Durand Neighbourhood 'Betrayed' By New Horizon Rezoning Application

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)
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.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By pearlst (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 15:41:15

Classic move. Downtown Oakville has seen alot of this. The charm is being lost there even with a full fledged 'historical society'. Money before all else.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By LeanneP (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 15:56:09

What should residents do? Would a note to Jason Farr be an appropriate and effective step?

I really don't want 17 stories killing the access to sky. The stepped building plan would have integrated just fine into the neighbourhood and would have looked, architecturally speaking, really quite nice for a modern building, but this just ends up looking like more ugly high rises.

Durand doesn't need more skyscrapers shading out all the Victorians and the park.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Noted (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 16:02:41

1988 – The revised Durand Neighbourhood Plan is approved; a study is sought to establish a Heritage Conservation District in the vicinity of MacNab South; the Central Area Plan is updated; a proposed high-rise redevelopment of the Thistle Club site stirs controversy.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 17:02:59

Further proof of the desirability of walkable neighbourhoods close to downtown.

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 19:40:37 in reply to Comment 88438

Permalink | Context

By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 20:12:48 in reply to Comment 88452

Which is why this sort of thing seems entirely predictable, especially in light of the history of the DNA.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Gored (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 17:16:29

Jeez, even the "good guy" developers are bad guys. Who can you trust?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By B (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 17:19:43

This development never included townhouses to my knowledge, considering all proportional materials that have been released feature the 3rd tower or its foot print on the land. I don't know why the DNA is acting like it is such a surprise. Phase 1, 2, and 3 this development originally included 3x9-storey towers. Phase 2 was changed to a 10-storey tower mid-way. So yes 17-storeys may be a lot for the area but I'm sure a comprise can be found maybe maxing the height at 12/13

Permalink | Context

By neighbour (registered) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 21:04:08 in reply to Comment 88443

Your "knowledge" is uninformed. we have documents starting in 2008 for a request for a "high density development... in the form of two 62 unit, 9 storey buildings and one 4 storey, 24 unit building". Each request has increased the density. The "9 storey" bldg now up has a huge roof that adds at least 3 storeys to the structure. Come and have a look! The now 11-storey bldg will be 14 storeys! We have pictures showing the 3 bldgs, one of which is the 4-storey row of town houses. We have elevation drawings showing their 4 storeys. This 20-storey bldg is completely inappropriate and unacceptable. It would probably be unsustainable on that small space and overtax Hamilton's notoriously inadequate infrastructure.

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 21:12:59 in reply to Comment 88455

I'd love to see these renderings if you could post them. Also, what 20-storey tower are you referring to? I'm only reading a request for 17 stories.

Permalink | Context

By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 17:52:23 in reply to Comment 88443

This zoning goes back to 1996 and the current developer inherited the zoning. When they asked for a zoning change to allow an extra 2 stories on the second tower, the justification was to make the townhouses economically viable. The extra income from 2 extra stories was to make up for the lower return that the townhouses would provide. It was supposed to be a trade off - more height on the second building for less on the third.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By things change (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 18:09:11

Things change and plans change. With the success of the first two buildings the developer sees an opportunity to make more money. They are well within their rights to ask for a change. Developers are in business to make money.

If we want development and intensification in the downtown area developers are going to have to be allowed to build what they think is reasonable with some limits of course. Saying no just because a few neighbours might not like it isn't a good enough reason to deny these developments.

Permalink | Context

By Gored (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 18:25:18 in reply to Comment 88445

Read the article again. DNA has worked with the developer to increase building heights. This time the developer has gone behind DNA's back to break it's earlier promise. That's a lousy way to get neighbors to "like it".

Permalink | Context

By things change (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2013 at 03:25:30 in reply to Comment 88446

Like I said things change and the developer is under no obligation to work with anyone in the neighbourhood, especially a group that may be hostile to their interests.

Permalink | Context

By citizensue (registered) | Posted May 11, 2013 at 16:07:38 in reply to Comment 88581

Developers have a MORAL obligation to work with the neighbourhoods in which they build. I am curious as to whether you live anywhere that might have the entire nature of your surroundings changed with no input from you.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 19:32:22

Thx for publishing this Nicholas.

A few random thoughts from me:

  1. I've been pretty consistent over the years in my call for scrapping our height restrictions in places where they aren't needed. Thistle Club site was one of those sites. Hamilton needs to encourage more quality density. As we know Hamilton-based Molinaro has gone over to Burlington (which is supposed to be a little suburb of ours) and have built a whole host of buildings in the 15-30 storey range and have been hugely successful.

  2. I can see the angst from the DNA with this change being proposed without their knowledge. The working relationship with the DNA has been good so far, and this clearly won't help. However, knowing the history on height restrictions in Hamilton I'm not sure I would have approached the neighbourhood either.

  3. Compromise Time.
    A compromise suggestion may be found here: offer added height on tower 2 of the project, in the centre of the site, in exchange for keeping the corner property smaller. I hope a compromise can be made that is good with the DNA and helps Horizon make some more money. There's a reason no condos were built downtown for 20 years. Even this project was threatened until a reduction in zoning fees and parkland fees was granted. It's still a very slim margin in downtown Hamilton, and I would love to see a builder make money adding high quality condo units to our core. Word spreads through the development industry if money can be made somewhere, and we can all certainly agree that this is one of our shared goals for downtown Hamilton - to become a place where builders can profit by adding high quality, well-designed buildings to the landscape.

I look forward to a follow-up after tomorrow nights meeting when more info is available.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-05-08 20:42:13

Permalink | Context

By Frances (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 00:56:16 in reply to Comment 88451

It's interesting to me that people here are criticizing the DNA for trying to give the neighbourhood a voice on out-of-control development. This whole area would have been flattened for highrises,with many beautiful Victorian homes destroyed in the name of "progress".

And, isn't this the same builder who's responsible for the terrible building at Aberdeen and Dundurn that completely ruined the small apartment building south of it on Dundurn? I hardly think we can "trust" this builder to "add high quality, well-designed buildings to the landscape".

Consider if this proposed zoning change was requested on the property next to or across from YOUR house, devaluing your property by 30% or more, when you had investigated the plans for the area before you made the move. To suddenly have the plans change because the developers decide they can't make enough money and need to make more.

Should we roll over for developers and allow them to destroy our neighbourhoods for their profit margin? No. Those days are over. The Durand Neighbourhood Assocation began in response to out-of-control development, and will continue to advocate for well-thought-out planning.

As for adding more residences to neighbourhoods within walkable distance to downtown, there are plenty of lots closer to downtown that are used for surface-level parking that would be more suitable for a 17-storey building.

Great article, Nicholas.

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 13:44:14 in reply to Comment 88462

Property values are devalued 30% or more when mid/high-rise condos are added to the neighbourhood??

And the two cities with Canada's highest house prices are.....

Permalink | Context

By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 01:09:36 in reply to Comment 88462

I actually like that building, and it's far better then the dead Tim Hortons and parking lot that was there. Granted, it does suck for the apt behind it...but it's not like that Condo appeared overnight. There was plenty of time for the neighborhood to fight it.

Permalink | Context

By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 02:07:25 in reply to Comment 88462

"And, isn't this the same builder who's responsible for the terrible building at Aberdeen and Dundurn that completely ruined the small apartment building south of it on Dundurn? I hardly think we can "trust" this builder to "add high quality, well-designed buildings to the landscape".


You mean Urban West Condos? In terms of design, it's not bad at all. While it lacks ground floor commercial, it's a nice bit of infill on that corner.

In terms of 'ruining' the apartment building to the south of it, what would you recommend? A one-story structure, perhaps? It's only six stories for God's sake! That corner could support much greater density. To be honest, you come across as somebody who bridles at the thought of any development whatsoever, so I'm guessing you're impossible to please.

Comment edited by DrAwesomesauce on 2013-05-09 02:08:29

Permalink | Context

By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2013 at 17:40:03 in reply to Comment 88467

I wish some developer would 'ruin' the corner of King and Longwood (or Main and Longwood even), with a couple of nice 5-6 storey condo buildings. No offence to the Healing Institute and Lava Pizza, but this corner is heavily serviced by transit and highly underused in my opinion.

Permalink | Context

By fmurray (registered) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 22:37:14 in reply to Comment 88467

I don't hate all development. But I respect well-considered development and consideration of the surrounding neighbourhood. The building at Aberdeen and Dundurn could have been even higher, in my opinion, if it had been "stepped in". The way it is, it's boxy and too large for the lot. The lack of ground floor commercial space is a problem and the sidewalk (once it's replaced), will be too narrow. Here's a rough idea of something that would have better suited that lot:

Residents have to live for a long time with the buildings that developers put into neighbourhoods. Ridiculous roadblocks shouldn't be put in the way of all development, but we have to live with the consequences of bad decisions.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JM (registered) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 21:26:48

I'm just curious about the objections to the height... what are the impacts here in consideration of the immediate context? this is not a predominantly low density neighbourhood

i would love to hear your (their?) reasons (even though this article is more about the betrayal than the height, but it all ends up being about the height!)

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 22:54:34

A little bit of context.

Note the single family homes and low-density suburbia in these two images:

First one is Burlington. Second is Scarborough. Swimming pools, double driveways, nice backyards, robust real-estate values. Suburbia at it's finest.

Here are the development proposals for both sites:



I'm not saying we need to fill Hamilton with towers, BUT here we are haggling for years over 10 or 12 floors right downtown in the so-called "Ambitious City", while low-density suburbia from here to Scarborough understand the dire need to add density - high quality density, and fast.

How about everyone's favourite suburban whipping-boy....adding some huge towers a stones' throw from large, suburban sprawl tracts of thousands of homes, pools, yards, parks etc.....

I envision Hamilton developing a more pedestrian-scaled streetwall outside of the core as opposed to adding mega towers like Mississuaga or Scarborough. More like this along King/Main East; Upper James etc....

But downtown, we really do need to ease up a little and allow some quality high-rise development.

I realize, what's done is done in this particular Thistle Club site, but let's learn a lesson from this as we move forward.
Density is not bad. Bad density is bad. Neighbourhood associations and groups can have a great role in seeing the best development possible take shape in their neighbourhood.

Height is not our enemy. We need more people in Hamilton. Few areas in our city can handle taller buildings....downtown must be one of the spots we let out the leash a little and see more density take shape.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-05-08 22:54:51

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 22:34:05

Does anyone know if the 17-storey application is for the 4-storey townhome block, or is it for Tower 2?? I can't find info anywhere clarifying this.

Permalink | Context

By fmurray (registered) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 07:56:31 in reply to Comment 88479

It's for the 4-storey townhouse block. And as another point, there's a huge untapped market for townhomes in this area. The developer would make A LOT of money on townhouses over 600 sq ft condos.

Permalink | Context

By nobrainer (registered) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 07:58:36 in reply to Comment 88495

Vancouver model would give us the best of both worlds, townhouses on the curb with a skinny tower behind.

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 09:06:20 in reply to Comment 88496

very true. I like that concept. Instead we're getting street townhomes with a Caledonia stubby building in the background.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 01:27:57

Tough, on one hand they are being scumbags by backstabbing the DNA, on the other hand a 17 storey building promotes the kind of density we need downtown far better the four floor townhouses.

I'd say give them a slight increase but it must boast a brick, Victorian facade which compliments the other buildings in the neighborhood Something sorta like this, but a bit more subdued.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By elevatethedebate (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 10:07:08

It's about time developers get a little boost in height to help them build more units downtown. Let's not forget that the developer did not get the same treatment as the other downtown developers, he did not get the development charges waived as this project is 1-2 blocks outside of the boundaries of the downtown revitalization area, and no justifications were ever clear on why those boundaries did not include this site, especially since it's been in development talks for more than 15 years. So it's only normal for a business that employs hundreds of our neighbors to try to make money. Had City Council agreed to this request, this probably would not have happened.
17 story and people yell and rant. I say let him build 20 story and ask for some of those units to be allocated to affordable housing programs that are in dire need of units in the downtown core.
How about we stop thinking about a couple of houses that stand in the way of modernity and try to maximize projects like these for the greater good of our city! One comment higher by Frances mentions that these older houses would see their property values drop 30%, well Frances i'm sorry to inform you that you don't have the slightest clue of what you are talking about! In infill redevelopment, when new construction comes close to your lot, your property value goes up as developers want to buy it to build more new units. Please check any type of stats ever released by a real estate board in the GTA in the last 20 years before propagating false information such as this.
With the building of this project, hundreds of workers will be able to work and bring food on their table and one of my neighbors is one of them. More people will live downtown, spend money downtown, help local business downtown and if we finally elevate the debate above the endless "mean old developer who wants to make money" then we could actually get a project that will be good for even the less fortunate in our city core. How about that for a change? Short minded thinking is one of the reasons close to no new housing units were built downtown for the last 20 years. We need more units, we need affordable units, we need rental units! Let's make it happen for Pete's sake!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Durand resident (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 11:38:43

Go to this link to see original design of site.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jim (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 13:38:21

"In infill redevelopment, when new construction comes close to your lot, your property value goes up as developers want to buy it to build more new units"

This was how things used to work when you were able to simply buy up a block, take down all the houses and build skyscrapers. That hasn't happened in round about 40 years.

The DNA was organized in the face of the mess of skyscrapers built between Hunter and Herkimer, Queen and James in the 60s-70s. Notice there are none west of Queen or south of Herkimer. Just like greenfield lands in Elfrida or Binbrook, many owners were happy to sell because of the quick buck they could make, to hell with their gorgeous Victorian. It didn't have to go that way. Plenty of planners and architect showed you can build density in keeping with neighbourhoods by providing scaled heights. Of course developers rebel, they want to make the maximum profit possible. But neighbourhood voices, the ones interested in the wellbeing of the neighbourhood and not just the flip value of their house, are the only thing standing in the way of the type of pillaging developers do just about everywhere else.

As for the DC waiver, Steve (can I call you Steve?), you didn't get that because you were outside the zone. Are you aware that pretty much all inner city water mains will need replacing in the next few decades? The cost of replacement will dwarf new construction on greenfields. It's nice we throw a bone to infill, but it's a bit false if you ask me.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By elevatethedebate (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2013 at 16:16:04

Infill lands have skyrocketing values across the GTA where development is happening, the reason why some parts of downtown Hamilton have not benefited from this trend is precisely because no redevelopment has happened in more than 20 years. Stagnation brings stagnation, change brings demand in the form of new housing demand and higher demand for lands, hence higher prices. Our city needs to embrace change in order to bring in more people, more density and more economic activity. That's the reality and either we elevate ourselves from a stale debate and continue to do nothing while other municipalities around us thrive or we learn from them and try to come up with a made in Hamilton plan that addresses our needs and our realities while embracing change.

I am not Steve, whoever that might be, and I am not a developer, not a builder, not a promoter, nor a trade. I am a businessman who is sick and tired of ignorant people opposing citizens like me who make a living from my hard work. I pay my employees, pay my taxes and I generate some much needed economic activity. Exactly like developers, I am part of the solution to our distressed areas of our city, not part of the problem like you want to portray developers to be. Company owners are in business to make a profit and there is NOTHING wrong with that! Hopefully one day people will accept that and maybe that day insignificant NIMBY comments like: "pillaging developers" will stop once and for all. I know many developers and they deserve less BS and much more credit for what they do.

How about visionary developers who create homes for thousands of families every year in our region? How about risk takers who employ tens of thousands of people that are our neighbors and friends and family? How about people who fight everyday against NIMBY and red tape and short sighted vision in order to develop our downtown core that is in dire need of investment? How about all those positive things? None of that seems to matter to most of the comments posted above, that’s exactly why we are stagnating as a city.

Then you talk about water mains, please let me laugh out loud here LOL! As if this problem had anything to do with a couple of new highrises! This comes from decades of negligence and under-financing to maintain and update the current infrastructure. Everyone knows they will need to be changed in the next years and if our city can finally be run by people who will face those issues and not push them to the side and simply shrug their shoulders, then we could have real debates on how to address decades of under-financing of our infrastructure. This is a problem our politicians have put aside for 30 years because they are too afraid to raise property taxes. They turn to other levels of government for money, well they don’t have any more money than we do, so we will all have to pay for it, all 519,949 of us!

Permalink | Context

By jim (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:56:14 in reply to Comment 88551

Come on. Development is not some exalted thing. You know as well as I do the praise developers are seeking - the kind you can put in the bank. Developers will build wherever the legislators give them space to build; if that's a four story infill project or a 17 story, it's possible either way. This is about smart growth not some stupid polarity between do what you want and do nothing.

Before you claim NIMBY tell me where these developers all live. Next, try building 17 stories in Oakville or Ancaster and then come back to me with your sermon.

As for infrastructure, DCs exist so development pays their infrastructure burden. New infill generates new burden, which is arguably way higher because of retrofitting costs. It's a marginal effect so your argument that this is a city wide problem is moot; one development would never bear the whole cost.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By bvb borussia (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2013 at 16:50:43

I am trying to understand the DNA's position but all I can see is NIMBYism. Yes, he requested 4 floors, but I am sure that was before the concept was proved and the developer realized just how much demand there is for Hamilton and Durand.

The truth is he has added value to the neighbourhood and a block which has sat empty and unloved for years. This also helps with urban density and walkable communities. We can't have it both ways. Besides, there are already high rise buildings in that area as is.

I do agree that his project at Dundurn and Aberdeen was a mistep. Not a nice looking building, but better than what was there. A missed opportunity.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

There are no upcoming events right now.
Why not post one?

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools