It’s the wrong building for the location – this was the message repeated over and over again in one way or another by more than 30 delegates who stood up to speak at a public meeting at city hall on Monday night.
The meeting was scheduled to give members of the public a chance to weigh in with comments and concerns around the proposed amendments to the development project at 75 Dublin St. N. in Guelph.
The meeting went on for five hours, starting at 6:30 p.m. and wrapping up at 11:30 p.m. A little more than 90 people showed up to watch.
Longtime Guelph developer Tom Lammer is looking to build a five-storey residential building on the northeast corner of Dublin and Cork streets. The structure will be made up of 37 apartment units – 20 of them would be considered affordable housing units geared toward seniors and 17 would go for market rent.
Lammer’s building design requires several amendments to be made to city bylaws in order for him to construct what he wants. The key amendments:
- He wants to build five-storeys (the zoning allows for a maximum of four storeys)
- Restrict parking to 24 spaces (instead of 37, one per unit), with no visitor parking
- Shrink the setbacks at the property line to three metres (from the 10 metres required)
- Reduce long-term bicycle parking spaces from 26 to 19.
The original project was designed as a four-storey building with apartment units priced at market value. But when Lammer became aware of $3 million in federal funding available for affordable housing projects, he altered his plan.
The problem is, in order to qualify for the funding, the project needs to have a stamp of approval by April. This pushed Lammer to ask council if this project be fast-tracked.
‘Downtown parking sucks’
Lammer said the rent for affordable units would be set at 80 per cent of the CMHC average, which ends up being around $708 per month. Tenants who live there will have to have a maximum household income of less than $33,000 annually.
He said he recognizes parking is an issue downtown but pointed to the future Wilson Street Parkade as part of the solution to the problem.
“Downtown parking sucks,” he said, but added that his development “will have a negligible impact on the parking dynamic around it.”
Audible groans could be heard from some of the crowd after he said this.
Lammer said he is also asking the city for $469,000 from the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund to help cover some expenses. This is about $23,450 per affordable housing unit.
The 24 parking spaces are only for the 17 units paying market rate. He said as landlord of the property, he’ll personally make sure none of tenants in the affordable housing units will have a car.
Also, the underground parking won’t be assigned to specific tenants. “It will be an open-basis parkade,” he said. For the drivers or healthcare workers making return visits to senior residents, maybe an informal agreement can be set up where they’ll get a parking pass, he said.
For those families stopping by to visit, “there’s a healthy inventory of short term visitor parking on adjoining streets,” he said, at which time more people groaned aloud.
If the proposed amendments are rejected, he said he would still like to put a four storey building at the site without the affordable housing units.
“Personally, I would just cringe at that opportunity lost,” he said, adding the city hasn’t seen an affordable development project since 2009. “I’d rather develop a $15 million dollar building with 20 affordable senior units, than an $8 or $9 million dollar project (without affordable units).”
‘An elephant on a postage stamp’
Melissa Dean was the first of many delegates who spoke in opposition to the proposed amendments and to the project as a whole. She told council the area needed to have more restrictive zoning regulations, to “ensure any building erected will have a positive impact on the public realm and be compatible with surrounding neighbourhood buildings.”
Buildings constructed on Catholic Hill should be no higher than St. Agnes School, she said. This will help preserve the visual balance with the other buildings on the hill. Instead of the proposed three-metre setback, Dean told council the setbacks should be increased beyond the current 10-metre guideline.
“Don’t try to put an elephant on a postage stamp,” she said. “We must be mindful that whatever is built on that site will endure for decades to come.”
John Farley, the developer of Market Commons condos at 5 Gordon St., spoke in favour of Lammer’s proposed amendments. He said there were similar planning revisions requested when his building went up and without cooperation between council and downtown renewal, the Market Commons project would not have met key targets or deadlines.
Corinne Maloney, an architect in downtown Guelph and area resident, responded directly to Farley’s comments.
She said the location of the proposed building is completely different than Market Commons. The site at 75 Dublin St. N. is adjacent to a national historic site – Basilica of Our Lady – and sits on top of a hill that can be seen from throughout the downtown.
“The mass and the density proposed for this site is overwhelming to say the least,” she said.
She presented conceptual images to council to show how such a building may take away from the current skyline on Catholic Hill.
No predetermined outcome
“I believe the proposed development has gone in the wrong direction,” she said, also highlighting current parking problems.
Intensification is important for downtown but there are better locations for this type of building, she said. “At such a prominent site, the city should want to get it right.”
Wave after wave of delegates came up to speak about a variety of issues and urged council not to allow the proposed amendments to pass. Some of the concerns raised over and over again included issues with parking in the area, safety of the children walking to and from the neighbouring Central Public School, shading of the school, the loss of the iconic skyline and the lack of due process where a developer can have a project fast-tracked to suit their needs.
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Cam Guthrie thanked delegates for taking part and having their say.
“There is no, zero, predetermined outcome from where I’m standing,” he said.
After taking in the information provided from all delegates on both sides, council asked staff to make a recommendation on whether or not the proposed amendments should be permitted. Staff has until the end of November to bring this recommendation forward and then on Nov. 28, council will make a decision.
There will be two more public engagement sessions regarding this issue. One will be hosted by Lammer at 371 Waterloo Ave. on Oct. 27 at 8 p.m., and the other will be at the council meeting on Nov. 28.