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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