise proposed at Princess and Dorset streets, Durrell likes that retail space is proposed on the ground floor. This helps expand downtown attractions beyond King Street. She has questions about other aspects of the proposal.
The 11-storey highrise must go before another public meeting before council votes on it.