Geanna Bean’s roots in Kitchener go back nine generations, and she feels passionately that Kitchener’s older neighbourhoods, with their narrow tree-lined streets and Victorian yellow-brick homes, help make the city unique.
She’s worried that a new proposal to put up a 12-storey office tower and five-storey parking garage next to single-family homes will irrevocably alter her neighbourhood. The proposal is on a cluster of five parcels of land totalling about 1.5 hectares on Moore Avenue between Wellington and Breithaupt streets, across the street from the Google building.
“The midtown neighbourhood is special and unique — some houses are of Victorian vintage — and will certainly be negatively impacted by this development,” said Bean, who lives on Wellington.
Bean is one of several residents who plan to speak about the proposed development, which comes before city councillors on Monday evening for zoning and Official Plan amendments.
She fears the proposal is just too tall and too close to single-family homes that abut the development on three sides.
“It’s going to cast shadows, in some places, that are three blocks long,” she said.
She’s also worried that the site’s parking garage could lead to more traffic pressures on Wellington, and possibly even to the street being widened at some point.
Dawn Parker, a professor of planning at the University of Waterloo who lives on Shanley Street, also plans to speak at the meeting.
Like many of her neighbours, she believes the first two phases of the showcase Breithaupt Block, which houses Google offices, were a good thing for the city and the neighbourhood. But she believes there isn’t enough transition between the tall office tower and nearby homes.
The city recently carried out extensive public consultation, as part of its work on the Planning Around Rapid Transit Stations (PARTS) Midtown report, meant to guide change and intensification in areas closest to light rail. The PARTS report emphasized the need to preserve established neighbourhoods, and for new development to transition from low-rise areas to denser ones.
The Breithaupt proposal contradicts those principles, Parker says, and sends a terrible message to residents. “People in the neighbourhood are frustrated. I’ve heard people say, ‘Why should we go to the trouble of going to these public consultations, if the results are ignored?’ ”
Parker, who specializes in residential housing markets, believes the added shadows, noise and light pollution from the project will erode the value of the homes closest to it, and start a creeping deterioration of the neighbourhood. A far better solution, she said, would put medium-density housing, such as townhomes, row houses, and stacked townhouses nearer the existing homes.
But city planner Garett Stevenson says the development has changed to try and address residents’ concerns. “I think they’ve taken reasonable steps to design the building and integrate it into the existing urban area,” he said.
First, the height was trimmed by about a storey by putting mechanical systems inside rather than on top of the building. Second, the tower has been pushed closer to the intersection of Moore and Breithaupt, away from nearby homes, which are buffered by a parkette, and then by the building’s four-storey podium. The 12-storey tower is now 31.5 metres away from Wellington Street, Stevenson said.
Those changes reduced the impact of shadows, and mean the tower meets the city’s tall building guidelines, he said.
Bean hopes councillors hear residents’ concerns. “Sometimes you feel that the city’s willing to sacrifice the beauty and the charm of the old parts of Kitchener for the sake of new development.”
More information on the project is available on the city’s website under “Planning and development consultations.”