Housing group aims high with exception to allow possible four-storey build

·5 min read

The Blue Mountains Attainable Housing Corporation (BMAHC) is pushing forward with exploring the development of a four-storey building at its Gateway Site in Thornbury.

Earlier this week, the executive director of the BMAHC, Sharon McCormick, gave a deputation to The Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) council in regards to the planning parameters of the Gateway site, which is located at 171 King St East.

“We would like to propose to council to move forward on a municipally-led planning amendment based on the considerations of a building height with a maximum of four storeys and to consider residential use on the ground floor,” McCormick said.

The BMAHC had initially approached TBM council in June to begin looking at planning parameters for the site.

“We've done a lot of analysis of a variety of different development scenarios,” McCormick said.

TBM’s official plan currently limits developments to three storeys, as such, the proposed amendments are looking to allow for the planning department to explore establishing a four-storey building.

The BMAHC has also asked for consideration of establishing residential units on the ground floor. Currently, only commercial units are permitted on the ground floor.

McCormick said the addition of residential units on the ground floor would allow an increase in the yield of residential units, while still allowing some commercial tenants to offset costs.

Currently, the BMAHC anticipates the Gateway Site will have approximately 84 units, however, the number of units will not be finalized until the corporation moves through the bidding process.

Recommendations for both the building height and addition of residential units to the ground floor came from the direction of the BMAHC Design Task Force.

In November, the BMAHC launched a design task force, which has been working to develop site design guidelines that will advise the proponents through the procurement process of hiring a design-builder for the development.

The task force includes neighbouring property owners, prospective tenants, representatives from various citizen groups, the chamber of commerce, the Climate Action Now group, as well as representatives from the TBM and Grey County planning departments.

“That work is being finalized on the design guidelines, and will form an important part in terms of providing advice for a design-builder and what we want to see but the site and as I mentioned, the task force also had a lot of discussion around the height and massing for the site as well,” McCormick said.

The suggestion of amending the town’s official plan for this municipality-led project has received some opposition from community members, including Councillor Paula Hope.

“There's a risk that we're opening up what they're calling a Pandora's Box for other developers to gain approval for building four or more storeys. We really don't have any assurances that that isn't going to happen,” Hope said.

However, town planner Trevor Houghton said that every planning application or official plan amendment is evaluated on its own merits.

“There are those that would suggest that if you allow for a four-storey building at this location that you could be allowing for a four-storey building and similar areas,” Houghton said. “And there is always that potential but any developer can make an application for an amendment to the official plan, whether or not the Gateway goes for three or four storeys or otherwise.”

TBM council ultimately voted five-to-one in favour of directing staff to proceed with initiating planning amendments to the town’s official plan.

Within the motion passed by council, the BMAHC acknowledges that the town's commencement of the initiated planning amendments does not reflect on council support of the amendments themselves.

It was also noted directly in the motion that the BMAHC acknowledges that final decisions on these planning amendments will be subject to a public process and determined by town council and/or Grey County at a later date, in accordance with the planning act.

“Let's allow this to come forward, I think there will be a lot to learn as we go through this process,” said Councillor Jim Uram. “I think there will be a lot of people that will appreciate how things get put together so that we can minimize negative impacts and promote the positive impacts of this project. The positive impacts being that we will have something for people that can't afford anything else in this community.”

Both McCormick and TBM CAO Shawn Everitt repeatedly made note that initiating this process does not mean a decision has been made on the building’s final height, but rather the amendment allows the BMAHC to explore as many options as possible in order to develop the most financially viable plan.

Councillor Rob Sampson, who also holds the position of chair of the BMAHC, added that in order to move forward with the project and seek possible grant funding, the project needs to determine its parameters.

“You can't go to lenders, you can't go to builders, you can't go to the government asking for government grants unless you have at least some parameters of what the project is you're going to build,” Sampson said. “We can't go to governments, lenders and builders and realistically get an answer on costing, lending parameters – how much money we can borrow, and how much money government grants are available - until we can tell them what kind of a project it is we want to build.”

He adds that if the BMAHC were to approach these project partners without a solid plan in place, “we will be put at the bottom of the list behind those who have a well-detailed plan.”

Sampson also made note that the BMAHC is currently in the process of looking at “high-level budget numbers” for the project, which he plans to present to council.

“I pledge to bring that to town, because the town is the majority owner and they are entitled to see that information,” he said.

Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca