Eightplex on Hilltop Drive gets council approval

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Huntsville Councillors Brian Thompson and Bob Stone tried to halt an eightplex proposed for 8 and 10 Hilltop Drive at Monday’s council meeting. Thompson expressed concern with the impact the eighplex would have on the character of the neighbourhood and said too many exemptions were being made to accommodate the development.

“What we’re surrounded with here are single-family residences. I think there’s a multi-residential unit across the road but it does not have this tremendous mass of an apartment building… I guess it’s the overall mass of this particular building and the fact that the setbacks have been adjusted in just about every situation here. The fact that we’ve reduced the parking accommodation from 1.5, which is kind of normal for this kind of a development to 1.25, I mean how far do we go?” Thompson questioned.

He said while he realizes the municipality is doing its best to increase available housing and it’s a prime location for multi-residential units due to their proximity to the hospital and the downtown core, “I still think in terms of the character of the neighbourhood… do we have to go to eight to satisfy the developer in this particular case? Maybe six would be more amenable.”

The applicant revised his plan from the first time it was introduced for information purposes to Huntsville’s planning committee in August. At that meeting, committee heard that the merger of the two lots coupled with a zoning change would enable the proponent to build up to seven units. But the applicant wanted to build eight units and was seeking to enter into a bonusing agreement with the municipality. In exchange for an additional unit, he would commit to making the bottom four units accessible. Committee also heard that surrounding residents were concerned with density and privacy. Concerns were also expressed about the lack of amenity space for those living in the proposed units.

The applicant returned to the September 12 planning committee with a revised plan. The new plan sought to decrease the required parking in order to situate the building closer to the front lot line to create more amenity space in the back. It also removed the balconies from the second level of the building, thereby providing more privacy to area neighbours, and included a two-metre privacy fence along the sides and rear of the property to be constructed on a slope. Landscaping along the front lot line of the property would also be required according to staff, who were recommending that the application be approved.

Huntsville Councillor Jonathan Wiebe expressed concern with the reduction in parking requirements; while Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison said that just because a unit is accessible it doesn’t mean everyone will need a parking space.

“Barrier-free units are great for lots of people. And if in fact you do have a wheelchair, you have your own van that requires lots of space, or you need an accessible spot and you look to rent one of these units and you find out that in fact those two spots are pretty much taken up by other residents, then I guess you’re not going to rent there. We’re not forcing someone to live here that can’t have a parking spot,” he said. “I think it’s a very reasonable compromise to get more density where it belongs, in the urban core.”

Huntsville Councillor Bob Stone did not agree. He said an eightplex is not in keeping with the area. In the end, committee voted in favour of the application while Stone voted against it.

All decisions by planning committee make their way to Huntsville Council for final planning approval. Again, at Monday’s council meeting Stone voted against the approval of the application along with Thompson.

“The desire for increased housing should not supersede good planning. In my opinion this building and parking lot is too big for the property and we keep making exceptions for this just to eke every dollar out, see how big and how many we can get on there and there’s not enough play area if there’s kids there or people just sitting in the backyard,” said Stone. “I said at the time I could get my head around a sixplex but eight, it’s too much…”

Councillor Wiebe, who sits on the planning committee as well, said the debate at planning was a healthy one. He said what sold him on voting in favour of the application was the idea that the municipality could have input on the aesthetics of an eightplex, but very little input on seven units. “That kind of sold me on it. I had a tough time deciding but that kind of won me over because I think that aesthetically pleasing buildings should not be underestimated. They can do really great things in neighbourhoods,” he added. Huntsville Councillor Jason FitzGerald, who also sits on the committee, agreed. He noted that the balconies were removed, thereby creating more privacy for the neighbours. “And we came up with the input of the aesthetics of the building so that’s why I voted in favour of it and I will do the same,” he said.

Councillor Nancy Alcock also noted that the character of the area is already somewhat mixed. “I realize that there are at least half a dozen single detached homes in the immediate vicinity but just a stone throw away is Muskoka Road #3, which has commercial and institutional, is really close to the hospital and so to have four new accessible units close to that is really good, especially because it’s also on the transit route. So there were a lot of positive features in this development that seemed to make sense for the addition of just new, good housing,” she said.

Council also heard that storm water management would be required for the development as part of the site plan approval. In the end, the application was approved with just Stone and Thompson voting against it.

See the full planning report here.

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11 Comments

  1. I guess there were compelling reasons for Council to approve this? Can we hear what they were? Preferably before the election?

    • Elizabeth Rice - Doppler Publisher on

      Hi Bob (and Jim),
      I think the story is thorough in detailing what the councillors and mayor said in their support of the motion. I’m not sure what information you are still needing?

  2. The reputation of caving in continues. I would like to see where applications are turned down to have some assurance that it happens. Regulations were established for a reason, enforce them. If aesthetics are a factor how did the apartment units on Main W get approved? We need multi unit housing in all forms here, stick to the official guidelines, as we have no shortage of land to do it right.

  3. I find it highly amusing that now the developer is applauding his dropping of the balconies in favour of privacy; whereas formerly he was applauding the balconies as amenity space, on which children could play. Hands up: how many folk want their children to play on a balcony?
    .
    And without prejudice, and with all respect due your position, Mr. Mayor; promoting accessible units in the absence of designated accessible parking, is akin to selling a home without a source of potable water. What did Marie Antoinette say?: “Let them eat cake.” But there are less accessible units than cake in Huntsville. I feel that you dropped the ball on this one.

  4. As I have stated….How far will we go seems to be the motto of our planning committe. I sure hope Nancy , Jason and Jon went to that lot and looked how close the 4 neighbors are. If they did and still voted for it, I am shocked. But if you want to push the boundaries, this is your opportunity. Forget about what is required. Push the envelope for all your worth. This decision will now be used as a stepping stone to putting more buildings where buildings shouldn’t go. How far can you go??? You may be surprised. Thanks to Brian Thompson and Bob Stone who DID go to the property and based on common sense dictating, voted no. Remember that at election time.

  5. Let’s put some people in place to support our interests . Time for a big Change . Don’t give Huntsville away to all the special interest groups and domineering developers . There is only so much funding available to support our hospitals and infrastructure from the taxes we all pay . Enough is enough … Get it together ! Vote Smart !

  6. I agree Rob Millman. I would assume that most people who require a ground walk in accessible unit need transportation and would require a parking spot. To say well they don’t have to rent here is pretty ignorant when we all know that there are just not enough accommodation for the elderly or disabled. It’s who you know that gets things past. I have experienced that.

  7. I haven’t seen any mention about the two large mature trees just a couple feet from the property line to the west of the proposed buid. They would need sufficient room around the roots to protect the trees from future disease or death. WHO would be responsible, (the town, the builder or the existing property owner) on which the trees now reside? Anyone with a true answer to this is very much needed.

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