OMB decision pending on Willow West housing development

Section: 
News

By Barb McKay

A decision is in the hands of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to determine if a housing development on the edge of the Willow West subdivision is appropriate for that neighbourhood.

A small crowd that included Willow West residents, Kincardine municipal building department staff, Kincardine council members and Bruce County planners gathered at the Kincardine municipal administration centre last week for an OMB hearing of an appeal by Tom Kerr. The local developer is looking to the board to reverse a decision made by Kincardine council to turn down his application for a zoning amendment, which would allow him to build a five-unit townhouse complex and a semi-detached dwelling at the corner of Fraser Drive and Kincardine Avenue. The property’s current residential zoning permits single detached homes and semi-detached dwellings, but would require a zoning revision to allow for a townhouse development.

The hearing centred on the argument of whether the multi-residential development fits in with the character of the neighbourhood.The plan for the development was originally presented to Kincardine’s planning advisory committee early in 2016 with a proposal for 18 units includingthree semi-detached houses, six townhouse units and a six-unit apartment building. A farm house also sits on the property but has been severed off the rest of the property and sold.

The proposal was unanimously defeated by council, which considered it too dense for the location, and Kerr went back to the drawing board. He removed the apartment complex and the townhouses and instead proposed to construct two quadreplexes and a semi-detached unit, for a total of 10 units, plus a four-bay garage.

The Bruce County planning department received numerous written concerns from Willow West residents regarding safety issues with increased traffic on Fraser Drive and the number of requests for relief from the zoning bylaw for the development. The Kincardine council chamber was filled on Jan. 18 for a public meeting on the application and those concerns were reiterated.

Kerr revised his application once again and proposed to build five townhouse units on the interior of the property, with street access onto Fraser Drive, and a semi-detached dwelling fronting onto Kincardine Avenue. The plan retains the four-bay garage. Bruce County planners indicated that the development represented good land use planning and should proceed. The majority of council disagreed, however, and the application was once again defeated. This time, Kerr elected to appeal to the OMB, which prompted last week’s hearing.

When the hearing entered its second day on Thursday, Jennifer Hunsburger, who has lived in Willow West since 1995, was the first to address the board. She said that while residents’ opposition to the development might appear to be ‘not in my backyard’ mentality, that is not the case. Hunsburger said residents did not voice concerns about semi-detached homes constructed on the east side of Fraser Drive or the several townhomes on Kincardine Avenue. (Both the semi-detached homes and the townhouses were constructed by Kerr).

Hunsburger said residents are worried about the added congestion on Fraser Drive from the townhomes onto a road where multiple school buses pick up and drop off children each day and where residents frequently walk. There is potential for 14 vehicles on the townhouse complex property at any given time.

“Remember please, that just because a builder wants to use the land in the best way, it may be more for the sake of his wallet and maximizing his income from the said development, which is really quite logical and the best use for him. Council has looked at the citizens it represents, the town it represents with its population and lifestyle and decided it is not compatible and the best use. Bottom line is, they agreed there are safety concerns with this proposed development.”

The hearing focused on the testimony of two land use planners – Ron Davidson who was hired by Kerr as a planning consultant, and GeorgeBalango, a planner retained by the municipality to review the application and documents that guide Kincardine’s planning and give his opinion.

In his testimony, Davidson spoke to the traffic concerns.

“The amount of cars accessing Fraser Drive, in my opinion, would be unnoticeable,” he said.

Davidson referred to the Provincial Policy Statement which encourages municipalities to have mix of residential housing, including low density (single detached homes and semis), medium density (townhouses) and high density (apartment complexes). As such, Bruce County’s Official Plan requires its municipalities to offer a mix of housing options and Kincardine has set housing targets in its Official Plan. Kincardine’s plan establishes a housing mix goal of 70 per cent low density, 25 per cent medium density and five per cent high density.

Davidson pointed out that the Willow West subdivision already has a mix of housing options and this development would be compatible. He said the townhouses will be single storey units, each with their own driveways and single car garages. At least some of the townhouses will be rental units which Davidson said is needed.

“In this area of Bruce County we have a severe shortage of rental housing.”

A semi-detached home that fronts onto Fraser Drive contains secondary suites and there was some concern from residents and Kincardine council members that the townhouse units would also provide an option for secondary suites. However, it was clarified by Bruce County planner Mollie Kuchma on Thursday that secondary suites would not be permitted in those townhomes, in part because they do not front onto a street.

Davidson said he sees no issue with the density of the development when Kincardine’s Official Plan encourages developers to build a minimum of 15 units per gross developable hectare and this particular plan would amount to 10.3 units per gross developable hectare. Tammy Grove-McClement, a lawyer representing the Municipality of Kincardine, took issue with Davidson’s calculations, pointing out that he had included land that considered to be an natural environment land. Davidson countered that the mapping in the Official Plan is not accurate and the boundaries are not meant to be taken literally.

Grove-McClement said that Willow West includes a mix of 74.1 per cent low density housing and 25.9 per cent medium density housing so the municipality’s target has been met there. Davidson replied that other developments that are in progress throughout Kincardine feature single detached homes and that lowers the overall percentage.

“The county has demonstrated that the targets here are not being met,” he said. “I would disagree that this is bad planning because this area has already met the target.”

When Balango took the stand Thursday afternoon and said he had reviewed a number of documents including the severance application, municipal zoning bylaw, Bruce County planning reports and both the county and municipal Official Plans, and had also made site visits to the development property.

“When I saw it I had real difficulty in understanding how this thing (development lot) came to be,” he said, referring to the unusual configuration. “Wen you look at the concerns the public raised, (street parking, traffic, buffers) these are legitimate planning issues.”

Balango said the developers should have undertaken a neighbourhood character statement, which involves looking closely at an area and demonstrating how the development fits into it.

“That is something that is starting to be embedded in Official Plans,” he said. “Just because you have a site and it seems to fit, it has to pass the test. It has to be an appropriate location.”