After working closely with the Durand Neighbourhood Association on a plan for City Square, the developer has since applied for a zoning variance that breaks his earlier commitment to the community.
By Kelly Foyle and Simon Kiss
Published May 12, 2013
this article has been updated
Durand residents packed a room in the Ryerson Community Center last week to attend a meeting on the proposed zoning amendment for New Horizon's City Square development at the corner of Park and Bay Street.
City Square building 1 under construction (RTH file photo)
While Jeff Paikin, President of New Horizon Homes, was in attendance, he stood at the back of the room for most of the meeting, allowing GSP Groups, his hired planning consultants, to host it.
They explained that New Horizon has applied for a zoning amendment for the third and smallest remaining block. This block is currently permitted to host a four-storey building with twelve units. New Horizon wants approval for 17 storeys with 159 units.
The entire site is currently approved for 188 units. Thus, they are asking to almost double the number of units on this site.
In addition, most of the space between the buildings that was previously allotted as green space will now be replaced with surface parking. Between these parking spots and the underground parking lot, over 340 parking spaces will be part of this plan.
While these amendments are shocking, perhaps most shocking of all was the disregard and disrespect for the Durand community and the Durand Neighborhood Association (DNA).
The planning consultants from GSP Groups were clearly unprepared for the meeting. They seemed to have no knowledge of the history of the project and when asked simple questions like 'how many parking spaces will there be' were unable to answer and gave 'rough guesses'.
They also presented incorrect information, claiming that DNA had met with previous owners but never New Horizon, which is completely untrue.
They told the current DNA president, Janice Brown, she could leave her contact information with them and they could try and address her concerns. This was quite insulting, considering the DNA has worked closely with New Horizon for years.
Through all of this, Paikin stood at the back and let these consultants muddle their way through meeting. Finally, when asked by a resident, he came to the front and stated that while he had met with the DNA, he had never made any 'promises' about the third block.
Several board members were surprised to hear this, given that we had met many times. In fact, the DNA supported New Horizon's past zoning amendment to the second tower to allow for two more storeys (nine to eleven).
Paikin met with the DNA board in April 2012 to discuss this amendment. At the time, he explained very clearly his intentions to build either townhouses or no units at all at the third site. He also explained how important it was to him to maintain an open dialogue with the community.
Yet in the Fall of 2012, he applied for the zoning amendment for the third site without informing the DNA, or any owners of the other two towers.
It was deeply troubling to see him state so clearly that none of the previous conversations and commitments had transpired. He was also quite clear that he fully intended and expected this amendment to pass and that there would be little we could do.
Naturally, the residents in attendance were quite upset. Many brought documents illustrating previous plans presented by New Horizon, which never depicted a 17-storey tower.
At least three owners of units in Tower 1 were in attendance. They expressed their dismay and disappointment at these changes. However, they were unable to voice much opposition because they had signed a clause in their contract forbidding them from opposing any zoning amendments.
Many residents felt betrayed, and at times the meeting became quite heated. Only one resident seemed to voice approval for the project, but his approval seemed to focus mostly on the success of tower one. It was not clear if he supported the amendment.
So where do we go from here?
It was clear to those in attendance last night that Jeff Paikin and New Horizon are not as 'committed to the community at large' as they claim, and as is stated on their website.
Based on the high demand for Tower 1 and 2, they have decided to try and build the largest possible tower on the third site. They apparently want to maximize their profits and don't care about the community at all or the residents that have bought units in the other towers.
At this stage, the application will go to city staff. They will present their recommendations to the planning committee, which will then either approve or disapprove the application. From there it will go to council, which will vote on the amendment.
Duranders and the DNA will continue to oppose this amendment and could appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) if it is required. It is imperative that the community mobilize to express their disappointment with this developer.
The decision will most likely be made at council, and it is not clear how councillors in other wards will react, given that this new development will mean more tax revenue for Hamilton.
One can only hope that they will want to send a clear message to developers that they need to work with the community to develop projects that will balance density with neighbourhood needs, something Paikin once promised us he would do.
with files from Nicholas Kevlahan
Update: the article originally stated that the DNA "fully indends" to appeal this rezoning to the OMB. This is incorrect: the DNA is considering an OMB appeal but has not made a formal decision. RTH regrets the error. You can jump to the changed paragraph.
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