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TBM candidates have differing views on six-storey buildings

Is it time for taller buildings in The Blue Mountains? Candidates share their views
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CollingwoodToday asked the candidates running for council in Grey Highlands four questions about the issues facing the community.

The following responses were submitted by the candidates. The answers have not been checked for accuracy; they represent the candidates’ platforms and opinions.

Please visit CollingwoodToday’s municipal election web page for more coverage of the local municipal elections.

Responses are presented in alphabetical order beginning with candidates for mayor. All responses submitted by publishing deadline are included. 

Q: For some time, The Blue Mountains has been engaged in a review of its Official Plan (OP). Phase 1 of this process has been approved by the current council, but not sent to Grey County for approval. Phase 1 is recommending policies to increase density as a means of addressing the lack of affordable/attainable housing in the community. This includes the possibility of allowing six-storey buildings in a limited number of places. What are your thoughts about these proposed planning changes?

Candidate for mayor: Joe Halos

I am sure that a lot of us have the same thoughts. We don’t like increased density, we don’t like six storeys, we don’t like sprawl, we don’t like lack of housing, we want environmental protections. There are no right or wrong answers, only compromises. Provincial policy is the top driver and they are touting increased density and our OP must conform. Height is an interesting topic. While our general height limit is three storeys, we have, for various reasons, several four- and five-storey buildings throughout the town that blend in well. I am impressed with the detail and thought that staff has put into the six-storey issue. It shows a very good understanding of our town and how we can benefit from increased height while not detracting from our community's character.

While I have no real objection to six storeys, in my opinion it must be seriously set back from the road to be in context with the surroundings. The current proposal suggests that six-storey builds would have to meet several criteria to be allowed, it appears at the discretion of the council of the day to blend in with the ‘nature and character ‘ of the area. This is unclear for all involved and may lead to who knows what. One thing I would expect is that if the six-storey provisions are allowed in areas with ‘conditions,’ that any development that proposed six storeys and the current council did not approve the plan, that the developer would certainly win an land tribunal appeal hearing. It is not that the tribunal sides with developers, it is because the tribunal applies provincial policy which is densification. Nature, character, and our opinions mean little when compared to hard numbers in our OP or provincial policy directives. Further language suggests that six storeys may be applied for in other areas upon an amendment to the plan. Perhaps we could have everyone who proposes six storeys in any area seek an amendment. Let the developer do the work and absorb the cost, and if they have a good plan then everyone is happy and we do not have six storeys enshrined in our OP. Just a thought. All is compromise and I plan to keep the best interests of the community in the forefront on these and any other issues.

Candidate for mayor: Elizabeth Marshall

Increased density in our outlying hamlets should be allowed. I have heard from a number of property owners who would like to sever/subdivide, from their 25-50 acre properties that are scrub lands without agricultural abilities, and yet they are given a resounding “no,” even prior to making an application. In-law suites, for retired parents, are one thing, but forcing people to do this is repugnant to property ownership. This is because it may be far more difficult to sell these properties, in future, impeding the value of said properties and leading to harmful effects on said property owner’s finances as well as insurance problems, including some having two separate fire numbers on the same property. It would seem the present council wants six floors in certain areas. We need to keep these builds to three floors, and if it involves long-term care facilities, they also should only be three floors (Meaford two floors, Sunset Manor two floors). This is for safety and fire reasons. We also need to take into consideration the town’s infrastructure when it comes to high-density builds. Sewer, water, schools, grocery stores, doctors, pharmacies, etc. There is a myriad of issues that must be looked at prior to increasing density beyond the capabilities of the community as a whole. The entire Official Plan will have to be looked at with the fresh eyes of the new council, and the residents, to see what our community’s growth policies should be, and I would refer one to the number of times, over the past few years, our municipality has had to attend the land planning appeal tribunal.

Candidate for mayor: Andrea Matrosovs

I fully support council’s decision to approve, in principle, Phase 1 of the Official Plan amendments. This decision endorses policy updates to permit attainable and affordable housing options. This decision to endorse in principle but hold off on sending to the county for approval allows the new council to consider the results of Phase 1 with Phase 2. We need to consider Phase 1 density and height with environmental impacts, transportation, parks and open space, commercial and employment lands, community design guidelines, agricultural and rural lands in Phase 2. We need to update our Official Plan to reflect the county plan target of 30 per cent new housing units or units created by conversion to be affordable to a range of incomes. If we are to consider new buildings greater than three storeys in select areas along the Highway 26 corridor but outside of the Bruce Street Core or projects greater than 40 units, then we need the tools to say to developers they need to incorporate attainable housing if they want to build up or build more units. We can set the criteria for developers to meet based on the inclusion of attainable housing in the intensification proposal. The Phase 1 endorsed in principle by this council also includes strategies to lessen the impact of taller buildings such as setbacks from the property line, step-style buildings that recede from the street with additional stories, and a 45-degree angular plane method from adjacent properties that reduces the impact of shadowing and overlooking the lower-rise neighbours.

Candidate for mayor: Tony Poole

We need to address density in a constructive basis that satisfies the need for attainable housing and protecting our agricultural sector. Thoughtful solutions that reflect our vision in the official plan will need to address complementary solutions that put increased density development in the right areas including appropriate height requirements that reflect the geographic area, neighbouring communities and sight requirements. Key to this will be working with the province to increase density without eroding our agricultural areas.

Candidate for council: Gail Ardiel

I personally don’t like six storeys and would feel uncomfortable approving the plan as is. The town needs public consultation on the Official Plan, more than the three public meetings that met the minimum standards. Let’s get this right and then the OP can go to the county for approval without being sent back for further comments and objections. Once the county approves the plan, the plan will be forwarded to the province for final approval. This does take time, but use the time wisely.

Candidate for council: Paula Hope

Let’s start with the solutions needed to address the lack of affordable/attainable housing in the area, beginning with the classic answer of providing a greater range and mix of housing, as offered by the Official Plan phase one proposed policies. The next four developments planned for Craigleith achieve this end quite beautifully. The mix of housing in these approved developments is weighted heavily toward the more affordable apartment, semi-detached and townhouse units, with a limited supply of the more expensive single-family detached homes. There will be close to 1,000 units of this housing mix made available to the new citizens of The Blue Mountains.

To put this number into perspective, in a recent staff report from the town, according to 2019 projections, it was identified that 50-100 attainable units were required in the west end; another 50-100 attainable units would be needed in the east end to address the town’s affordable/ attainable requirements. With the 40+ units planned for the Gateway site, plus the 100+ attainable units planned for the Campus of Care, the affordable/ attainable housing needs for the west end of the community would be well-addressed with the completion of these projects. As for the east end, there are the above-mentioned four projects with a more affordable mix and range of housing options plus 20-40 attainable housing units which will be offered to the town by the developer, confirmed by a Memo of Understanding (MOU). Finally, there has been a request from the Blue Mountain Resort for zoning for employee housing to assist with meeting their need for staff housing.

Now, as for the proposed planning changes. The Official Plan review process provided a lot of useful data, the most important finding being from the “Growth Management” background paper, prepared by land economist experts. This key finding, on the topic of the growth required to meet the town’s provincial/County (OPA 11) targets, reads from the town website, as follows, “There are currently over 4,500 units in the town's development pipeline, the majority of which are approved or approved with conditions. These units within approved applications exceed the household growth allocated to the town in OPA 11 (3,590 new households).”

In other words, the town has been punching way beyond its weight, in terms of its contribution to the housing targets of the province, for quite some time. The town has performed so well with its housing support of its citizens that it has overshot the 2046 growth expectations of the province by 900 units – already, as of 2022! Given this important data, I do not find any reason to rush to six-storey buildings nor higher densities, unless the building is in an appropriate location for an attainable housing or health care project, like the Campus of Care facility. This data also speaks, writ large, that there is no need for concern about losing any agriculture or special agricultural lands to development. There is nothing in the data to make a case for the “nuclear” options of six-story buildings and increased densities in our small town - the research is in and the numbers are simply not there! Most importantly, the town’s citizens spoke loudly and clearly about their wishes to maintain the “character” of its communities. In fact, 86 per cent of the 600 respondents to the Official Plan Steering survey placed “character” as their number one priority for their community. It is my contention that increased density and height are both contributors to the erosion of the “look and feel” of community character; these are urban strategies that do not need to be pursued, at this time – maybe, not forever, in this “community of communities.” All this to say that it is my commitment to preserve what we have, and love: our beautiful small towns.

Candidate for council: Alex Maxwell

I find it interesting that our current council kicked the can down the road and did not send  Phase 1 off to Grey County for approval. From this, I can only speculate that some of the current council was struggling with the idea of six-storey buildings and increased density and whether this would truly address the need for attainable/affordable housing in a meaningful and significant way. Before I vote in favour of six storeys or increased densities, I will need to be entirely convinced that the citizenry wants to move away from a small rural community in an agricultural setting to a more urban style one - only then will I exercise my vote.

Candidate for council: June Porter

As I have stated at both open houses and the public meeting there are a number of issues which were not addressed in Phase One including the underlying ‘teeth’ which serves to support all content in an Official Plan during an Ontario land tribunal appeal, with respect to height, setbacks, angular plans, shadowing etc. A recent article in popular press affirmed my comments at the recent Official Plan public meeting that Ontario Land Tribunal decisions have favoured developers 97 per cent of the time. The Official Plan amendment proposed in principle, I would like to see revamped as it will not serve the residents as it stands for a variety of reasons which include: the underlying documentation infrastructure i.e., policies, protocols and bylaws are not present, nor are their plans in place for them to developed and or implemented. An absence of these only serves to create opportunities for developers to take the town to the Ontario Land Tribunal and escalate legal costs, which are paid for by the residents. We as a town cannot afford not to do the necessary work to give the Official Plan the necessary ‘teeth’. To emphasize my point it was reported on Sept. 28 in CollingwoodToday that the town has now spent more than $110,000 on one appeal to the OLT and the subsequent request to review that decision. This is equivalent of the annual 2022 tax bill paid by fifty-four homes. Expenses of this nature need to cease.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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