Residents in St. Luke’s precinct don’t like the look of what a developer wants to do to them.



By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 25, 2013.  If Maurice Desrochers is to ever get the development he has planned for Caroline Street between Hagar and Burlington – one hopes he has a plan B; because the plan he put before his neighbours at a Saturday morning meeting recently doesn’t look as if it is going to make the grade.

Maurice Desrochers, talking to residents who live near the block long development he is proposing for the St. Luke’s ward.

Desrochers met with the community in an informal meeting called by Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward.  There had been a previous informal meeting at which the residents said they didn’t like the development – so Desrochers took his plans away and came back with a significantly different design.

Turns out it wasn’t the design the neighbours had a problem with – it was his plan to put semi-detached homes on the properties when it is clearly set out as a single family neighbourhood in the Official Plan.

It was a nice spring Saturday morning with more than 70 people in the room differing with Desrochers on one matter – he wants both an Official Plan change and a zoning change – as well as a number of variances and the majority of the people in the room wanted none of it.

When Burlington did its last Official Plan Review, completed in 2008, it created a number of precincts in the city.  Brant Street was given a zoning of 7 storey’s as of right now with the possibility of going to 12 storeys.  The thinking behind the creation of the Precincts back in 2008 was to create communities with a clearly defined zoning by law set in place to protect the character of the community. They called the land between Brant on the east and close to Maple on the west and from Baldwin on the north down to the Lake – the St. Luke’s Precinct – which was anchored by St. Luke’s Anglican Church which has land that gives it a view to the Lake.  That property was given to the Anglican Church by the Joseph Brant family.

The precinct boundary has all kinds of wiggles and squiggles in it but it is basically west of Brant.  The community has many styles; some single story, some two and two and a half.  There are some apartment buildings as well but the core is single family homes and the residents want to keep it that way.  That’s what the Official Plan gave them in 2008 and they don’t want to give that away.

Residents gather at a city hall board room to hear about a development proposal they didn’t like the first time they heard about it. This does not look like a crowd of happy campers.

Desrochers, who will tell you for as long as you want to listen that he “saved” the gingerbread house from demolition and that he has saved a number of other homes as well and that he “thinks out of the box”, which he may well do.

What he hasn’t been able to do is find a way to build single family homes on the properties he has assembled so he is looking for a both Official Plan and zoning amendments to allow him to put up the five structures he has designed.

Desrochers describes himself as the best designer of residential housing in the city, maintains the community is “lucky” to have him.  Eric Allan, who lives on Clarke doesn’t see Desrochers in quite that light.  He had a number of run ins with Desrochers and his people who he maintains did all kinds of work without the proper permits. “When we went onto the property to take pictures, Desrocher’s people called the police” claims Allan.

The small differences of opinion and the disputes are not the concern of the people leading the opposition to both an Official Plan Amendment or a zoning change. Their concern is simply this: They were given a designation and a zoning that protects the community they have today and they don’t want to see that taken from them.

Barry Imber, one of the people leading the group and also one of the founders of the Organic Farmer’s Market started last year and re-opened for its second season last weekend, explains the concern when he says: “Communities evolve over time during with small changes taking place and are absorbed into the community and a new norm gets created”.  “These are incremental changes” he adds.  “What Desrochers wants to do is something revolutionary – he want to tear down a complete block and put up housing that is not permitted under the existing Official Plan or the zoning.

Councillor Meed Ward made it clear that she would support the rules that are in place now.

Desrochers is in the business of turning properties into what he calls “luxury executive suites” that are rented out.  He currently has 30 properties of his own and brokers 16 others.

The properties along Caroline have been assembled and while nothing has been taken to the planning department yet it was clear that is what Desrochers wants to do.

The block will disappear and have a number of nicely designed semi-detached houses on it that Maurice Desrochers believes he can market to empty-nesters.  Many of the residents in the community see the development as a major change to a zoning they do not want to see being taken away from them.

The neighbours are pretty firm on their views and managed to get the ward Councillor to agree to support the zoning and Official Plan as it is now. Meed Ward said she would support the Official Plan and the zoning as they now stand.

What became clear during the community meeting was that Desrochers focuses on the look of the homes in the community while the community is concerned about the kind of housing and the impact that housing will have on the way a community evolves.

Every developer drags out the provincial requirement that calls for Burlington to create a specific number of housing units and jobs in the city – they call the approach to building housing  “intensification – putting more housing on the existing land.

Imber and his colleagues think developers can be more imaginative and creative in the kind of housing that gets built.

Developers see an opportunity to buy up houses that haven’t been maintained; tear them down and put more housing on the land.

Albert Facenda, a local developer, once told a city Council meeting that developers look for large lots with small houses that have not been maintained to purchase. “That is pure gold for us” he once said.  Facenda sits on the city’s Heritage Burlington Advisory Committee.

The people in St. Luke’s are not opposed to development; they appreciate that people want to upgrade their homes while others want to sell and do so.  What they don’t want is a developer buying up properties and building homes that don’t fit in with the character of the community.

Burlington is currently carrying out two ‘neighbourhood character’ studies; one at Indian Point and another in Roseland.

Imber and his colleagues see the evolution of a neighbourhood as something where the interests of all those involved are at the table and asks” Are all the interests represented at these meetings” suggesting that the people who have put up the funding for the development Desrochers wants to do are not known.  Imber doesn’t see that as healthy.

It is estimated that the cost of the land assembly is in the $3 million range and the cost of the demolition and then the new construction is going to come in at as much as $5 million.  Desrochers told the meeting that he expects his son, who has never done a large construction project, will take on the assignment.  That bit of information sent a shiver through the room.

A week later, Maurice Desrochers is still maintaining the view that his project is good for the city and that he doesn’t foresee any problems.  This project has not yet been taken to the city’s planning department; Desrochers is off to Paris for some vacation.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.