At a reference committee meeting in February of this year, he promised to build “something that is beautiful” on the 11-acre former site of Alma College.
His proposed development would consist of a trio of seven-storey apartment buildings and the Moore Street property would be laced with a system of pathways, while the iconic amphitheatre would be for the use of “everybody in the community. That’s part of the history of the community and that should be for everybody.”
In the intervening months, the residential undertaking has evolved with one of the towers now pegged at nine stories and the amphitheatre will be for the use of residents and their visitors to the complex.
And, at a site plan control committee meeting Nov. 13, developer Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties suggested the development would be a gated community, putting public access to the trail system and amphitheatre in doubt.
The meeting, to deal with technical aspects of Patriot Properties’ application for development of the former school for girls, generated more questions than answers.
Several residents of the Moore and McIntyre streets neighborhood peppered Loewith and his team of architects and engineers with queries related to traffic levels, the impact of shadows on the quiet residential block, removal of trees, the lack of a social/cultural/economic study on the impact to adjoining residences and school accommodation.
Concerns raised by city staff varied from discrepancies in the architectural drawings to clarification needed in the traffic study to the need for more disability parking spots in all three phases of the development.
Phase 1 could begin sometime next year, with each phase of the 400-unit undertaking requiring two years to complete.
While it was indicated traffic levels were well within the functional limits of the neighbourhood, city staff questioned why, according to the developer’s traffic study, the majority of traffic exiting the Alma property along McIntyre Street would exit southbound onto Ross Street instead of heading north.
Likewise, the traffic study showed the majority of traffic exiting north on Moore Street would turn west on Wellington Street instead of east, prompting staff to question the rationale behind these findings.
Dawn Doty, a resident of McInytre Street, questioned Loewith as to why a proposed access road into the development off Wellington Street, adjacent to the London & Port Stanley Railway tracks, was no longer part of the submitted plan.
Such a route, stressed Doty, would cut down the flow of traffic on the narrow portion of Moore Street, which has become a shortcut for motorists looking to avoid the traffic signals at Ross Street.
Delving into the impact of shadowing along McIntyre Street with Phase 3 of the project, resident Dawn Doty noted, in mid-December, several residences potentially would be shaded for more than six hours per day while the accepted standard is at least 50 per cent of any property should be in full sun for the equivalent of four hours per day.
As to why the City of Waterloo Shadow Study criteria was submitted for this proposal, city planner Pat Keenan advised neither St. Thomas nor London have such criteria.
Sue Fortin-Smith of St. Thomas, a registered professional planner and former chair of the city’s Municipal Heritage Committee, raised concerns about school accommodation for families moving into the three towers.
As part of the planning process, Keenan noted the area school boards were notified of the proposed development and “no concerns were raised.”
As to trees on the property alongside McIntyre Street, Loewith said these were to be removed and replaced to meet city standards.
Which prompted Lara Leitch, former vice-principal of Alma and former president of the Alma College International Alumnae Association, to remind city staff and the development proponents many of those trees were planted by students graduating from Alma.
She is worried that soon “there will be no trace of the past and that is a great shame.”
St. Thomas architect Ed van der Maarel wondered whether seven to nine-storey buildings “are good for the community.”
He cautioned, “the project will end up as a Toronto subdivision,” although it has the potential “to be a beautiful project.”
And, Russell Schnurr, chairman of the city’s Municipal Heritage Committee, pointed to a similar development in Stratford which, at four stories, “fits into the community.”
“There is a better balance with the existing neighbourhood. The height of the buildings doesn’t take into account the concerns of the neighbourhood.”
Steve Cornwall, representing Loewith at the meeting, explained the Patriot Properties plan “has been refined over time” and “theoretically it could change. But it is unlikely to be significant changes.”
As to the amount of parking to be made available to residents and visitors, Loewith stressed: “there are more parking spots than required by the city.”
His intention is to have a ride-sharing program on-site utilizing electric cars to cut down on the number of vehicles requiring parking spaces.
“It’s a balancing act we are trying to get right,” conceded Loewith, who added, “additional parking can be added in Phase 2 and 3.”
While Loewith had hoped to begin initial work this fall, the city’s director of engineering Justin Lawrence cautioned “no servicing can begin until the site plan is in place.”
In the meantime, city manager Wendell Graves indicated the site plan control committee will meet again before forwarding its report to council.
“We need to be sure of those technical pieces before it goes to council. It will depend on when the (developer’s) team and their consultants can get the information back to us.”
Graves reiterated the outstanding concerns emanating from this week’s meeting deal with the impacts of shadowing and traffic in addition to the necessity of removing trees bordering McIntyre Street.
Of course, commencement of work on the Moore Street property is contingent upon rescinding a 2008 Ontario Municipal Board order requiring any development on the Alma property to “include a faithful and accurate representation of the front facade of the college building.”
In September, city council unanimously endorsed a motion to initiate the process.
Prior to that vote, Loewith had urged council to support “removal of the OMB order” and accept his plan for the “thoughtful interpretation and articulation of the historical significance of this lost institution.”
Graves indicated to City Scope “the legal documents are still being prepared for that. There are a whole bunch of streams that are going in parallel here.”
Once submitted, Graves noted there is no way to predict how long it might take for Environment & Land Tribunals Ontario – which adjudicates matters related to land use planning, environmental and heritage protection, property assessment, land valuation, and other matters – to have the OMB order removed from the Alma property.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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