Wingham apartment site plan approved
BY DENNY SCOTT
Despite the concerns of neighbouring residents, the proposed Riverside Apartments in Wingham received site plan approval on Monday night with 73 units proposed over four above-grade storeys.
The hotly-debated development, proposed to be built at 166 John Street in Wingham, was last before North Huron Council in February when council directed developers to maintain the recommended three-storey height limit on the development, which developer Jonathan Eelmans said, at the time, could cause problems with the economic viability of the build.
At the time, council had received opposition to the development from a group of neighbours who felt the former trailer park wasn’t the right place for the development. They presented several complaints about the proposed development with many focusing on the loss of green space, traffic issues and the height of the building ruining the vistas of the neighbourhood.
Monday night’s North Huron Council meeting started with some of those same neighbours voicing concerns about the modified proposal, with concerns ranging from the loss of trees on the property that had already occurred to what they perceived as council’s lack of transparency on the issue. The concerned citizens spoke to the issue during the “public comment” section of the agenda.
The proposal presented on Monday night fell within the existing rules of the municipality, but maintained the 73 units that were proposed with the five-storey design that council had voted down in February. Neighbours felt 73 was too many units and too many people moving into their neighbourhood, saying it would “overcrowd” the area.
Others claimed that council “lied” to the residents and “backstabbed” them because they weren’t told about the development going forward. Neighbours also complained about the loss of trees and said the removal of the Wingham Community Trail was unacceptable. (Councillor Anita van Hittersum later said the walking trail wasn’t being removed, only made temporarily unavailable during construction.)
The concerned citizens also complained about the fact that, because the development was following the established rules of the municipality, they had no recourse or means of appeal and said council “acted in bad faith.” The residents were also concerned about the amount of traffic that would be generated by the influx of residents into the area.
“How the residents have been treated with respect to the plan is unconscionable,” said Jackie Cribb, who lives on John Street, adding that council had lost the “trust and respect” of the voters.
Huron County Planner Hanna Holman presented the site plan for the project, including the modified layout of the building, which met all the requirements of both the county’s and municipality’s planning documents.
She explained that the ground floor of the development, under the Ontario Building Code, isn’t considered a storey due to its height above the average grade of the site, meaning that it technically had three storeys even though it had four floors. Between that change and an expanded footprint, it made it possible to fit in 73 units.
She said the site plan was recommended for approval by the Huron County Planning and Development Department.
Due to the absence of Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip and Reeve Bernie Bailey having a conflict of interest on the project, Councillor Chris Palmer chaired the discussion on the issue. He prefaced council’s discussion by instructing his fellow council members to “think about questions your neighbours would have” to make the discussion “as thorough as possible.”
Councillor Paul Heffer asked Holman if a “traffic engineer” or a “general engineer” had provided council with an opinion on the traffic to the area. Holman said the consultation was provided by Bruce Potter of B.M. Ross and Associates, the township’s consulting engineer.
“Bruce has extensive experience in civil engineering broadly, and [the township relies] on him for advice regarding roads and traffic,” Holman said.
In response to Heffer’s question, van Hittersum said that Holman is an expert and knows what’s necessary as far as research and studies goes. It was also important to note, van Hittersum said, that Huron County Council “thought it was a fantastic project” for the northern end of the county.
“We need the housing,” van Hittersum said. “I don’t have any concerns.”
She went on to say that the professionals have weighed in on the issue and that the temporary closure of the trail “is what it is: a temporary [measure] for the safety of the people.”
Palmer shared Heffer’s concerns regarding the traffic, asking what council could do if, once the complex was open and people were moved in, a traffic problem arose. Holman said that could be evaluated down the road, if upgrades would be necessary.
Palmer then addressed some of the concerns raised by the neighbours during the public comment period.
First, he said that council had never said the building would “stay the same” as far as its footprint was concerned, only that, when council decided to maintain the three-storey height limit, the developer would need to decide how to proceed.
“Council did our job,” he said. “We maintained our height limit.”
He said the developer is allowed to expand the footprint as long as it could be done legally and “that is what they’ve done.”
He then said council only saw the design drawings on Thursday, April 28, days before Monday’s meeting, so councillors had just as much time to react to them as the public.
“I don’t want the public to think they were kicked in the belly over this,” he said. “That didn’t happen. This is how the builder decided to proceed and the way it is now. It’s come to us in a legal manner.”
He said the first floor of the development could be viewed “in different ways”, but since it is regulated, it was following the rules.
“It’s just like a house,” he said, explaining council has no mechanism to stop a house from being built if it follows the rules. “That’s what we’re facing this evening.”
He said the project “fit the bill” and had been approved by Huron County Council and the Huron County Planning and Development Department.
Council members voiced no concerns with the proposed motion, which would approve the site plan, however Heffer wanted an addition to the motion to address the concerns of the neighbours regarding traffic. Clerk Carson Lamb, however, pointed out that, if council planned on making any changes as a result, it couldn’t approve the site plan. He explained that, as soon as the site plan is approved, the developer could apply for a building permit and move forward with the project, so such a study would be for information purposes only.
Councillor Kevin Falconer moved the recommended motion as it was written, which saw council receive Holman’s report and approve the proposed site plan control agreement for the development. After being seconded by van Hittersum, council unanimously voted in favour of the motion.