Town council has approved a zoning change request for a heritage home in Old Town, despite vocal opposition from neighbours.
The town received a request to rezone 129 Johnson St. two years ago to turn the space over the garage into a secondary dwelling.
Last Monday, councillors approved the change, formalizing a recommendation from committee of the whole a week earlier.
The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake received 15 letters of concern over the zoning amendment from 13 different residents since the application was submitted.
Four of them spoke to council on Monday, Aug. 22, to voice those concerns.
“If these are going to be short-term problems, it’s just going to exacerbate the problem that already exists,” said Brodie Townley, a resident of 123 Johnson St.
Townley was also concerned by the “commercial creep into the neighbourhood,” by the hotel behind 129 Johnson St.
David Jones, the owner of 129 Johnson St., is also a part-owner of the 124 on Queen Hotel and Spa, which backs onto the Johnson property.
Townley told council the Johnson property was previously used as a vacation rental and was maintained by the hotel staff.
“Most people are OK with it being a long-term rental,” he said.
“What we don’t want is suitcases coming in and out of there, parties, etc.,” he added.
According to a town staff report, existing bylaws would not permit the new unit to be used as a short-term rental, but that it could be used as a bed and breakfast if it met all the necessary regulations.
Under the original residential zoning, the proposed unit could only be used for long-term rentals.
Some of the speakers at the meeting expressed concern that rezoning the property to help meet the town’s density targets would set a dangerous precedent for other heritage properties in NOTL.
“A very low bar will be set for intensification within established residential areas in the Old Town,” said Gracia Janes, president of the NOTL Conservancy.
If the zoning amendment passed, it would be “next to impossible” to protect other heritage sites from “further erosion,” she said.
The town’s report said the proposed modifications to the property will have no effect on any surrounding heritage sites, or the outward appearance of the property itself.
Janes said the town should wait until the official plan is finalized because it contains protections for heritage sites and design guidelines for secondary dwellings.
She also argued that the town has met its target density until 2032, and that Glendale has been identified as a better alternative for increased density.
“If the answer is just, ‘Oh, stick it in Glendale,’ you’re gonna have to come up with something better than that, I think,” said Coun. Clare Cameron.
Several speakers at the meeting wondered about the recently paved driveway at 129 Johnson, which stretches all the way to the property line.
Andrew Taylor, a resident of 135 Johnson St., suggested the driveway was illegally constructed.
He also said an extra vehicle so close to the property line would contribute to additional noise and air pollution.
Normally this type of construction would be illegal because existing bylaws mandate that driveways be set back one metre from adjoining property lines.
However, Rick Wilson, the town’s planning manager, said the construction of the driveway predates those bylaws.
Aerial photos of the old driveway are inconclusive but Google street view shows there was driveway material up to the property line before it was repaved in 2021, Wilson said.
Taylor said the driveway was not built this way when he moved in and he provided photos to council as evidence of his claim.
“The driveway did not exist when we bought the house just before the millennium. There was just a very small parking pad at the front,” he said.
Coun. Gary Burroughs was frustrated over the disparity between the reports from neighbours and town staff.
“I still find that a little frustrating, if the neighbours say it was there – it doesn’t mean they’re always right – but at least we need to do more on that issue,” he said.
There were additional concerns over the property’s limited space and the effect it would have on the neighbours' privacy.
“The garage directly overlooks the yard of 240 Gate St.,” Taylor said.
“There is really insufficient amenity space at the back. Grossly insufficient,” he added.
The town’s report found that the amenity space was compliant with all relevant municipal and regional policies.
Taylor also said he was concerned by the air pollution that might be caused by an additional car.
However, there is no assurance there will be a car, as the proximity of the secondary unit to Old Town encourages residents to walk, Wilson said.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero defended council’s decision, saying it “helps us meet our intensification (density) numbers for the province” and has the “least impact” on the development of the surrounding area.
Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report