This is not a case of anti-density NIMBYism, but of a developer playing a game of bait and switch and using the goodwill of the neighbourhood to advance his project, only to change his plans at the last minute.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published May 08, 2013
this article has been updated
There has been some confusion over the recent position by the Durand Neighbourhood Association (DNA) over the rezoning application from New Horizon Homes to increase the height of their third City Square development building on the old Thistle Club property from four to 17 storeys.
Like most urbanists, I support increased density in the urban parts of the city, and this case is certainly not one of knee-jerk NIMBYism. It's important to consider the history of this site and the current project to provide some context.
City Square building 1 under construction (RTH file photo)
The current zoning is the result of a compromise agreement in 1996 between a previous developer and the DNA that avoided going to the OMB.
The developer and the DNA agreed that the site would be developed with an eight-storey building on Robinson, a seven-storey building on Charlton and a row of four-storey townhouses on the smaller site at the corner of Robinson and Park.
This agreement was binding on all future owners, and the property was flipped many times before the current owners finally were able to go ahead.
The DNA has been extremely supportive of the development up until this surprise re-zoning request to change the four-storey building on the small corner lot to a 17 storey tower.
The DNA actively supported New Horizon Homes's request to increase the number of floors on the first two towers, from seven to nine storeys for the first tower and from nine to eleven storeys for the second tower. The original plan was to have the buildings stepped back 3/4/5/7 stories, instead of the actual 8/9 step-back.
The DNA even went so far as to write letters of support for reduced development fees and zoning changes that New Horizon Homes was pushing for. This was despite the fact that some nearby residents were very upset the DNA was not opposing the density increases.
However, a few weeks ago, with no warning or consultation, residents discovered a sign on the small corner lot saying Horizon was requesting a zoning change from a row of four-storey townhouses to a 17 storey tower - about twice as tall as the two other towers, and on a much smaller parcel of land.
There were good urban planning reasons for the mid-density row at this corner: it is similar in scale to the recent two-storey town houses across the street and the Victorian house at Charlton and Park as well as providing a good balance of densities and building types on this moderate sized lot.
Proposing a 17 storey tower now, after the DNA supported the various density increases in the first two towers (ostensibly to make the underground parking economically viable), negates all the previous efforts to develop a cohesive plan for the entire site.
What's worse, despite the years of support the DNA has provided Horizon for their previous zoning changes and increased density, Horizon did not let the DNA know about their change in plans. We only found out about it from the sign posted on the property a few weeks ago.
This sort of behaviour is what gives developers a bad name and destroys the good will built up in the community over many years.
The site is already dense by any standard, and simply adding more density is not always the answer. The original proposal was actually quite similar to the Vanouver 'tower on a podium' model: a large ten-storey building stepping down to a row of four storey townhouses. (And the recent high-rise developments in Vancouver were on vacant industrial land at Coal Harbour and False Creek, not in an already dense mixed urban neighbourhood.)
So this is not a case of anti-density NIMBYism, but a case of a developer playing a game of bait and switch and using the goodwill of the neighbourhood to advance his project, only to change his plans at the last minute.
The DNA would have been more than happy to work with New Horizon Homes, but unfortunately they didn't give us the chance this time. The result is a community that feels betrayed and distrustful.
Update: It turns out that Dundurn Edge, Jeff Paikin's previous business partners on the Thistle Club site, were granted a previous zoning change by a by-law passed on January 12 2009 to increase the height of towers 1 and 2 to nine storeys each and 122 units total. That by-law reaffirmed that the building on block 3 would be 24 units and four storeys.
So tower 2 was, in fact, increased in height from nine to eleven stories by the subsequent minor variance in Spring 2012, and not from eight to ten stories, as stated in the article. You can jump to the changed paragraph.
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