North Huron Council turns down amendment for five-storey apartment building
BY DENNY SCOTT
A portion of North Huron Council sided with a group of concerned citizens on Monday night, limiting a residential development in Wingham to address the concerns of neighbours.
The proposed redevelopment of the Wingham trailer park may not go ahead, as council voted to limit a proposed five-storey building to a three-storey building, eliminating the potential for 32 new residential units in the community.
On Monday, a truncated council, short Reeve Bernie Bailey and Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip due to declared conflicts of interest, voted to cap the proposed apartment building at three storeys, which includes nine units on the bottom or grade floor, and 16 units per floor above that for a total of 41 units. The proposed structure was five storeys tall and would have included 73 units, however, neighbours had several concerns, including aesthetics, the loss of green space and traffic congestion, which led Councillors Chris Palmer, Ric McBurney and Paul Heffer to vote down the proposed zoning bylaw amendment which would allow the taller building, instead passing an amendment which wouldn’t allow the structure to go over the existing policy of three storeys.
While council did pass two motions to change the trailer park’s designation to high-density residential, when it came time to vote on several zoning amendment requirements, council was split with the above three wanting to limit the development while Councillors Kevin Falconer and Anita van Hittersum wanted it to go ahead.
Aside from increasing the maximum height to five storeys, Huron County Planner Hanna Holman also presented two other changes, including decreasing parking space requirements from 1.5 per dwelling unit to 1.2, in addition to visitor spaces (resulting in 90 parking spaces for the original 73-unit proposal) and permitting the building to be closer than 30 metres to the top-of-bank at the adjacent watercourse at a proposed setback of 24 metres. Council approved those two amendments.
Holman addressed several of the concerns raised by the neighbours, including pointing out that developers had undertaken studies to make sure that the structure’s design was acceptable and that any shadows caused by it would be minimal (which she classified as a maximum of two hours during either equinox).
Holman said all the concerns had been addressed by the developer since the issue first came to council last year, but some remained unresolved. The outstanding issues, she said, didn’t seem to be moving towards resolution.
She then explained that it’s important for council to listen to those issues, as her job is to provide technical recommendations, and said the development, aside from the above zoning amendments, conformed to the required provincial, county and municipal regulations.
Palmer was the first to address the development, saying he felt the five-storey structure wouldn’t be “in harmony” with other structures, citing terminology in North Huron’s official plan.
He also asked if there was a needs assessment done, saying he didn’t want North Huron saddled with a “white elephant” if it didn’t need 73 units of one type of housing.
While Holman said a development of the scale of the proposed structure doesn’t typically require it, she did say the county is in a housing crisis.
“There is a dire need and, in particular, rental is something we need,” she said, adding that the Huron County Economic Development Department has conducted a number of surveys and identified that this is something desired by residents.
Brock Hodgins, one of the two developers behind the project, said that two financial institutions involved in the project conducted feasibility and market studies and both showed the project is worthwhile.
Palmer felt that the project shouldn’t go ahead as proposed, instead saying he would prefer a three-, or even four-storey building, citing concerns about the “high social cost” of the project.
Heffer said he was in favour of development on the land, but that the change from a 41-apartment structure to a 73 was too much for him to approve.
McBurney said he agreed with Heffer, and that his main concern was the complaints brought forward by the neighbouring property owners.
While van Hittersum said it was important for those families to be listened to, she said her concern was council was going to base its decision on eight families, instead of the multitude of residents who would be helped by the construction of a larger building.
“I’ve taken those concerns seriously,” she said. “However, as councillors, we have to look at the whole municipality, and the economic benefit [of the proposal].”
She said, as of Monday night, there were only two residential properties for sale in North Huron, both of which were “way above everyone’s budget.”
“The concerns I hear from the eight families are mostly about the [aesthetics of the building],” she said. “Maybe you like it, maybe you don’t. It’s not up to us to like it or don’t like it. That’s [developers Hodgins and Jonathan Eelman’s] design. They have done the financials, and the banks or people providing funding are happy with it and I think it’s a good plan.”
She said that the concerns brought forward by the handful of neighbours were important, but she was thinking about the 73 people or families who would live in the building, and how they would shop at local stores, support local churches and service groups and benefit the community.
She also pointed out that rental units are in dire need in North Huron, highlighting new staff at the Wingham hospital.
“Doctors looking to work in our hospital don’t have housing,” she said. “They’re living in a rental from the hospital and that’s not good. We have to look at the whole municipality and the opportunities this will bring us.”
Falconer said he didn’t feel that capping the structure at three storeys was the answer, as any problem like traffic or loss of green space would be similar regardless of whether it’s 73 units or 41.
“The footprint of the building will be the same,” he said. “The parking lot will be the same size. I don’t agree with [suggestions to limit the development to three storeys].”
He then pointed out that, if council were to limit this development, it may result in the development not going ahead at all.
Hodgins said the financial viability of the project would require four storeys, and that, at three, it “definitely wouldn’t work out.” Later discussions between himself and Holman indicated they could build a three-storey structure facing the neighbours in the east, with a fourth storey hidden due to the grade of the ground, however that would require further engineering work. Holman noted that the first floor was two metres above the average grade of the area, making it count as a storey regardless of design, however Hodgins said that may be remedied to allow the four-storey structure to appear to be a three-storey structure due to lower grade on the west side of the structure. That change, however, would require additional cost for the developers.
“Essentially, we’ll have to go back to the engineer and get it revised,” Hodgins said. “We would definitely still want to build the building with four floors, but designed in such a way that the bottom floor wouldn’t count as a storey.”
Palmer said he would only be in favour if it looked like a three-storey building from the neighbours’ perspective to the east, with staff saying that could be handled during the site plan.
After first voting against the zoning amendment that would allow the building to be five storeys, council approved a zoning amendment with the reduced parking requirement and setbacks, as well as motions to change the property to high-density residential.
The vote on the zoning bylaw amendment saw Falconer and van Hittersum against capping the development with Palmer, McBurney and Heffer in favour.
Council noted that concerns raised by the neighbours, several of whom spoke during the public forum section of the meeting, had an impact on that decision, citing traffic and aesthetic concerns, among others. The neighbours also criticized the process of the development, saying it wasn’t as transparent as they would have liked.