Right on the boundary of Hintonburg and Dalhousie, which is to say in the heart of the west side turf this blog purports to cover, at the intersection of Breezehill and Somerset, Claridge is proposing a 28 storey highrise.
The adjacent mainstreet is lively; the views of the downtown superb. No doubt the 28 floor request is an opening gambit. If he actually gets it, bonus for him. But I suspect he will be quite happy to get 18.
Why 18? Because that’s the height of the 30+ year old apartment a block west at Bayswater. Funnily enough, opponents of high rises often cite “inappropriate context” when opposing high rises, but no one brought up context at a recent meeting held by the Hintonburg Community Assoc (HCA), perhaps because of the existing 18 storey building a half block away, nor the 10 storey building, also about 30 years old a half block south of Claridge, nor the 10 storey OCISCO building a few blocks west.
First, the meeting: the turnout was typically large, and had the usual mix of calm and emotional attendees. Nothing like a proposed high-rise to bring out the crowds. The HCA was busy selling memberships.
The HCA leadership handled the meeting very well. Much better than some other anti-development public meetings that remind me more of lynch-mobs than anything else, with the chair persons leading the chorus, developers filling in the role of the local [insert name of minority group here]. In this case, the leaders reviewed the appropriate neighborhood plan (well, one of them … more on this in a minute), and the proposed development, and actually devoted the first half hour to extracting from the audience a list of those things that were good about the development. And the audience, somewhat timidly given the sceptical (not quite hostile) environment, came up with a number of reasons why the Claridge proposal deserved a hearing.
Then came the deluge of complaints. They ranged from
- traffic: people who live there will come and go, sometimes by car
- danger to schoolchildren in the adjacent schoolyard who would be playing too close to a high-rise condo (unspecified risk, apparently it is self-evident that this is of great imminent danger to play near a high-rise, although another faction of the community wants the children even closer, by co-locating a daycare in the base of said highrise)
- children walking to school will face busier streets
- it will be ugly
- residents will be too rich; there isn’t enough “affordable” units; high rises are socially alienating and crime will go up, the building will fill with undesirables; there won’t be family units (except for those who complained all the kids in the new building will fill up Devonshire school and keep other deserving local children out of Devonshire and forcing them to attend other schools without adjacent dangerous highrises), etc
- the additional residents will fill up all the restaurants and locals won’t get reservations
- it violates the spirit and nature of the local CDP
Other than the usual anti-highrise NIMBY arguments, two arguments stood out as key: traffic, and the CDP. Let’s look at each.
Traffic: all the vehicular traffic for the building (condos and storefronts and offices) is currently proposed to enter and exit from a widened laneway that runs between Breezehill and Bayswater. The builder is apparently not opposed to southbound traffic being restricted, so that all users would exit northwards to a mid-block entrance on Somerset. This puts a lot of traffic crossing the sidewalk (undesirable) and the sight line to the east is short due to the bad hump in the road as Somerset goes over the O-Train. Alternatively, traffic could be (partially?) permitted to use Breezehill, which really exercises the Devonshire parents. (Other traffic handling measures have not been explored).
No one mentioned if the existing 216 or so apartments already existing at Bayswater and Somerset are a major traffic hazard to kids, other pedestrians, or overload the neighborhood with traffic. There is apparently no traffic study yet.
But IF the proposed Claridge building is too much traffic, then what does that mean for all the other intensification developments proposed in the Bayview-Carling CDP, also accessed via Breezehill? Will any form of intensification be traffic free? Obviously not, so when the lands along the east side of Breezehill and further south (which includes several whole blocks of land) are redeveloped as high rises or townhouses, or even the fabled six storey magic height that is harmonious-with-all-good-things, won’t there be a lot more traffic on Breezehill anyway? Why oppose just the first one in?
One speaker had the HCA meeting had the solution: they complained Devonshire lacked a drop-off car lane for parents to drive their kids to school. Let’s leave aside for a minute why parents don’t simply boot the kids who are 8 and older out the door and tell them to take a hike, or let them ride the school bus, do we really want to take an urban area school with limited schoolyard and convert more of it to a drop off lane? Don’t go there.
The condo will debouch about one car a minute at rush hour if there is one exit; and about one car every two minutes if there are two exits. Multiply this by the dozen or so so intensification developments that will appear over the next two decades, and Breezehill will be seeing a lot of traffic. Telling developers to build their high rises elsewhere won’t reduce traffic in Hintonburg either. We’ve got to face up to fact: there won’t be enough room on the streets for everyone to drive, whether they be existing or new residents. Existing residents don’t have a monopoly on the streets. Opposing the Claridge condo because it will generate traffic is merely the first round of a whack-a-mole game that no one will win.
The CDP: The Hintonburg area has just completed a main-street CDP that imposes a six storey height limit. They are justifiably proud of their plan. But even many HCA members doubt how faithfully the city and developers will honour it.
And it is the focus on the CDP at the recent public meeting that bothered me. I noticed two major flaws in the CDP arguments.
To hear the people at the meeting, or to read complaints like this one http://www.offhand.ca/ , one would think that the CDP was the ultimate planning document. But it isn’t. It is a fairly low-level one. At the top is the provincial direction, to intensify. Followed by the Official Plan, which calls for intensification. And the Transit-oriented-development mandate that draws a radius around each transit station and directs that these areas be intensified, in part because the development charges of these high rises will be paying for the LRT. (The Claridge proposal falls within not just one, but two of these radii.) So the Claridge proposal just happens to fit nicely with these higher-level plans and directives, and their hired planners will be arguing that to Planning Committee, and then Council, and then the OMB. It is insufficient to compare the Claridge proposal only to the Hintonburg CDP, it needs to be seen in the larger context. To focus only on one CDP when evaluating the condo plan is insufficient, bordering on misleading.
The second flaw in the CDP argument comes from the claim it “violates the spirit and intent of the CDP”. Now the catch is that the Claridge highrise technically and legally isn’t in the CDP zone, it starts an inch south of it. But it is also equally close to the Bayview-Carling CDP that calls for a corridor of high rises along the O-train corridor. So if one is to honour the spirit and intent of the adjacent CDP, why should it be only the Hintonburg CDP and not the Bayview CDP? This of course is dangerous ground. As much as people argue the proposed Claridge building is out of context when looking west, it is in context when looking east. No one mentioned at the HCA meeting that the Equity site a hundred meters east is already zoned for 25 residential stories and has been for about 20 years. Oh oh.
And no one mentioned the Hintonburg Hub proposal, one long block north of Claridge. We don’t yet know what height it will come in at. Social housing providers aren’t immune to economic reality, and they don’t find six floors attractive economically either. I wonder if those who are so exercised about Claridge going above six will be so vocal when social housing goes higher. (The adjacent OCISCO social housing building is already 10).
The arguments pro and con the development could go on forever, drawing from the standard list of NIMBY and pro-high rise rationales. To some extent, the HCA meeting was like a ritual dance, where the “little people” are heard, preserving social order, until their delegates at City Hall make the Big Decision. Personally, I wouldn’t give good odds for Claridge getting 28. He will get 18. If Planning Committee insists on lower, he’ll be off to the OMB which is almost certain to give him at least 18, maybe even the full 28. The manoeuvering over this project will be interesting to watch.