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Some say three-storeys should be max for proposed Thornbury apartments

Debate stirred up over proposed TBM housing project weighs preserving green space over building height
2020_05_08 TBM Attainable housing mockup_3_JG
The TBM's official plan requires buildings in this area to remain three-stories or less.

The Town of the Blue Mountains Attainable Housing Corporation (BMAHC) has released the initial concept ideas for the gateway affordable housing project.

But the ideas are being criticized by some for not following the building height caps in the town's official plan.

The former Foodland, now gateway site located at 171 King Street East in Thornbury sits in a C-1 zone, which allows for the development of apartment buildings with a few stipulations.

“Those [C-1] permissions allow us to build a variety of things, including an apartment building, provided that the apartment building has non-residential uses on the first floor facing King street,” said Nathan Westendorp, director of planning and development services for the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM). “And, for development in this area, the official plan caps the height of buildings at three stories with a few exceptions across the town,”

While one of the concepts unveiled by the housing corporation is a three-storey building (45 units), the other two concepts propose four-storey (88 units) and five-storey (118 units) buildings. All of which include retail/commercial space on the ground floor.

Though the concepts are still just in the proposal stage, one housing corporation board member, Janet Findlay, is concerned about the extra height included in two of the drawings.

Findlay said that she would prefer to see a concept created that would maximize the land space, while upholding the town’s official plan of a three-story building.

“I just feel that we have an obligation to see what we can do with this site under the official plan. I don’t see that fleshed out here and I think that is something that needs to be studied and presented,” Findlay said.

Concept one has been created in keeping with the BMAHC’s ask of maintaining the site’s woodlot. But, Findlay said, she believes the consequences of amending the town’s official plan could be far worse than removing some trees.

Town councillor and chair of the BMAHC, Rob Sampson says the decision to remove trees cannot be taken lightly.

“We also have a challenge at the town level since we are embarking aggressively on a tree preservation plan and I think for our own site, if we were to go and wipe out all of those trees it might be counter to the message we are sending to the other developers,” Sampson said.

However, Findlay questioned what board members and town staff might say to future developers looking to build a four or five-story building in the area after they have done so on their own site?

Jim Torrance, president of the Blue Mountains Ratepayers Association agrees with Findlay, saying it is critical for this project to stay within the parameters for the town’s official plan.

“The official plan is developed every five years and it reflects the kind of community and environment we are trying to maintain,” Torrance says. “The official plan dictates that three-stories would be the maximum for buildings in the town and we think that it is important to adhere to the official plan. When you take a look at the concepts that have been proposed, the first concept is the only one that stays within the three-story parameter and we think it is the approach that should be pursued.”

Torrance adds staying within the three-story limit is critical in setting the tone for future area-development.

“The official plan is a really critical set of guidelines that all developments should follow and our concern is that if an accommodation is made for this specific project, to exceed what is allowed for in the official plan, our question is, does that let the genie out of the bottle? And, will it make it more difficult for the town to enforce the official plan with future developments if we allow variations to it? We would feel more confident if this project stayed within the parameters of the official plan,” Torrance says.

TBM CAO, Shawn Everett confirmed that, “if there is a desire to move forward with a concept that is four or five-stories, town staff will bring that forward for the public and council to consider.”

Eldon Theodore, partner with MHABC planning, urban design and architecture, provided the initial concept plans to the BMHC board confirmed that the current concepts were created with the intention of keeping as much of the current woodlot as possible.

“Concept one does the most in terms of the preservation of the existing woodlot on the property, in fact, it maintains almost all of it,” Theodore said. “We had previous options where we had a three-story building at the front of the lot, as well as a three-story building internal to the site. And, part of the balancing act was trying to recognize one of my objectives, which was the preservation of as many trees on the property as possible.”

Both Findlay and the BMRA say they would like to see the concepts adjusted to stay within the town’s official plan, while maximizing the property to its full extent.

“Is it possible to increase the footprint of the building itself to allow for more units? We know that may put some pressure on the green space that has been allotted for, but I think the BMRA would lean more towards keeping the three-story and pushing for financial viability and seeing how that can be done within the lot they have to work with,” says Torrance.

Sampson was quick to point out that there are other buildings in town that have amended the official plan and are above the three-story limit, such as the Windfall and Riverwalk buildings.

“These are discussions we will need to have and that council needs to have but let’s see what the public consultation brings,” Sampson said.

The BMAHC has posted the initial concepts for the gateway site and is now asking the public to share their thoughts on what they would like the site to look like.

The Concept Plan Community Consultation Survey will be accepting feedback until May 21.

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Jennifer Golletz

About the Author: Jennifer Golletz

Jennifer Golletz covers civic matters under the Local Journalism Initative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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