This week’s denial of the St Joseph’s Villa twin condo proposal could mark a shift in council’s approach to frequent official plan amendments. Councillors’ comments on the recent Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) rejection of a Dundas self-storage facility underlined their concerns that the city has been too eager to change the plan to accommodate development proposals.
Brad Clark referenced the OMB decision when he moved the motion to deny the condo plans. He said Hamilton’s official plan might be better named “the official guidelines” and said it was time the city actively defended its plans – a task he suggested had instead been taken up most effectively by Dundas residents who had “methodically” shown that the condo proposal was not consistent with the city’s written policies.
In seconding the rejection motion, Brian McHattie endorsed Clark’s position, while Bob Bratina argued that residential intensification projects should be directed to downtown areas rather than the suburbs. The only planning committee member to oppose Clark’s motion was Dave Mitchell, but he made it clear that his reasons were financial and that he didn’t want the city put in the situation of having to pay for outside planners for OMB hearings where council has rejected the recommendations of its own planning staff.
That will be required if St Joseph’s appeals the council condo decision to the OMB. A similar situation prevailed for the self-storage facility where a council rejection in 2009 was again based largely on research and arguments presented by residents in opposition to the staff support of the project.
Terry Whitehead recalled that staff had contended it would be very difficult to find an outside planner willing to defend council’s position on the self-storage facility. One was found – the highly regarded Joe Berridge of Urban Strategies – and the OMB officer sided strongly with him rather than the city’s planner who testified at the hearing for the proponent.
In his rejection of the self-storage proposal, JP Atcheson summarized the evidence of both Berridge and city planner Edward John.
“He (Mr John) maintained throughout his evidence that the use being proposed was compatible with the surrounding uses and that the built form being proposed would meet the objectives of the Town of Dundas Official Plan,” noted Atcheson. “He continued to maintain that from the material supplied with the application that he was satisfied that the site could be developed in conformity with the planning polices in place and with some minor changes, which could occur through the site plan review process, any of the new concerns presented to him could be met.”
“Mr. Berridge proffered that the self storage use was not an appropriate use in an open space area and that in his opinion, the current Special Policy Open Space Designation and uses currently allowed by the Zoning By-law for the site, represented good planning for the area and should be maintained,” wrote Atcheson. “It was his opinion that a full and fair reading of the planning policies in place as set out in his witness statement, would not support the change in land use designation being proposed …, nor did he subscribe to the notion that the self storage facility use was a ‘benign use’ but instead proffered that its inherent design characteristics and site needs, were not consistent with the direction to maintain and ‘not destroy the open space nature of the area’.”
Atcheson’s ruling clearly supported Berridge over John. He concluded that both Hamilton and Dundas “have made conscious and deliberate planning decisions to maintain the open space character of this site due to its proximity to Cootes Paradise Wetland Complex, an Environmentally Sensitive Area,” and have established policies “to ensure that even limited development of the site is undertaken in a manner that respects the unique character of the area.”
Dundas residents contend that the condo proposals also contradict numerous city policies.