You can only get away with so much – then the natives really get restless. Development pressure in the downtown core

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  May 7, 2013  The natives in St. Luke’s Precinct are getting restless – they don’t like the look of a development that is going to chew up a whole block of Caroline from Hager to Burlington Streets.

Barry Imber, a Hager resident explains: “Myself and a bunch of downtown neighbours are amassing to say no to a new housing development that’s proposed for Caroline

The St. Luke’s Precinct is bordered on four sides roughly between Brant Street and Maple Avenue at the sides and Central High School to Lakeshore Road top to bottom.

Street between Burlington Ave. and Hager Ave. The developer wants to tear down a number of homes and replace with higher density town homes which local Councillor Marianne Meed-Ward insists are semi-detached structures.

The neighbourhood has been dealing with this for some time – early meetings took place sometime in 2012. 

Meed Ward has arranged for a meeting at city hall – on a Saturday – in the late Spring no less  – that tells how restless the natives are.  Takes place at City Hall — 10am – Room 305 with developer Maurice Desrochers in attendance.  Locals understand that the developer wishes to show new drawings. The neighbours wish to speak to him about the impact of his proposal on the way they live downtown.

Caroline looking East from Hager: community wants to retain the single family home zoning fr the precinct.

The developer is seeking different zoning for the site: Imber says the problem is, as we all know, change one zone and the dominos fall and you stand to lose the zoning for our unique little core area.

The developer is believed to have changed architects – leaving John Williams of Burlington and taking his business down the road to a Toronto Architectural firm.  The developer is also reported to have

Changed the drawings to get a more period historical look — between late 1800’s to early 1900’s

The city is reported to have impressed the developer that the goal of the St. Luke’s Precinct is to preserve the Single Family Home zoning as established character — not simply an aesthetic.

The St. Luke’s Precinct is bordered on four sides roughly between Brant Street and Maple Avenue at the sides and Central High School to Lakeshore Road top to bottom.

Social media lets anyone with a keyboard and internet access the opportunity to put together a blog and get their story out.  There are loads of smart people in the precinct who have their site up and created a space for the developer to get his side of the story out – which is what Desrochers did with this comment:

“I appreciate your concern. You are totally misinformed and misinforming your neighbours. This is a site specific zoning change and does not affect the zoning in the rest of the neighbourhood, nor does it affect the neighbourhood in a negative way.

Residents believe the developer has focused solely on the positive nature of the aesthetic – they are concerned about density and the intrusion of anything other than single family homes.

You have not even seen what the new proposal is. Its leading edge and a great example of good positive change .I trust that you will be impressed when you see the new proposal. Even some of the new single homes in the core are not a good example of tying in with the neighbourhood. I look forward to seeing you on the 11th.

The community has come right back and responded:

Your effort to connect is much appreciated as is making yourself available to discuss the project with residents on Saturday May 11th at the city.

In response to your note we understand that the city grants zone changes site specific. However, we all know that they consider the zoning of an area or neighbourhood by the type of zoning around it. This raises a number of concerns:

1. “The city  worked with the province’s mandate of intensification to conclude that the St. Luke’s Precinct was a unique and cohesively zoned area that should be protected from changes that could effect character  — concluding that the Precinct should keep it’s contiguous zoning. This means they recognize the significance of site specific zoning as it effects the broader area. Therefore, a change of zone in one lot will effect all lots and tear apart the precinct’s status.

2. “Area residents have seen how site specific zone changes in their neighbourhoods have come back to haunt them when developments have applied and were granted site specific zoning and character changes. Recent examples can be cited. The reality is that a single zone change is significant as it heavily influences the future decision-making of council when they consider impact of change on each site by site occasion.

“For these reasons we believe there is no misrepresentation. We are being clear that the zoning change will effect the entire Precinct. Anyone who suggests otherwise is being naive or hiding the reality of the precedent that is set by site specific changes.

“In the end your new proposal, if still requiring a zone change to a higher density away from single family dwellings, is the first disastrous destabilizing step for the neighbourhood that will be irreversible. It will invite future developers to speculate by buying groups of homes for dense developments and leave us with no defence as we will have lost our precinct’s unique cohesive zoning as currently recognized by the city.

“Lastly you address aesthetic. In your initial meeting with residents you focused solely on the positive nature of your aesthetic and believe it is a fit. I’m certain this next proposal will be aesthetically well-considered too.

“The challenge is that though you believe your aesthetic to be superior to others and that there should be an ideal — citing that there is infill that doesn’t meet your standards — the reality is that this neighbourhood consists of many looks and home sizes; a diverse aesthetic that has evolved over time. This is a natural process that is central to the beauty of the area and a direct result of the single family home zoning.

“The single family home zoning influences the process by maintaining a graceful influx of home buyers that purchase because they love the Precinct and appreciate the nature of the place. Then some renovate, some replace — but all one home at a time to an outcome that though eclectic, is importantly slow and to scale with the neighbourhood. A scale both in the size of the homes but more importantly the scale of disruption. One home on one street being renovated or rebuilt is limited in its disruption — in all senses. One home at a time upsets a minimal in terms of traffic, emotions, neighbourhood people’s relationships and families. One home at a time is not divisive to the people.

“A development of a number of homes — a whole street block — that hopes to change the zoning tears a hole in a neighbourhood. It is destabilizing. It changes character. It divides people. It disrupts daily lives and flow and demands all people accommodate and change for the needs of the development.

“Your proposed development, and any similar future development that needs zone changes, will do more than change the look of the street. It will divide the neighbourhood and force everyone to change the way they live, and the way they relate to each other. It will erase what generations have loved about the downtown core’s neighbourhoods.

“This is why a growing number of neighbours have concluded that this type of development is destructive and misguided.”

Desrochers has been in the business of buying up historical properties and rental them out as executive accommodation for short periods of time and in doing so has kept some very important buildings in use.  Has his decision to move into development going to damage the reputation he had.  Above is a fine example of a structure Desrochers has on his properties list.

Desrochers operates Burlington Furnished Rentals, which owns a number of very distinctive looking structures which it rents out as short-term executive suites. Among these rental residences are approximately 6 homes on adjacent detached single family lots along the north side of Caroline which are the focus of their redevelopment. The group has presented a plan to tear down the homes and build multi-level townhouses and increase the dwelling density to 8 or more units on this land.

Is this application going to be seen as just a necessary part of downtown intensification or will the concept of a distinct look to a Precinct be something that prevails?

The community will get some sense as to where the city’s planning department is coming from when there report is completed and sent along to council.

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2 comments to You can only get away with so much – then the natives really get restless. Development pressure in the downtown core

  • Penny Hersh

    I understand fully how the residents who live in this area feel about the possibility of this type of development in their neighbourhood . However, the City has been “invading” all neighbourhoods with its plan of “over intensification”. The threat of the “OMB” always looms in the background and for whatever reason the City seems to give in to the developer….sad but true.

    I have lived in Burlington for 10 years and have watched the downtown core change from a very interesting eclectic core to an area that residents of other areas of Burlington don’t want to come to because of lack of parking and congestion. Progress, done right…..I don’t think so.

    I wish the residents of St. Luke’s Precinct good luck…..they are going to need it.

  • Joan Gallagher-Bell

    Sad isn’t it? Not only will other residents of Burlington be able to park downtown but won’t be allowed to enjoy the ‘Old Towne’ Precinct of St. Luke’s. Is this progress we don’t need it.
    Just remember everyone that the male portion of Council vote yes and the Plan goes through in spite of what we think.
    That is discouraging and I am not proud of that but that folks is the real world.
    The Councillor of the Precinct only has one vote.
    Colour me a sad resident of 50 plus years still living in Burlington.