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Neighbours upset over townhouse concept for west Galt property

Neighbours of a severed property in historic west Galt want prospective developers to know that any proposal for medium density housing won't come without a fight
Brenda Phelan and Sam Puchala stand at the entrance to the severed lot behind Puchala's home at 119 Blair Road.

Neighbours of a severed property for sale in historic west Galt want prospective buyers to know that any proposal to fill it with medium density housing won't come without a fight.

Sam Puchala, who owns the historic Blair Road home that was once part of the severed lot, was shocked last June when the owners put the property behind his home on the market for close to $4 million.

The shocking part wasn't the listing itself, which came just days after the sale on his home closed. It was the two development concepts and studies that are part of the sale.  

Puchala says he was told by his real estate agent the severed lot would likely be sold for a single family home.

But the owners, who happen to be the real estate agents Puchala dealt with, had already commissioned studies for two concepts, one of which proposes building up to 20 executive townhouses on the 2.2 acre property.

severed lot concept

The property is adjacent to Mountview Cemetery and can be accessed from an easement shared with Puchala for his driveway.

After no buyers came forward over the summer and early fall, the owners reduced the list price in November to $3.5 million.

Brenda Phelan whose home is beside Puchala's and the right of way that leads to the property says she'd been fighting the severance since 2017 when the previous owner tried to sever the lot unsuccessfully with a plan to build a "small town" in the backyard.

The Ontario Land Tribunal eventually granted the severance to 119 Blair Road in 2020, a year after the city's committee of adjustment denied it for the second time over concerns about drainage, access, traffic safety, tree loss and impacts to local heritage.

Although the severance was contested again by Phelan and her neighbour, the OLT refused their appeal citing lack of notice and stood by its previous decision.

To be clear, there is no offer on the property to date and the two concepts that are part of the listing are strictly to show prospective buyers the types of housing it could accommodate, according to a planning consulting firm hired by the owners.

Any development application would still need to pass muster with city staff and council as part of the municipal planning process, which includes a public meeting that invites delegations from anyone opposed.

The fear, however, as it has been for decades with residential development proposals, is that now more than ever applications that are denied at the local level can easily be approved in appeal to the OLT given the province's urgency to get shovels in the ground for housing.

The City of Cambridge has been asked to green light construction of 19,000 more homes over the next decade.

Even though the aim of the province's More Homes Built Faster Act, otherwise known as Bill 23, is to generate more "affordable housing," many believe any type of housing will be fast tracked.

Phelan fears approval of anything more than a few single-family homes on the severed Blair Road property could set a precedent in west Galt, a neighbourhood of older homes and large properties, some with potential for infill development in a city desperate to create more housing.

"If this happens, then anything is possible in this neighbourhood," she said, suggesting protections like the Dickson Hill Heritage Conservation District Plan would do little to prevent it.

Adding to that concern is the fact Bill 23 places limits on what qualifies for heritage designation and restricts a municipality’s ability to issue a notice of intention to designate a property.

Within a month of moving into his home, Puchala sought a heritage designation for 119 Blair Road. The request was approved by the city's municipal heritage advisory committee last July, but has yet to be heard by council.

Other homes in the neighbourhood that are on the city's heritage registry but not designated, could be in danger if development of this type is allowed, Phelan says.

Two other issues with the property are drainage and sight lines.

If the easement gets paved to provide access to a townhouse development, Phelan fears runoff into her home would be an issue.

A stand of about a dozen pine trees along the path to the severed lot would likely have to be removed for the access road, which could lead to soil erosion problems on the hill, she says. An access road would also bring cars close to the walls of Puchala's heritage home.

blair road
Sam Puchala says he's had several close calls exiting his driveway on the downhill one-way of Blair Road. Sight line concerns were raised when the severance was denied by the city's committee of adjustment in 2019, only to be approved at the Ontario Land Tribunal in 2022. Doug Coxson/CambridgeToday

A hidden driveway warning sign that was once posted near the property on the one-way section of Blair Road between Grant Street and Park Hill Road indicates the city knows the danger with access, Puchala says. 

He's had a few close calls while exiting his driveway, adding "people fly down" the road despite on street parking and curb cutouts to reduce speeds.

Those concerns and more were considered when the city's committee of adjustment refused the application to sever the lot in 2019 after staff recommended the minor variance with a long list of requirements.

But the OLT sided with the city in its decision to grant the appeal for the severance, saying it conforms with the city’s official plan.

"Creating a new lot within an existing settlement area on municipal services is an efficient development of an underutilized lot and is a logical continuation of the Blair Road residential lots," the ruling says.

The lot's current zoning permits single detached dwellings, townhouses and/or walk-up apartments up to a maximum of 40 units per hectare.

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Doug Coxson

About the Author: Doug Coxson

Doug has been a reporter and editor for 25 years, working mainly in Waterloo region and Guelph
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