News Jul 08, 2018 by Bill Jackson Kitchener Post
Neighbourhood residents Daryl Howes-Jones, left, and Barb Thomas stand at the location of the proposed development intended for students on Doon Valley Drive in Kitchener in March. Many residents of Lower Doon were upset by the proposal to build six stacked townhouse blocks, with a total of 175 bedrooms, in their neighbourhood, and a tribunal has agreed. - Peter Lee , Record staff
The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal has sided with residents of Lower Doon, upholding a Kitchener council decision to deny a 47-unit stacked townhouse development intended for students.
"A phrase used by the participants wherein they repeated a comment of one of their city councillors resonated — 'It's like putting 10 pounds of sugar in a five-pound bag' — fits perfectly with what is being proposed for this site," Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) vice-chair Jyoti Zuidema concluded, quoting Kitchener Coun. Zyg Janecki in her 13-page decision handed down Thursday.
"In the end, I prefer the evidence from those in opposition to the proposed development to determine that the appeals are dismissed."
The proposed development by Owl Properties Limited is situated at the rear of 69 Amherst Dr. and 67 Durham St., within walking distance of Conestoga College, and includes six stacked townhouse blocks, with a total of 175 bedrooms, in the middle of a low-rise neighbourhood surrounded by mostly detached homes.
City planner Garett Stevenson wrote a report recommending approval of the official plan and zoning changes that were then denied by city council last year. Owl Properties appealed the decision to the former Ontario Municipal Board, which is now the LPAT.
Glenn Scheels, a professional land use planner, and Stevenson, who appeared at the hearing under summons, identified provincial directives to make efficient use of existing infrastructure, a broader policy objective that Zuidema found laudable.
"However, just because municipal services such as water, sewer and transit are available does not mean that the proposed new development does not have to respect the existing neighbourhood fabric," she stated.
Following the hearing and after taking a drive through the neighbourhood and surrounding area, Zuidema said the proposal, at 3½ and 4½ storeys, is "remarkably out of character with the surrounding homes."
The city's official plan requires new developments to be sensitive to and in harmony with the surrounding neighbourhood, she said. "In this case, that policy objective has not been achieved as the proposed heights and massing are not compatible."
While plenty of testimony was heard from experts and residents pertaining to the existing character of the surrounding neighbourhood — which some have labelled a "student ghetto" overrun by "slumlords" and "flophouses" — Zuidema addressed the proposal's compatibility based mostly on its "planned function."
Parts of her decision were critical of the proposed building design, including the lack of a rear exit and access to a fire hose, which she said was "unacceptable" and could put the lives of some 60 people at risk. She also found that the 81 parking spaces for about 175 residents was deficient and that the "lodging house" concept with 24/7 on-site supervision was a label that didn't ensure performance standards would be met.
Addressing the issue of students, Zuidema said the hearing's participants were clear that their opposition was not because the development was being targeted to students, but because it was simply too intense.
The decision also noted that while the city attended the hearing as a party, it called no evidence to support its own council's decision to refuse the applications. "That job was left to others."
Residents Daryl Howes-Jones and Randall Martin, named as parties to the hearing, retained the services of a professional planner. Seven residents were also listed as participants.
"It was abundantly clear to me from hearing the testimonies of the participants that this was not a case of 'nimbyism' as the residents in the area would welcome some redevelopment, but not one which was too intense and overbearing with respect to height and massing," Zuidema stated, referring to the property at 50 Pinnacle Dr., where another low-rise development with about 75 units is currently under construction.
"The Pinnacle site was approved by city council and there was no opposition from the participants," she noted.
Though Zuidema sided with city council, she also took the city to task.
"With the greatest of respect to the municipality, leaving such battles to the residents in the arena to fight individual applications (and I refer specifically that the city was in attendance but called no evidence of its own), is onerous to these residents and appears as an abdication of municipal responsibility," Zuidema said.
She also said it was interesting to observe that while Conestoga College supports the need to accommodate its students, it didn't appear at the hearing in support of the proposal.
Oliver Jahn of Owl Properties hadn't responded to a request for comment as of Thursday evening.
Martin responded in an email by saying his group was delighted with the decision.
He and Howes-Jones had the support of many residents in Lower Doon, who form an unofficial citizens committee.
"We believe that the application represented poor planning. City council agreed with our position, and after a six-day hearing, so did vice-chair Zuidema," he commented.
"Naturally we wish the city had supported us. ... We had to raise funds in order to hire a planner, and because the hearing lasted twice as long as expected, we will have to raise more money."