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28 Stories on Breezehill? Have your say

Mon Mar 12, 2012 Miss Vicky 

So Claridge is proposing a 28 story condo building at 1050 Somerset, on the corner of Breezehill and Somerset, right beside Devonshire School. This is the location of the former 168 Market. The property on Somerset falls within the boundaries of the Wellington West Community Desgin Plan and is zoned for 6 stories. But the half of the property behind - the garage which abuts the school's junior playground - does not fall within the CDP's boundaries. The developers are proposing a 5 story "podium" in front, along Somerset, with a 28 story tower behind. Facing the school they propose some townhouse units, so there will not be a 28 story wall right up against the playground.

You'll find site plans and drawings on the city's website (although it's not the easiest to navigate!). The link is here and includes a linked form to send comments to the lead city planner, Melanie Knight.

The whole development would mean 271 residential units as well retail space on the ground floor. They want to expand entrance to the laneway behind Bayswater to two lanes, and that would be the entrance to and exit from the 240-odd parking spaces below ground.

Last week Miss Vicky attended Councillor Hobbs' consultation on this development. It was a packed meeting, and it is clear this proposal is very controversial. Then again, proposals that exceed the current zoning by more than 20 stories are probably going to be. Especially right next to a school.

The meeting was facilitated by a Claridge representative and included presentations by the architect, city planner and traffic planner. Then there was a lively Q&A, during which our councillor was called to the front of the room (she had opened the meeting and then stepped back, but folks wanted her to answer questions as well).

There's a lot to say about this meeting and about the development in general. Probably more than one post's worth. But here are some key points:

1)Your feedback at this stage is important. When a developer files an application, they set a process in motion that requires the city to solicit feedback from the community, evaluate the proposal and make a recommendation to the council via the Planning Committee. The city planner made it quite clear at the meeting that she is looking for input, and also recommended copying your comments to the councillor. I would also add that the community association needs your input as well, so fire them off a copy of whatever you send, or use the form at the HCA website.

2) The developer is arguing that the city's policy of encouraging infill at the core (especially near transit) is enough justification to support this scale of development, even though the CDP that just passed last spring sets a limit to that intensification at 6 stories along the mainstreet. They (and our councillor) do not seem to feel that asking for 28 stories RIGHT BEHIND the half of the property that is covered by the CDP in any way violates the spirit of the 3-year process that led to the 6 story limit.

3) The City is also in the process of developing a community design plan for the Carling-Bayview transit corridor, which (I think) would not necessarily include this property, but would cover several sites nearby that may include some height. But the current recommendation is to scale the development from low to high, with the high being closer to the river and not right up against low-rise residential development. At the meeting, our councillor mentioned that there may be an alternate proposal coming forward that would mean the opposite (this was not mentioned at the previous evening's HCA-organized meeting, so this comment caused some consternation on Wednesday). Either way, the impact of the CDP on this property is unclear and more than a little confusing.

4. Key concerns at the meeting, beyond the whole "28 stories WTF" sentiment, included concerns about the impact on the playground (sun won't be a factor but the developers do not plan a wind study until after the site plan is approved, nor have they considered the impact on the playground during construction), traffic and safety for the kids walking to school, the need for affordable rental housing, and the number of parking spaces (suggestions that the developers encourage transit use by reducing parking spaces were rebuffed, as the developer claims they will not be able to sell the units without parking).

5. The developer was not really able to justify or explain how they arrived at 28 stories. Their response to any implication that the scale of the development is inappropriate was to paint questioners as opposed to development and intensification across the board. This was not my impression of the sentiments expressed by community members at the meeting. There may be a few who would oppose intensification no matter what, but they would be in the minority. Many there were clearly in favour of smart growth that reflects and supports the character of the neighbourhood. What they were questioning was whether 28 stories represents smart growth.

Oh there is so much more that could be said about this meeting. But what I really wanted to tell you today is that there will be another meeting organized by the Community Association to discuss the development, potential community benefits that could be secured as a tradeoff for extra height, and how the HCA should frame its response.

The meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 20 from 7 to 9 at the Hintonburg Community Centre.

If you can't make the meeting but want the HCA to know where you stand, email them at info@hintonburg.com.

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