Downtown Bureau

'Minor Variance' Would Remove 59 Family Apartments from Beasley

The BNA calls upon concerned Hamiltonians to write your Councillor to oppose the removal of family units from Hamilton's apartment buildings and the use of "minor variances" as a loophole.

By Alexandria Anderson and Michael Borrelli
Published June 28, 2017

While the City of Hamilton prides itself on being a welcoming community that is the "best place to raise a child and age successfully", recent developments are threatening the City's ability to remain an inclusive and complete community.

This Thursday, June 29, at the meeting of the Committee of Adjustment, members will hear an application by Greenwin Inc. for a minor variance to dramatically increase the number of units in their residential tower complex at 192 Hughson Street North and 181 John Street North. Alarmingly, this "minor" variance would reduce the number of family-style (three-bedroom) units from 69 to 10.

192 Hughson Street North (left) and 181 John Street North (Image Credit: Google Earth)
192 Hughson Street North (left) and 181 John Street North (Image Credit: Google Earth)

The removal of 59 of the three-bedroom units represents approximately 21 percent of Central Hamilton's 278 three-bedroom rental apartments. By no measure is this proposal "minor."

The Beasley Neighbourhood Association (BNA) is supporting residents caught up in this wave of displacement and is fighting to protect the existing housing mix in Hamilton by speaking out at the Committee meeting.

The Greenwin application is expected to be heard around 2:40 PM on Thursday. If granted, the BNA worries this variance will provide the de facto right for every apartment owner in Hamilton to aggressively push families out of buildings and convert those units into bachelor and single units, exacerbating the wave of school closures we have witnessed across City.

For more than two years, residents have turned to the BNA after being affected by aggressive relocation efforts, and now this application to convert to smaller units has the potential to significantly impact enrolment at the nearby Dr. Edgar Davey Elementary School, as well as the welcoming, inclusive character of the Beasley neighbourhood.

Dr J Edgar Davey School (RTH file photo)
Dr J Edgar Davey School (RTH file photo)

As Rob Fiedler reported in February, "new census data reveals [that] the block that contains Robert Village [has seen] an enormous population decline in absolute terms between 2011 and 2016: 581 people or 50 percent. That may be explained in large part by a significant increase in unoccupied units from 17 to 150."

Dr. Davey school is in the heart of Beasley and is one of downtown's newest and most under-enrolled schools at only 62 percent capacity [PDF]. The loss of families from communities ramps up pressure to maintain enrollment, and endangers the viability of nearby community centres, libraries, grocery stores, day cares, and the many amenities that residents enjoy in healthy, balanced communities.

Due to the wide ranging community impact on other areas of the City, the BNA has been working for more than a year to raise awareness about the effects of these kinds of applications, and associations from across downtown have committed to attending the hearing to protect their communities.

The Ainslie Wood Community Association has already seen what happens when family homes are illegally converted into student rooming houses: three schools have been closed in Ainslie Wood in the past two decades, leaving only St. Mary's Secondary School (with students busing in from Wards 1, 2, 13, 14, and 15 to maintain enrollment).

The BNA calls upon concerned Hamiltonians to write your Councillor to oppose the removal of family units from Hamilton's apartment buildings and the use of "minor variances" as a loophole.

We also encourage you to support the development of an inclusionary zoning policy that will help set a minimum number of family-friendly units in new developments so that we can all enjoy the benefits of living in "complete communities".

Alexandria Anderson and Michael Borrelli are co-chairs of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association for 2017.

Alexandria Anderson is Public Relations Consultant that specializes in writing, strategy and digital communications. Born and raised in Hamilton, she is a proud Hamilton community member currently living in the Beasley Neighbourhood. She is a board member of the Canadian Public Relations Society. Follow her https://twitter.com/Alexmegan_.

Michael Borrelli is a social researcher living with his family in the Hamilton's North End. He tweets @BaysideBadger.

14 Comments

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted June 28, 2017 at 07:38:04

Very well thought out article on the impacts to a community! Curious as to whether anyone has calculated out the impacts this proposal will have on the Rental Housing vacancy rates? There was talk in 2015/2016 about increasing our threshold to 3% but I lost track whether it stayed at 2%. As well, in 2015 we put a 2 year hold on 2 BR rental to condo conversions because our 2 BR vacancy rate fell to 1.6% (below 2% threshold) in 2014. I believe this also applies to demolitions and would logically conclude this would apply here as well but article doesn't mention if the 2 BRs are impacted? . The 3 BR vacancy rate was 2.7% in 2014. Losing 21% of the 3BRs in this area would definitely have an impact on that "healthy" vacancy rate. Has anyone obtained current numbers and done the calculation to present to CoA?

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted June 28, 2017 at 08:01:05 in reply to Comment 121628

Thanks Viv. All good questions that I will pass along to our team. One of the statements to the CoA will touch on the % of units, but I don't believe the vacancy rate was considered. Good food for thought, but very much hoping it doesn't have to get too detailed in Committee.

That being said, anyone with the afternoon off who can drop in and speak 2min about rental vacancy rates would only be helping the community on this important issue...

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By greenfingers (registered) | Posted June 28, 2017 at 08:46:54

This is a move in totally the wrong direction. We should require a certain percentage of family sized units in every multi residential building before issuing a permit.

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By Cityboy11 (registered) | Posted June 28, 2017 at 08:54:05

Have bylaw inspectors had a view at the plans?? I am quite certain there was nothing done when the complex at Wellington/Wilson/Cathcart/Robert did this very same thing. They had two-storey units where they removed the stairs in all of the units and effectively made two separate units out of one.

Problem with this is that the new unit made from the upper portion now has a bedroom made from a rather large storage area, that has no window or ventilation - essentially a death trap if there ever was a fire similar to the building in London, England.

How is this allowed? From my previous experience with the Bylaws, I was luckily able to help a friend get her daughter out of her lease because of this "illegal" design.

How many did they convert and how many people are living in this death-trap??

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted June 28, 2017 at 08:54:17

Doesn't have to get too detailed. Based on #'s 3BR vacancy rate would increase to 3.4% which is above mandated 3% threshold. Don't believe it is within CoA's powers to approve this "minor variance". Believe this is outside their jurisdiction

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted June 28, 2017 at 13:20:05

Thanks for mentioning our plight at the loss of family-sized housing units in Ainslie Wood. For those of us in this community with families, it's a growing concern.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 28, 2017 at 16:39:34 in reply to Comment 121629

What would be the time and place for this? Can anyone just show up and speak, or is prior registration required?

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 28, 2017 at 17:31:13 in reply to Comment 121634

Committee of Adjustment is held in a meeting room at City Hall. Greenwin's variances are listed on the Agenda for 2:40pm ... but that is an estimate and depends on how long other applications take, etc.

Anyone can attend and speak to my knowledge.

Comment edited by RobF on 2017-06-28 17:31:33

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 28, 2017 at 18:07:42 in reply to Comment 121635

I should have included the meeting is tomorrow: June 29th.

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By KarlAndrus (registered) | Posted June 28, 2017 at 21:42:34

I cannot believe this!! I will be out tomorrow. I firmly believe downtown should involve complete communities. Remove the multi-unit apartments you push those with families (particularly new arrivals to the city) out to the suburbs, away from access to facilities, transit, to neighbours and from their neighbourhoods! I am so happy to hear the BNA holding the banner on this important issue!

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted June 29, 2017 at 22:09:36

Does anyone know how many of the 3-bedroom units are among the vacant? Curious to see where the demand is high and low in this complex.
It's nice to see a neighbourhood association wanting all kinds of housing in it's ward, unlike Durand for example. Well done BNA.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 30, 2017 at 10:51:38 in reply to Comment 121640

I am a member of the Durand Neighbourhood Association (DNA). I am unaware of the DNA opposing family housing. Would you care to provide some evidence to support your statement?

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted June 30, 2017 at 12:14:53 in reply to Comment 121653

Medallion Corp is proposing two new rental apartment buildings in the 25-30 storey range at Bold/Park replacing an old complex of small buildings and surface parking lots. Before the first meeting could even take place the Durand height NIMBY's were complaining.

Brad Lamb is proposing over 600 housing units at the CH site, which currently contains 0 housing units. Again, the Durand rep complaining and stating opposition immediately. Apparently 2 surface parking lots and a strange space-ship building are too valuable to be replaced with new housing units.

These two projects alone would represent about 750-1,000 much needed new housing units being built, but the defacto response from the DNA is predictably the same. Over and over.

Comment edited by JasonL on 2017-06-30 12:18:09

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By RobF (registered) | Posted July 01, 2017 at 14:24:58 in reply to Comment 121640

Hard to say. Greenwin hasn't exactly been forthcoming about its plans. We only got a much clearer picture from their legal counsel's submission to the CoA, which was attached to the City Staff Report. We received that 2 days in advance of the hearing. At some point we were told that 19 of 70 three bedroom units were occupied. Their submission to the CoA pegs the number of 3 bedroom units at 125 (and 4 four bedroom units).

Here is a portion of my submission to the CoA:

The precise nature of the change in unit mix is provided on page 4 of their legal counsel's submission to the Committee of Adjustment included with the staff report. It shows that between the two properties: a reduction of 115 three bedroom apartments and 4 four bedroom units; and an increase of 10 bachelor apartments, 11 two bedroom apartments, and 241 one bedroom apartments.

In my view, the proposal will result in a significant loss of larger apartment units that are suitable for families with children.

The proposal does retain 10 three bedroom units and will result in a modest increase in the total number of 2 bedroom units from 129 to 140, but the loss of 115 three bedroom units far outstrips this and impacts the ability of the Beasley neighbourhood to be a "complete community" with housing for a range of households by income, size, and type.

Also worth considering is whether this is actually intensification.

I put it like this in my submission to the CoA:

The interpretation by City staff appears to be more units, which requires an increase in the permitted unit density, equals intensification.

The applicant's legal counsel, however, makes a different argument in their submission:

"Despite the increase in unit count, the proposal would not materially increase the functional density of the properties" and "the proposal would have little, if any, impact on the intensity of the use on the Properties, as the number of bedrooms, and thus the number of residents occupying the Properties, would remain largely unchanged."

It is my understanding that a major objective of relevant provincial policies such as the Provincial Policy Statement and the Places to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe is to increase the number of people and jobs per hectare in already urbanized areas. Increasing the number of units in a given area is an important contributor to increasing residential population densities, but it is not reducible to that.

This is about conversion of existing units and a reorganization of internal space in the buildings. It is hard to speak to the question of demand, because Greenwin has chosen to hold back the existing units ... it has allowed them to sit empty as tenants leave, including a number who have been induced. The latest census data revealed a greater than 500 person drop in population from 2011 to 2016.

In my view the CoA made the right decision and the member who commented that policy direction is needed (to address changes like this to unit mix) was spot on.

Comment edited by RobF on 2017-07-01 14:35:01

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