Project Manager Teresa Oliver was before a special planning committee meeting on Wednesday, November 28 to update its members on an ambitious housing project proposed for lands off Sabrina Park Drive.
The estimated 2.4 hectare parcel of land was donated by the Town of Huntsville to Craig Developments Inc. on the understanding that the developer would tap into all available public funding initiatives in order to create a neighbourhood of mixed housing—one which would include affordable housing ownership (at 10 per cent below market rates) as well as affordable rental housing (at 20 per cent below market rates), as per the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
According to Oliver’s presentation to committee, 204 housing units would be created of which 83 would fall under the affordable housing category. Agreements would be in place to offer the affordable rental units for 20 years. See the proposed housing breakdown below:
The project, made up of townhouses and high-density residential buildings with bachelors, one and two-bedroom apartments, would be developed in three phases. Phase One would comprise 24 townhouses, Phase Two would be made up of two multi-residential buildings with 74 apartments in total, and Phase Three would comprise three multi-residential buildings with 106 apartments in total.
Oliver said placing the townhouses closest to Sabrina Park made the most sense in terms of the surrounding neighbourhood.
“One of the themes that I discussed at large with Nancy (Alcock) and some of the members of council was to create a European walking village where if you’re going to go for a walk with your dog you can walk through some of the backyard areas of those properties, which are now going to be landscaped and treated as walkways,” said Oliver, adding that there would also be an off-leash dog park and benches. She also said the development could potentially include a cafeteria at the street level, “where you can just go and grab a cup of coffee and then walk home.”
She said the idea is to make the development a walkable and connected community.
She also told committee that it’s looking like the project will be an estimated $45-million build. “You never get 100 per cent financing, that means the developer has to put up anywhere between 15 to 35 per cent of the cash themselves so it doesn’t take long to work out that that is nearly 20 million dollars.”
Oliver said in order to get developers to put up that kind of cash in northern Ontario, rather than Toronto, the deal needs to be attractive. She said she spent a lot of time working out the formula, which includes funding and incentives from various levels of government.
“The people who are putting up their money have to make this make sense for them, too. So it didn’t matter which way we went, we had to get to a place where this was the math,” she told committee.
Councillor Jonathan Wiebe asked who determined market value when it comes to the housing that’s for sale; Oliver said it’s generally determined by a bank-appointed appraiser.
She told committee that leniency on required building setbacks may be needed, particularly if severances are required in order to get financing for separate parts of the project. She also said density exemptions may be required along with parking ratios.
“The biggest question that we’re going to be asking in this is, please assist us with parking. We need to get it down to 0.6 per apartment where in the bylaw the requirement is 1.5,” she said.
She said the back of the property is steep and could be used for a walking trail, but is not conducive to additional parking.
She said all the townhouses would meet the parking requirements, but some of the apartment units would not include parking.
“In our experience with mostly seniors who rent bachelor units, they can’t afford a car,” she said, adding that based on past experience, many seniors on assistance have a total income of about $1,100. She said affordable units would run about $650 to $700 per month. “That doesn’t leave you any room to own a car and in all of the previous development where we’ve been working with these bachelor units, we have one in five or one in three residents own a car.”
Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano wondered if the numbers aren’t right and there are more people looking for parking, whether that would become a municipal problem, if people start parking where they shouldn’t.
Oliver said parking would be designated, so residents would know where to park. Councillor Stone asked about visitor parking and committee learned there’d only be four or five per building.
Stone said he suspected the answer to his question but he’d ask it anyway: “What about underground parking?”
Oliver said the cost is huge. “And again I’m in this unenviable position of trying to make the math attractive enough to get the financial investment,” she said.
“I’m very happy to maybe look at restructuring one of the buildings and saying let’s relook at the parking, at least get it closer to one or 0.8, that’s realistic, and then if the other constraints are relaxed and the council is prepared to negotiate with us, then we have a win for both parties,” she said.
Committee members seemed to welcome the idea, although Mayor Scott Aitchison did not think it necessary. “I think if they’re assigning parking, then I don’t think we’re going to have a major crisis because if you want to move in there and you have a car, but there’s no parking space for you, you’ll probably go somewhere else.”
Oliver also clarified to committee some confusion arising from a request to sever eight townhouse lots from the property, first brought to Planning Committee on November 20. She said it’s required in order to meet an initial District of Muskoka funding deadline.
Oliver also noted that the initial project design was not hers. In conversation with Doppler she explained that she has taken over the reins of the project and said there may be additional tweaks in future.
In the end, committee agreed to amend the proposal registered on title and approve the severance of the eight lots previously requested.
Oliver said the project may still change based on council and community input. Building is not expected to start until 2021.
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