A submission from David Daniels concerning the proposed development on Gaspereau. Ave.
GASPEREAU APT.S – ANOTHER VIEW
After a public hearing, the Town Council on September 19th voted 6-0 to reject a proposal to construct a four storey multi-unit apartment building (the “Proposal”) at 146 Gaspereau Avenue. (Councilor Simpson was not present.) The proposed building would contain 38 one and two bedroom apartments. The developer stated that he hoped that half the units would provide affordable housing.
The Proposal was recommended by Town Staff and the Community Development Committee (CDC), Yet, was unanimously rejected by Council. How did this reversal happen? And does it raise issues about the Town’s approval process?
Before arriving at Council for decision, the Proposal had been recommended by Town Staff. See Memo dated July 15, 2011.
In a nine page memo, dated August 17, 2011, Gregg Morrison, the Town’s Director of Planning, provided detailed responses to issues raised by citizens opposed to the Proposal at the July 21st CDC Public Participation Meeting (PPM).
Mr. Morrison’s memorandum addressed such issues as whether the proposed height and mass of the proposed building conflict with adjacent land uses, blockage of view planes, sufficient recreational amenity space, drainage, soil movement and steep slopes.
On August 22nd, the CDC approved the Proposal by a 4-2 vote. Voting in favour of the Proposal at CDC were Councilors Zimmerman, who chairs the CDC, and Simpson. (The Mayor apparently voted in favour of the Proposal, but in his role as ex officio member of the CDC he is not permitted to vote and his vote was not counted.)
The Planning Staff, the CDC and Council all were required to answer the same question: does the Proposal reasonably carry out the intent of the Town’s Municipal Planning Strategy? See s. 250(1)(b) of the Municipal Government Act. Mr. Morrison and the CDC answered “yes”; the Council said “no”.
At the September 22nd CDC meeting, that is, three days after Town Council had rejected the Proposal, one CDC member who had voted for the Proposal asked the question: “what did Council hear on Monday [September 19th] that we didn’t hear at three meetings, and the public participation meeting, that made them vote unanimously against the project?” He went on to say: “I feel as a committee member, what’s the use.”
When one reviews the documents submitted to the CDC and Council, there were no significant issues raised at the Council meeting which had not been raised at the CDC or which could have and should have been raised earlier by Planning Staff or the CDC.
Councilor Zimmerman responded to the CDC member’s question, provided an explanation as to why the Council had rejected the Proposal and why he had changed his vote. “Some of the decision comes down to a political analysis as opposed to the kind of analysis this committee is asked to give.” Councilor Zimmerman also said that the developer was unwilling to respond to reasonable questions; the developer revealed that funding for the entire proposal was subject to obtaining funding for the affordable housing units and that he was unwilling to enter into a development agreement which would make approval of the proposal contingent upon the inclusion of the affordable units; and mass and scale were important issues and while opponents of the project provided a “model” [made of Legos], the developer refused to provide a massing model.
(Mr. Zimmerman’s explanation and the discussion of the Proposal can be heard on the recording of CDC’s Sept. 22nd meeting beginning at minute 112:13.)
The mass and scale of the proposed building and its fit within the surrounding neighbourhood were recognized early in the review process as significant issues. See MPS ss. 12.1.6, 18.6.1(b)(ii) and (g)and Mr. Morrison’s Memo at No. 4. The essential need for a massing model or a three dimensional rendering of the Proposal and surrounding neighbourhood should have been recognized as soon as questions of mass and scale were raised by citizens, if not before.
The developer should have been required to provide the information (a model of some sort) needed by the Town in order for it to make an informed decision. If the developer refused, then the review should have come to an end. Such a request would not have been onerous for such a large project.
But it made sense for the developer to refuse to provide the model late in the review process. Why should he do so when the Proposal had already been recommended by Town Staff and the CDC without a model.
Councilor Mangle stated at the Council meeting that he was voting against the Proposal because the draft development agreement did not contain a provision requiring affordable housing units. The draft development agreement presented to the CDC lacked such a provision. (I raised this very issue during the CDC PPM.) Since the affordable housing component was a big selling point for the Proposal, why hadn’t Town Staff or the CDC insisted that it be included in the development agreement?
Mr. Zimmerman should not have had to wait until the September 19th Council meeting to learn that the developer was not willing to commit to affordable housing in a development agreement.
Another objection to the Proposal raised at the Council meeting was that the entire project fell within a designated environmentally sensitive area. The Proposal, according to Councilor Irving, would result in the slope being made steeper. See MPS s.6.1.1. Why hadn’t this MPS provision been directly addressed earlier in the approval process?
Mayor Stead commented at the September 22nd CDC meeting that the developer had “left [Mr. Morrison] hanging out to dry” and that “he had embarrassed the planning department” by not defending his own proposal.
Rather than disparage the developer and worry about possible embarrassment to the Planning Department, the Mayor should ponder: how had the Proposal progressed so far along the approval process and yet had been found so wanting by Council?
The Town in the past has retained a professional planner to review development proposals. The Town might consider doing so again with major projects. (The Town, if it is able, should pass on this extra expense to the developer.)
The Mayor and Council members should think about why it was necessary for John Whidden, in his impassioned presentation at the September 19th public hearing, at the very last step in the Town’s approval process, to plead to Council: “Don’t to go for the minimum”, “Negotiate” and “We can do better.”
David A. Daniels
October 12, 2011