Further to a story we brought you in April, neither a fish habitat impact study nor confirmation that legal non-conforming development rights still exist with respect to the property could sway Huntsville’s Planning Committee to approve a 138-unit retirement home at 203 Highway 60.
Committee, at its July 12 meeting, expressed concern with the idea of a mere 10.5 metre setback between the shoreline and the estimated 30,250 square-foot building being proposed. Town staff told committee that the setback had been established through the approval of a site plan agreement for the property in 2003, giving the lands a 10.5 metre set back as a right rather than the now customary 30 metre setback required for shoreline development.
“There was a lengthy review between the Town’s solicitor and the applicant’s legal representation and they concluded that the existing site plan registered on title in fact is valid and a building permit can be approved today for the structure that is shown on that site line,” noted Plan Muskoka’s Savas Varadas who was at committee representing the applicant. He said that although it was concluded that the setbacks were grandfathered, as a gesture of good will to allay environmental concerns Michalski Nielsen Associates was retained to conduct a fish habitat study on the impact a 10.5 metre set back would have.
He said the study concluded “that through some very strict and specific planting and mitigation plans that the 10.5 metre setback can in fact be used to protect fish habitat,” said Varadas, referring to Fairy Lake and the creek along the property. “They provided a long list of recommendations which could be implemented through site plan control, should this project move forward.”
Councillor Jonathan Wiebe expressed concerns with studies paid for by the applicant and suggested that the Town ought to embark on such studies on its own or at least get them peer reviewed.
“I’m wondering a building of this magnitude in that area, I’m wondering if it would be warranted for us to undertake our own habitat study and to get a different entity to do altogether a different study,” he said. “Frankly I get frustrated with applicants coming forward with a paid study on their behalf and the results go always in their favour. I am not saying that they’re skewed results but I think that this is the world we live in and maybe an independent study might be, in this case, the route we want to go.”
Huntsville Manager of Planning Services Kirstin Maxwell said that while such studies can be undertaken while entertaining future applications, the property already has an approved 10.5 metre setback as a right and it’s a moot point at this juncture.
Committee members also discussed the height of the building. The applicant is proposing a tiered height, which would translate to a 12.1 metre height from the water side and an 11.6 metre height from the Highway 60 side with parts of the building being no more than 15.1 metres high. Staff, referring to Section 220.127.116.11 of Huntsville’s Official Plan, which states that the height of buildings in the Urban Area should not exceed 11 metres (36 feet), noted in their report that “an increased height may be considered, provided the applicant demonstrates to the satisfaction of the Town through the preparation of appropriate design reports that the principles of the Official Plan will be maintained respecting visual impact and maintenance of a natural skyline/ridgeline.”
Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano said the municipality has increased the required setback for waterfront development and said the same would likely happen on height restrictions. “My guess is going forward we’re going to be smarter around our height restrictions than we are today too. So, I’m not really prepared to agree with something that can be grandfathered in because we did it today and we potentially make changes in the next 12 months,” she said referring to the municipality’s current OP review underway. “I can’t support 12 metres on the water and 15 metres no matter how we justify the grades and everything else. It’s still a massive building on the waterfront,” she added.
I think the intent of our Official Plan says we have an 11-metre height restriction and when somebody comes in and maybe needs to build something that goes 11 and half metres we work with them, but four metres over our height restriction to me isn’t the intent of our Official Plan. Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano on a request for a height exemption to allow a retirement home building of up to 15.1 metres in height
Concerns were also expressed about proper mitigation for runoff into the lake as well as the removal of mature trees and the fact that many of the trees comprising the ridgeline that mitigates the appearance of the building are on someone else’s property. Maxwell indicated that a tree preservation plan could be included as part of a site plan agreement, which would require the preservation of mature trees on the property during the building process.
“Beast of a building. Small piece of property. I empathize with the residents living at the water in the shadow of the giant. I recognize there’s a 180-person petition against this particular application. Then I’m sitting here really struggling with it. It’s a little too close to the water for my liking, too high for my liking and so I still don’t know where I stand on it. If it were one storey less, I’d be OK with it,” said Councillor Bob Stone. He also talked about the need to remove trees in order to build. “We ask them to plant another tree and it takes another 50 years to get to that height. That’s what’s going through my head. I still don’t know how I am going to vote,” he added.
The committee continued to struggle with approving the project with Councillor Jason FitzGerald calling it a tough decision. There were also concerns that by granting the applicant the height exemption, the wording of the proposed bylaw also made it seem as though the committee was granting the 10.5 metre setback approved in 2003. In the end, committee voted against the height exemption, which would have allowed the project to move forward with Council’s endorsement.
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