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Council sends developer back to the drawing board asking for less density and more green space

Two councillors voted against sending the development application to staff for further consultation saying, 'It would provide incentive to work toward unanimous support in future.'
A look at the woodlot on 193 Water St. S. for which LJM Developments Inc.

Council members echoed public concerns around building height and loss of green space as they sent an application for five, 15-storey Water Street apartment buildings and townhouses back to staff and developer for further work.

A lengthy public feedback session concluded around noon on Tuesday and was followed by a council asking questions and providing feedback to staff and the developer's representatives at the meeting.

The bulk of the discussion centred around affordable housing and the loss of green space because of the 991 proposed dwellings units.

"We desperately need affordable housing and this seems to be an area where it would work really well," said Coun. Donna Reid. "We need to let the developers know that as a council we need to have more affordable housing than the five they're suggesting. What do they mean by affordable housing? We have so many different definitions that I would be interested in knowing what they perceive as affordable housing."

John Ariens, planner with IBI Group, who was representing LJM Developments Inc., responded.

"In the past, (the developer) has donated units to Habitat for Humanity," he said. "There is no definition as to what affordable will mean, ultimately, we look forward to working with council and the region or non-profit groups to come up with an appropriate affordable housing strategy that can be implemented here. I can assure you my client is open to negotiating and discussing it further."

Reid then asked about amenities for those that will occupy the units in the development.

"We have a large outdoor amenity area built on top of the parking complex," said Ariens. "There will be green roofs for the apartment buildings as well. Each of the building will have its own amenity space. There will be a full slate of onsite amenities."

That led into a question about the trees that were coming down.

"We're losing 659 trees and you're replacing 550," Coun. Shannon Adshade said. "I'd like to see 660 or even more to be planted."

Ariens said the client would be willing to talk about that.

Coun. Jan Liggett also had something to say about the trees.

"The trees that are there now are mature trees," she said. "They're doing what we want them to be doing. They take many, many years to grow and if we're going to follow through with our climate action study, this will take us backwards. When are we going to be up front and honest with ourselves and the people? We have to be serious about this kind of stuff and send a message to say we're not going to push this through to staff and put on their backs what we have a responsibility for."

Another resident concern Liggett said she'd been receiving was around parking for construction crews. She asked how the developer would address that.

"When we proceed with the site plan for a large project like this, we indicate where people will be able to park," said Ariens. "It indicates dust control, vermin control, and staging, and keeping a grassy cover on land that hasn't been developed. It's a comprehensive plan that forms part of the site plan agreement. Should a tradesperson park on Highman Avenue, I would suggest the municipality can control that."

Other council members tried to point out some of the positive aspects of the development in that area.

"Is this a consideration to try and get people out of cars and make sure there's access for people to walk and bike to the LRT station?" asked Mayor Kathryn McGarry, talking about the 693 proposed bicycle spaces in the development.

Ariens said it is a walkable site.

"The walkway to Highman also connects us to internal transit routes," he said. "The walkway will work both ways. It will benefit everyone. We can further negotiate and design our way through those things."

McGarry then asked if the proposal satisfied the province's intensification requirements.

Campos said it does.

"Our planning legislation does promote and encourage development, up to 50 per cent of it, is encouraged to be within that built-up area," he added. "This is within that area of the city."

McGarry wanted to know how the nearby Galt core area would benefit from it.

"When you introduce 991 living spaces near the downtown core, it will increase use downtown," said Campos. "It will have some type of impact on the core, which will help revitalize the core and help the city meet those goals." 

Despite all that, Liggett and Coun. Nicholas Ermeta were unconvinced about voting in favour of the proposal presentation and sending it back to staff.

"I think the onus should be on the developer to start from scratch and come back to us with something that's more workable," said Liggett.

Ermeta said he could understand where the rest of council was coming from. 

"But I think it's good for a couple of us to vote against it so it's clear to the developer that we would like to see improvements," he said. "It would provide incentive to work toward unanimous support in future."

Coun. Mike Mann cautioned against rejecting the presentation. He asked staff what recourse the developer would have if that were the case.

Deputy City Manager, Hardy Bromberg, advised about that.

"If council does not choose to have staff work on today's application, then the proponent could launch and appeal with the OLT (Ontario Land Tribunal) for lack of decision," he said, adding staff recommendation was to go back to the developer with public and council comments and come back with a report.

Eventually, the presentation was received for information and sent back to staff for a report to come forward at a future meeting.