To:      The Lord Mayor and Members of Council, Town of Niagara on the Lake

            Marnie Cluckie, Chief Administrative Officer

            Mark Iamarino, Senior Planner

            Colleen Hutt, Acting Town Clerk

 

From:  Marilyn Bartlett and Atis Bankas,

              Jolanta Janny and Howard Kudlats,

              Gail and Ellwyn Campbell,

              Steven L Gregg

 

Date:  December 20, 2021

 

Re:      Parliament Oak proposed development - File Nos. OPA-04-2021 and              ZBA-08-2021 - 325 King Street, Niagara on the Lake.                            ________________________________________________________________________

 

These are formal submissions strongly objecting to the proposed development of the Parliament Oak School site at 325 King Street, Niagara on the Lake. They are based on the revised proposal filed by the developer on December 8, 2021 and for which there is a Public Meeting scheduled for January 10, 2022.

 

The submissions are as follows:

 

1.   The Town has options to influence infill or redevelopment areas, including the Parliament Oak site, notwithstanding provincial and regional policies supporting growth and intensification.  Growth and development is inevitable and desirable but destruction of neighbourhoods and a Town’s charm is not.

 

            a)  Provincial Policy Statement, 2020

 

The Provincial Policy Statement, 2020 (PPS20) recognizes the importance of conserving a neighbourhood’s character and cultural heritage landscapes. 

 

Cultural Heritage Landscape:  means a defined geographical area that may       have been modified by human activity and is identified as having cultural heritage value or interest by a community. . . .  The area may include features such as buildings, structures, spaces, views, archaeological sites or natural elements that are valued together for their interrelationship, meaning or association. Cultural heritage landscapes may be properties that have been . . . protected through official plan, zoning by-law, or other land use planning mechanisms (s.6 of the PPS20).

 

              Long-term economic prosperity should be supported by . . . 

encouraging a sense of place, by promoting well-designed built form and cultural planning, and by conserving features that help define character, including built heritage resources and cultural heritage landscapes         (s.1.7.1(e) PPS20).

 

Significant built heritage resources and significant cultural heritage landscapes shall be conserved (s.2.6.1 (PPS20).

 

The Town has identified the area in which the Parliament Oak site is found as a cultural landscape that is to be protected:  the Downtown Heritage Character Area (discussed in more detail in paragraph 2 below).

 

b)  A Place to Grow - Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2019 (GGH)

 

The GGH recognizes the value of cultural heritage resources in section 4, Protecting What is Valuable:

 

The GGH also contains important cultural heritage resources that contribute to a sense of identity, support a vibrant tourism industry, and attract investment based on cultural amenities. Accommodating growth can put pressure on these resources through development and site alteration. It is necessary to plan in a way that protects and maximizes the benefits of these resources that make our communities unique and attractive places to live (s.4.1).

 

Cultural heritage resources will be conserved in order to foster a sense of place and benefit communities, particularly in strategic growth areas (s.4.2.7).

 

c)  Niagara Regional Official Plan (ROP), 2014 Consolidation, as amended

 

In the section on Managing Growth, the ROP delegates to local municipalities the responsibility for identifying appropriate areas for intensification, and for ensuring compatibility with surrounding neighbourhoods including the use of minimum and maximum heights and densities (Policy 4.C.2.).

 

2.   The Official Plan as of July 2017 (OP) and the Official Plan Review August 15, 2019 (OPR) recognize the unique character and atmosphere of the Old Town of Niagara on the Lake and the need to protect and enhance it. The Town has identified the area in which the Parliament Oak site is found as a cultural landscape to be protected: the Downtown Heritage Character Area.

 

The existing atmosphere of the Town with its historic buildings, historic sites . . . is unique in Ontario.  Its tree lined streets and environment from earlier periods of the country’s history are different from almost any other Town in Ontario.  As a result, the development picture is also somewhat different from other municipalities of a similar size.  All are agreed that this atmosphere should be maintained and enhanced (s.1 OP).

 

The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is a unique community in Ontario. . . Its tree lined streets and cultural landscapes from earlier periods of the country’s history define its character and enhance the Town’s charm. The challenge is to promote development that respects and enhances this unique character  (s.1.1 (1.1.1)OPR).

 

While the OPR has not yet been approved by the Niagara Region, it represents Council’s intent.  This development proposal lies within one of the Heritage Character Areas identified in the OPR at s.7.2.3; specifically, the Downtown Heritage Character Area.  At s.7.2.3.6(a), the Cultural Heritage Value or Interest of the Downtown Heritage Character Area is described:

 

This character area contains a large portion of the cultural heritage resources in Old Town and forms the core of the National Historic District. For design/physical significance it has the square block pattern established from the earliest days of settlement and contains evidence of all periods of development from the Loyalist occupation to the present. There are many well-conserved examples of pre-1850 building types, architectural styles and materials representing the largest collection of pre-Confederation buildings in Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada. Conservation of more recent properties is also evident. One Mile Creek is visible throughout the area, on private as well as public property. The

early street grid and widened main thoroughfares remain, as do some grassed verges with open gutters. Mature trees are a feature of the public realm as well as in private properties. Varied front and sideyard setbacks characterize the residential streets. The area has historical/associative value for its evidence of all phases of Old Town’s evolution. Key properties and landscapes provide contextual significance. There are many landmarks within the area: it is also where the key cultural, public institutional and commercial properties are found.

3.  The residential use permitted on this parcel of land should be limited to Low Density Residential and Open Space in compliance with the OP and OPR.  A portion of the site should be a public park to recognize the historical and cultural importance of the land where the First Parliament of Upper Canada once presided.  Medium Density Residential is not appropriate for this parcel.  Both the OP and the OPR, through numerous provisions, demonstrate the unique value of Niagara on the Lake’s neighbourhoods, streetscapes and vistas and the need to protect them. 

 

•    To allow development beyond low-density residential adversely impacts the residential character of the surrounding neighbourhood which is one, one and one half, and 2 storey homes in contravention of the OP and OPR. The OP requires the Town to ensure that any intensification and redevelopment is consistent with the heritage and character of the neighbourhood (6A Built Up Intensification Policies subsection (h));

 

•    The proposal does not comply with the following Intensification Policies in the OPR:

 

•    the proposed new building(s) shall have heights, massing and scale appropriate for the site and generally consistent with that permitted by the zoning for adjacent properties and properties on the same street (OPR s.4.5.3.10(b)).

 

•    the orientation and sizing of lots shall not have a negative impact on significant public views and vistas that help define a residential neighbourhood (s. 4.5.3.10(j) OPR).

 

•    Furthermore, the Land Use Compatibility Policies found in 6A s.4(6) OP require that intensification and/or redevelopment should be consistent with the existing and/or planned built form of the surrounding neighbourhood, the existing and or planned densities and the existing height and massing of buildings within the surrounding neighbourhood (6A s.4.6(a)(c)(d)).  6A 4.6(f) requires that development proposals shall be compatible and integrate with the established character and heritage of the area. (see also s.4.5.2.1(f), s.4.7.2.1 of the OPR).  

 

•    This intensification proposal does not comply with the Urban Design Guidelines that apply to the Old Town in that the bulk, mass and scale of the proposal do not fit the context within which it is located (see Urban Design Guideline (d) in s.6A 4.4 of the OP).                                                                  

 

•    An OP amendment to medium density residential for this parcel would not respect and reflect the existing pattern and character of adjacent development which is Established Residential.  The Established Residential designation in the OP recognizes the importance of conserving and preserving the characteristics and amenities that are already present and establishes policies that will ensure their continuance (S.9.1 OP).

 

•    The OP specifically requires that the height, bulk and arrangement of buildings and structures of medium density residential development will achieve a harmonious design and integrate with the surrounding area and not negatively impact on lower density residential uses (s.9.3.2(3)(a)).  This proposal comes nowhere close to achieving a harmonious design and integrating with the surrounding established residential community.

 

4.  The Intensification represented by the proposed development should not be permitted on this parcel in this area of the Old Town.

 

•   While the developer cites intensification as a justification for its proposal, the development is not situated within an area designated by the Town for intensification (see Schedules I in the OP and Schedule B7 in the OPR). 

 

•   The developer suggests in its Addendum to the Planning Justification Report that the Town would have included this parcel as appropriate for intensification had it foreseen that the School would stop operating and be sold.  This suggestion has no basis and makes no sense when considered against the overall purposes of the OP and OPA, the Built-Up Intensification Policies (s.6A 4.4 OP), the Land Use Compatibility policies (s.6A 4.6 OP), and particularly in light of the property being within the Downtown Heritage Character Area designated in the OPA.

 

•   Furthermore, as to the need for intensification within the Town and the provincial and regional provisions for growth, they will reportedly be met and accommodated to 2052 by the plan for Glendale, providing housing for 16,000 people.

 

•    Even if intensification on this parcel were within the Town’s intensification targets and goals, its incompatibility with the surrounding low residential uses would be the prevailing consideration (see s.6A 4.6 OP Land Use Compatibility Policies and s. 4.7.3 of the OPR); and would prevent the proposal from being realized.

 

 

5.  The apartment block proposal is not medium density, but something far in excess of that.  What this developer is doing is beyond bold - it is applying for and OP amendment to medium density (12 units per acre), which is in itself inappropriate, and then seeking an exemption from the OP to permit a density of almost double that!

 

•   The developer is requesting an OP amendment to Medium Density Residential for the whole parcel.  There are 80 units in the proposed development, 71 of which are in the massive apartment building which takes up most of the easterly half of the property.  The proposal far exceeds the limit of 12 units per acre for medium density residential, almost doubling it at 20 units per acre (see 6A s.4.4, Built Up Intensification Policies subsection (k) of the OP).  According to the developer’s revised submission, the net density is 22 units per acre.

 

•    It is also important to note that, in the revised rezoning application, the developer divides the parcel into 4 parts, with the apartment building being positioned on Part 3, which comprises slightly more than 1/2 of the whole parcel at 2.4 acres (according to the developer’s Planning Justification and Impact Analysis Report).  71 units on 2.4 acres results in a density of over 29 units per acre, which is almost 2 and one-half times the maximum medium density permitted by the OP, were an amendment to medium density residential be permitted.  

 

•    How can this degree of density, whether calculated on the basis of all 4 parts or Part 3, be described as medium density?

 

6. The design of access to and from the proposed development is fundamentally flawed.  All the traffic leaving from and accessing the development is being routed onto local streets, contrary to the OP and the OPR.  And the developer is seeking an exemption for that too.  It is another way in which this proposal adversely impacts the surrounding neighbourhood, contrary to the OP and the OPR.

 

•    Both the OP and the OPR prohibit the routing of traffic of Medium Density residential housing such as townhouses and apartment buildings onto local streets. (s.9.3.2.(3)(g) of the OP and s.4.10.3.5(g) of the OPR).  

 

•   To the extent that the Town were to permit medium density residential development on this site, all traffic to and from should be directed toward King Street.

 

•    The developer’s justification for routing traffic onto local streets is that it is a way of preserving the frontispiece of the school and its heritage value. This argument is beyond convenient.  Parliament Oak is an historical site worth honouring with the plaques and artifacts, but the building does not require preservation.  There are multiple ways of preserving the plaques on the front of the school, including using them in a public park area or green space that would recognize the historic and cultural value of this site.

 

•   The OP’s and OPA’s restrictions on access and egress from medium density residential development are sound urban design.  The road proposed by the developer is unsound urban design.  Urban Design is defined in the OP:

 

Urban Design: means the art and science of making places for people.  It includes the way places work and how places look as well as matters of public safety.  It concerns the connections between people and places, movement and urban form, nature and built fabric and the processes for ensuring successful villages, town and cities.

 

•   The Traffic Study undertaken by the developer does not even mention the OP and OPR prohibitions of routing traffic from medium-density residential developments onto local streets.   Instead it discusses capacity and other issues which are, in fact, irrelevant as the routing of traffic onto Centre and Gage streets is prohibited. 

 

•   It is obvious that the reason for this prohibition is that traffic from medium density residential development would negatively impact the surrounding areas.   The sound and exhaust generated by the additional traffic, including garbage, delivery and loading vehicles, will adversely affect the neighbourhood.

 

•   The traffic study acknowledges that there would be night-time headlight spillover glare for the properties at 33 Gage and 36 Centre Street when the exiting vehicles approach these streets.  In the case of 36 Centre Street, the access road directly fronts one of the bedrooms at the front of the house.   Why should the owners of these properties have to put up with such a flagrant nuisance and negative impact, when the developer could have avoided that by simply complying with the Official Plan?

 

7.  The height, bulk and scale of the proposed development does not comply with the OP,  the OPR or the Zoning By-law which defines building height.  It adversely affects surrounding neighbourhoods, vistas and streetscapes and erodes the charm of the Town.

 

The OP specifically requires that the height, bulk and arrangement of buildings and structures of medium density residential development will achieve a harmonious design and integrate with the surrounding area and not negatively impact on lower density residential uses (s.9.3.2(3)(a)).  Furthermore, s.4.5.3.10(b) of the OPR requires Council to ensure that, when considering an application for development approval on lands within an Established Residential neighbourhood, the proposed new buildings shall have heights, massing and scale appropriate for the site and generally consistent with that permitted by the zoning for adjacent properties and properties on the same street. (see also s.4.10.3.5 (a) of the OPR).

 

•   It is important to note that the developer is not calculating ground level as street level.  Rather, it is utilizing the grade of the frontispiece of the original school building as a starting point, which is elevated above ground or street level.

 

•   The height of the apartment building, not including the mechanical penthouse on the roof, is actually 12.4 metres above Centre Street, or roughly 41 feet; well in excess of the 11 metres or 36 feet permitted by the OP (s.6.4).  When one adds the mechanical penthouse, the height of the apartment building is 16.4 metres or roughly 54 feet high when measured from Centre Street level. See developer’s elevation drawing at p. A2.01.  These heights are grossly out of line with the surrounding streetscapes, vistas and the character of the homes in the neighbourhood which are one or two storey buildings. 

 

•   The highest point of the old school building on the Parliament Oak site is the gymnasium across from the residences at 8 Centre Street and 12 Centre Street.   It is a low, flat roof, structure when looked at from the elevation of Centre Street.   When looked at from King Street, it is barely higher than the one storey frontispiece area of the school. According to the developer’s Application for an OPA and ZBA, the highest point of the school (the gymnasium) is only 5.2 metres or 17 feet high.  The proposed apartment building, including the mechanical penthouse, would tower over that structure, at 54 feet, being more than 3 times taller.

 

•   When one looks at the developer’s elevation drawing at p. A2.01, one can see that the 2nd and 3 storeys of the apartment building are 2 storeys above the height of the existing gymnasium.  The first floor is actually taller than the existing gymnasium, rising 5.6 metres, or 18 feet above Centre Street. Including the mechanical penthouse, the proposed apartment building rises 3 storeys above the existing gymnasium as seen from Centre Street - an outrageous disregard for the neighbourhood and the Old Town in general.  For the residents of the easterly part of Centre Street, it would be like facing a cliff.  Streetscapes and vistas are integral parts of neighbourhoods and should be preserved, not destroyed.

 

•    The proposed development is within the Downtown Heritage Character Area as discussed in s.7.2.3.6 of the OPR, and earlier in these submissions.  Notably, any mid-block infill development must not be taller than any surrounding structures on the same block.

 

•   Because the proposed development virtually blankets the Parliament Oak property, there is a significant loss of green space and large old trees which also detracts from the character of the Established Residential neighbourhood.

 

8.  With respect to the semi-detached and single family dwellings on Part 2, the lot frontages and areas are inconsistent with the sizes of existing lots on surrounding streets.

 

•   The lot sizes are substantially smaller and not within the Established Residential zoning requirements of the surrounding neighbourhood, as required by s.4.5.3.10(a) of the OPR.

 

9.  Risk of future re-development applications if the OPA amendment request were granted.

 

•    The developer is requesting an OP amendment to medium density residential for the whole parcel, not just the part on which the proposed apartment building would stand.  If an OP amendment to medium density residential were to be allowed for the whole parcel, what would prevent the developer from intensifying the density where the single family and semi-detached homes are currently proposed? Theoretically, they could amend their zoning amendment application to allow for many more units.

 

•    Furthermore, should this developer sell the property after having obtained an OP amendment to medium density residential for the whole parcel, a subsequent developer could create a medium density development all over the site, which would be totally inconsistent with the surrounding Established Residential neighbourhood.

 

For all of the above reasons and considerations, Council should not approve the proposed development applications before it.