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Revision to Water Street development adds affordable units, saves trees but eliminates parkette

Final neighbourhood meeting on proposal scheduled for Feb. 2 with a recommendation coming to council this spring

The Burlington developer behind a plan to build five 15-storey residential towers at 193 Water Street South has submitted a revised proposal that increases the number of “affordable” units on site and preserves over 100 mature trees.

But it’s a failure to address other concerns and what the new plan takes away from the original proposal that has neighbours more upset than they were before.

During a public meeting last August, Cambridge councillors asked LJM Developments to go back to the drawing board to consider changes to the 991-unit development that addresses concerns about the scope of the project, a lack of affordable housing units and loss of green space.

The developer has answered that call by increasing the number of affordable units from five to 50 and preserving 107 existing trees on the heavily-wooded property. One affordable housing unit will be added to each residential floor of the five towers.

Changes to planned access roads, however, will result in the loss of a parkette on Highman Avenue.

Commenting through social media, Highman Avenue neighbours Craig Robertson and Chrissy White said the revision makes 62 Highman Ave. an emergency access road instead.

Once that property serves its use as construction access to the sloping site, the developer had proposed to transform it into a community parkette.

It would have featured shade trees, a playground with a "safety surface," plantings, seating areas and stairs down to public space at the new development.

Now, however, the developer wants to use it for emergency vehicle access in the event of a flood since a portion of the property fronting Water Street lies in the floodplain.

Because of the flood risk, the Grand River Conservation Authority would only support the application if an emergency access road was included outside of the floodplain.

The original concept proposed building an access road from 183 Water St. S. for emergencies, but the recent sale of that property appears to have forced the developer to make other plans. 

The latest drawings show a north access road on Water Street entirely within the floodplain. That means it can't be used during a flood and an alternative access was required.

The proposal now states the Highman Avenue access would be used strictly for emergencies and would be a dedicated "amenity space for residents and the community at all other times.”

While the parkette wasn’t a panacea for Highman Avenue neighbours, it was far better than the latest proposal, Robertson said. 

“The developer did not take any of the issues addressed in August into account. He went ahead and proposed access roads with no care for the concerns of our community.”

The developer stated “specifically” there would be no access road to the Water Street property from Highman, White added.

“They've gone back on that.”

Other concerns raised by neighbours last summer weren’t addressed at all by the revision, said Robertson, including the height and scope of the project. 

"If the developer wants to build in Cambridge they should at least have the courtesy to address the concerns from delegates and council," he wrote.

The neighbours are among the over 1,300 people who have signed an online petition opposing the development since that meeting.

And while adding more affordable housing units and saving 107 existing trees along the eastern portion of the property may not appease most, they do address two of the biggest issues raised by councillors.

Back in August, Coun. Jan Liggett worried the loss of 659 mature trees would set the city back in terms of reaching its climate action targets.

“This will take us backwards,” she said.

While Coun. Donna Reid didn’t think the developer’s plan to dedicate five units for affordable housing was enough.

"We desperately need affordable housing and this seems to be an area where it would work really well," she said.

The city has scheduled a final neighbourhood meeting for Feb. 2 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Planning staff will table a report and recommendation for council consideration in the spring.