Residents are raising questions about a proposed development on the edge of a heritage district that aims to create more residential density.
Proposed is a 95-unit apartment building along busy Victoria Street, as well as a three-storey 22-unit townhouse complex along Margaret Avenue, on an irregular lot that spills into the Civic Centre heritage district.
The proposal involves the redevelopment of the vacant site once occupied by the mansion built by prominent industrialist W.H. Breithaupt at 64 Margaret Ave. It also fits with city planners’ vision for a mixed-use, more intense corridor along Victoria Street North.
But residents worry that it will harm their privacy and forever alter the look and feel of the heritage district, which is today dominated by tree-shaded streets and handsome brick houses.
The height of the proposed building “affects our privacy and our views, but also the streetscape for the heritage district,” said Graham Kennery, whose Ellen Street home backs onto the site. “People really care about that. … It’s something that they’re going to see every day.”
The developer, Vive Development Corp., is seeking a number of variances from the city’s committee of adjustment, but the matter was put on hold until late November to give the city time to talk to residents about the development.
The developer is looking for at least six exemptions from development rules, including boosting the building height to 21.6 metres from the maximum of 16.5 metres, building just three metres from the property line of homes on Ellen Street, and having the building closer to the street and to adjacent homes than is currently allowed.
Those exemptions go in every direction — the front, back and side yards, as well as height, says Victoria Boyle, Kennery’s partner. “It is not just one small change that they are asking for — they are trying to encroach on our heritage community in every direction they possibly could,” she wrote in an email to the city.
Garett Stevenson, the city planner working on the file, said the city tries to balance many considerations from heritage to the need to create denser walkable neighbourhoods, to the city’s vision for the Victoria Street corridor, and compatibility with the existing neighbourhood.
The variances mainly result from efforts to put that many units in two buildings rather than one — the smaller townhouse complex in the heritage area and the apartment block along Victoria, Stevenson said.
The developer and city planners organized an informal meeting with about 30 residents last week to explain the changes Vive is seeking.
Stephen Litt, principal at Vive, said the variances are needed because of the lot’s irregular shape. “I totally respect some of the neighbours’ concerns,” he said. The apartment is pushed as close to Victoria Street, and as far from nearby homes as possible, he said, adding that landscaping and fencing should help screen it.
“It’s a balancing act trying to hit growth targets, as well as building something that’s contextually appropriate,” Litt said.
“These buildings will long outlive all of us,” he said. “We want to build buildings that stand the test of time.”
Boyle said she appreciated the fact that the meeting was held, but said many residents still left frustrated. “I feel there was a lot of technical language kind of thrown at people,” she said.
“We’re not against intensification,” said Boyle. “We know there needs to be higher density. Tons of people have a tough time finding rentals.”
But the planning process, with its technical jargon, is tough for residents to navigate, Kennery and Boyle say. “We know change needs to happen,” Boyle said. “There’s a lot of unknowns, and not a lot of communication about what is happening.”