Residents petition against attainable housing project stretching beyond three storeys

·6 min read

Thornbury resident, Katy Leighton says she isn’t opposed to attainable housing in the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) but she is concerned about the location and the proposed density of the town’s Gateway project.

“There's such a big group of Thornbury residents who are very leery of this project changing the character of the town, especially because it is right at our gateway entrance,” she said.

Last month Leighton started an online petition around the Blue Mountains Attainable Housing Corporation’s (BMAHC) Gateway project.

The BMAHC is in the process of submitting a site-specific building amendment application for its Gateway site, which is located at 171 King Street East in Thornbury.

As part of the application, the BMAHC is required to submit a site plan. Currently, site plans for the Gateway includes one or two, four-story buildings that will house 84 units – 54 of which will be considered attainable – and 12,500-square-feet of commercial space.

TBM’s official plan dictates a three-storey maximum building height in the town of Thornbury, which is why the BMAHC is required to submit an application for an amendment.

Leighton said she is highly opposed to amending the official plan and moving forward with any concept that would see a building built over three storeys.

“If the town is going to build something at the entrance to the town it should be an accurate representation of the town’s character,” Leighton said. “I think if we want to maintain our small-town character, we can't go over three storeys.”

Her fear is that if the town were to allow a breach of its own official plan on a project that is located along the main entrance to town, more development will soon follow in its footsteps.

“A lot of people are in this town because we want this small town, versus a bigger town of Collingwood or Meaford. We are here because we really love the small-town feel and this density is just totally out of keeping with that,” she said.

Sharon McCormick, executive director of the BMAHC said she is aware of the petition, as well as the community’s concerns around the four-storey proposal. However, as the building amendment application has not yet been submitted, the formal public consultation period has not yet begun.

“Petitions and public input are a really important part of the process,” McCormick said. “And, through the process of initiating the planning amendment, it will only allow the opportunity for more public engagement.”

McCormick explained that once the planning application has been submitted to the town, town planning staff will initiate the process of public engagement, which will include an open house and public meeting.

“The town planning staff are also well aware that this is a matter of huge public interest. So, we would certainly be working with them to go above and beyond the kind of minimum requirements for making sure that information gets out and that people can participate,” McCormick said.

Leighton said she knows that a formal public consultation process has yet to be initiated, but she wanted to bring some awareness to the project in the meantime.

“I thought I'd get a little bit more awareness happening and I think this was a good way to do that,” Leighton said. “This is not a group that's against attainable housing. We are against a tall apartment building at the entrance to town. That really is our biggest concern. The Gateway site is such a key site and could be used for so many amazing things.”

McCormick said the BMAHC knows the community is concerned about the proposal for increased density at the site, but adds that none of the building parameters are finalized yet and she hopes the community will be patient as "development is not a short game".

“There are a lot of aspects within the official plan, and even within the community improvement plan, that stress the development has to maintain their traditional character and the heritage of the community, and that will be promoted and reflected in the design for the gateway project as well,” she said. “There is a certain level of efficiency that's gained with density and we want to consider all of those options and it does take some time to do that.”

At this point, McCormick said project partners are well aware that the community wants the Gateway project to “maintain the traditional character and heritage of the community”, but it is a matter of being able to communicate what exactly that means to the potential builders.

“The design task force is talking about this now, how to create consistency of look for the building – what exactly are they trying to match? One of the considerations is, typically, that you want it to be contextual. Well, in our case, we don't want it to be contextual – we don’t want it to look like the buildings that are there now,” McCormick said, adding that many of the buildings on the east entrance of Thornbury are underutilized.

She explained that that is why the BMAHC put together the design task force late last year and why they are pursuing their own site design guidelines.

“We need to know how to articulate to our design builder what that look is that we're trying to create,” she explained. “How can we articulate the character and charm of the town of Thornbury to our builder? That is really the crux of what we need to be focused on.”

In the past few months, the BMAHC has been moving through the process of pre-qualifying design builders for the project.

“One of the things that we did do was discuss the importance of engaging with our community with these builders,” McCormick said. “Even at this pre-qualification stage we are asking for a demonstration of their experience with community engagement, because we are looking to partner with someone who understands and values that and can demonstrate that that's been something they have incorporated in past projects.”

She added that the BMAHC received 10 applications from design builders who are interested in potentially being a part of the Gateway project.

As the project moves forward, McCormick added that the BMAHC is always open to solution-focused dialogue with residents and looks forward to moving into the formal public consultation process.

“As a town-owned, nonprofit, we are going above and beyond in terms of engaging the community and making sure that we are able to deliver on things like design features," she said. "We want to engage with the community in terms of how can we deliver this in a way that helps to make this site a source of pride for the entire community."

Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca