A proposed seniors apartment building in the Moonglo area recommended for approval by city staff – but rejected by city council – has new life after the Ontario Municipal Board ruled in the developer's favour.
In November 2015, the city's planning committee voted 3-2 to reject the plan by Autumnwood Mature Lifestyle Communities, even though it was recommended for approval by planning staff, who concluded it conformed with the Official Plan.
The rejection came following a five-and-a-half-hour public hearing in which dozens of residents from the area expressed opposition. The project would have seen 144 independent living apartments, 108 assisted-living quarters and a medical office built on land bordering Brenda Drive, Moonrock and Telstar avenues. The land is about 12 hectares.
“We consider our subdivision a beautiful and highly-sought-after residential area,” one letter objecting to the project said. “The rezoning request completely changes the landscape and does not fit into the area.”
After being rejected by the planning committee, the proposal came to a vote at city council, which also turned it down. Former planning committee chair Fern Cormier said at the time anyone who had an issue with the decision could appeal to the OMB.
“It will either be upheld or overturned — this isn't a dead end street,” Cormier said at the time. “It was a majority decision. We made peace with our vote and were moving on ... Allow the process to play itself out. That's the best way to handle this.”
And Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti, who lives in the affected area, said he attended the meeting and agreed with the decision.
“It does not meet the Official Plan of the area,” Signoretti said. “In my opinion, staff were wrong ... We should trust the planning committee decision.”
Only Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan, Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac and Ward 11 Coun. Lynne Reynolds voted in favour of the project, arguing that there was a need for seniors housing in the community. Mayor Brian Bigger was absent.
The OMB appeal was heard in January of this year, with 22 groups making presentations. The developer had city staff testify for him, since staff had recommended approval, as well as planner Kris Menzies, transportation engineer Michael Cullip, and architect Dennis Castellan.
The city's sole witness was former planner Marty Kivistik, who had also spoke against the plan when it came to planning committee. He argued that the history of the Official Plan has shown an intent to protect the character of neighbourhoods.
“In the context of this proposal, Mr. Kivistik expressed the view that the intent of the OP is to protect single family residential neighbourhood character,” the OMB transcript reads.
“In cross-examination, Mr. Kivistik expressed the view that a smaller retirement home could be compatible next door to a single family residential neighbourhood. He also acknowledged that an existing large retirement complex, Finlandia, located in the city now abuts single family residences which were constructed later. He also acknowledged that other retirement homes in the city abut low density residential neighbourhoods.”
Signoretti was among those who participated in the hearing to oppose the plan. The OMB summarized their arguments:
- That the proposal should be properly characterized as an apartment building since the majority of units are apartments and since residents may not be limited to seniors;
- That the proposal is incompatible with the neighbourhood in terms of built form, including the size and height of the building; and
- That the proposal is incompatible with the neighbourhood as a result of the presence of a commercial activity, including the large parking lot.
But the board sided with the developer. It agreed with the study that showed there would only be a minor increase in traffic, and rejected arguments that it wouldn't be safe for seniors to walk from the complex to Regent Street.
“Based on the experience of the participants that Moonrock Avenue is difficult to walk, particularly for elderly people, the board finds that residents of the retirement complex will more likely than not be almost exclusively vehicle-dependent,” the decision reads.
“The board does not expect that residents of a retirement complex will routinely walk more than a kilometre to access facilities and transit on Regent Street and then walk the steep hill to return home.
“The board is satisfied that transportation matters have been adequately considered by the application, consistent with applicable policy.”