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Greenlight for Elmira apartment building

An 18-unit apartment building will rise from the ground on Church Street West in Elmira, Woolwich council having this week approved the project despite concerns raised by neighbours.

Originally pitched as a 21-unit building, property owners Wayne Martin and Rick Brubacher scaled it back to 18, added more parking and altered how the structure will sit on the 0.42-acre site in response to concerns raised by residents when the idea was first discussed last summer.

At that time, neighbours raised concerns about traffic, parking, loss of privacy and incompatibilities with the existing surroundings. Despite the latest changes, the plan is still a four-storey building, which remains an issue.

Assured by planning staff that the building was compatible with the area just west of the downtown core, councillors meeting August 25 approved the required official plan and zone changes.

The new structure will be built on what is now two properties located at 44 and 46 Church St. W. The former contains an older house that’s been converted to a triplex, while the latter is now a vacant lot after the single-family home there was demolished. The plan is to offer for rent one- and two-bedroom units.

“This is not out of character for a small community,” manager of planning Jeremy Vink said of the building in a video meeting Tuesday night.

Such low-rise apartment buildings – three to five storeys – are appropriate to the setting, he added.

“We believe the proposed development is appropriate,” agreed Megan Gereghty, a GSP Group planner representing the property owners, noting the project is in keeping with the surrounding neighbourhood and its location close to the downtown core.

Neighbour Walter Ireson certainly disagreed with that statement, calling the project out of touch with the surrounding homes, including his own immediately next door at 42 Church St. W.

He took exception to Vink’s comments that the changes requested by the applicant were “modest,” pointing out that the increase to 18 units from the 12 that would otherwise be allowed without the changes supported by planners amounted to a 50 per cent hike.

“Tell me, would any of you be happy if tomorrow you were told your property taxes were going to go up 50 per cent? Would you consider it to be modest? I don’t.”

Among the many exceptions made for the project, the density increased significantly from the 60 units per hectare allowed to 106.5, though that was a drop from the 124 originally requested. Still, the number of units is too much for the small parcel of land, said Ireson.

“That’s not just a little bit, that’s a lot,” he said of the increase.

The number of changes to the township’s zoning on the properties also caught the attention of Coun. Patrick Merlihan, who questioned the value of having regulations when they could be easily waived.

“It seems like the rules could be negotiated rather than just being applied,” he said, noting the applicant had requested a reduction in setbacks and a reduction in parking, among a list of changes.

Merlihan noted there’s the appearance of two standards when the township enforces a minor encroachment of something like a shed built on someone’s property while allowing developers all kinds of leeway.

Vink countered that there aren’t two standards, as anyone can apply for a zone change or minor variance, each of which is judged on its merits.

But Merlihan countered that it’s an expensive proposition for something like a shed that’s non-conforming – a minimum of $1,000 just to get started.

Rather than allow exemptions, “perhaps the project needs to be scaled to the size of the land,” he suggested.

Ireson later made a similar argument, noting none of the neighbours would object to needed rental housing if the building was three storeys housing 12 units, as would be allowed under the original zoning.

“It’s too high. It doesn’t fit,” he said of the four-storey version.

He also took issue with a twice-repeated line in Vink’s report: “The additional units will increase the economic viability of the project for the owner to undertake.”

“When did it become the concern of planning about the return on investment from anyone? That stinks,” said Ireson.

Councillors eventually voted unanimously in favour of the project, with Coun. Scott McMillan noting that changes were made from the original plans in order to address concerns raised by the neighbours.

“Certainly not everyone’s going to be happy, but it seems like a genuine effort was made.”

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