City council has approved a controversial request for a zoning bylaw amendment to allow for a seven-storey condominium building in the north end of town.
The decision was made during Monday’s council meeting, a few weeks after residents voiced overwhelming opposition during a public meeting regarding Saytar Development Corporation’s plans for 570 Laclie St.
Coun. Tim Lauer told his colleagues Monday a seven-storey, 70-unit building is “just not appropriate for that neighbourhood.”
“It’s important to note that right across the road … is another lot very similar in size. By approving this one, basically, I’m pretty sure you’re committing to approving a second building in the same area,” he said.
While the development is in line with the city’s Official Plan and the province’s growth plan, “it’s still up to us to decide whether that’s appropriate in that neighbourhood,” Lauer said.
Coun. Jay Fallis, the only councillor to join Lauer in voting against the developer’s request, reiterated council members “are the authority and the regulator here and we must not be deterred to exercise that power to ensure we maintain our community’s look and feel.”
He added it would be “bad policy” to make a decision based on the potential for it to be taken to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.
Many on council said it was not an easy decision for them to make.
“This is probably the most difficult planning decision that I’ve been involved in,” said an emotional Coun. Pat Hehn.
Years ago, before she was on council, she was with a group that opposed the creation of a couple of apartment buildings — one at Fittons Road and West Street and another near the Orillia Opera House.
She was “devastated” when those developments went ahead, but now realizes they provide “much-needed accommodation in our city.”
“We are elected to listen not only to staff, to the experts, but to our constituents who are going to have to live with the results,” she said. “I have listened, and that is why this decision is so difficult for me.”
Coun. Mason Ainsworth also spoke in favour of the request.
“I, too, have struggled with this one,” he said, but added there is a need for housing in Orillia.
“We have many people who are looking to move into our community or move around in our community and there’s a lack of places to be.”
The province’s growth plan means the city must plan to accommodate significant job and population growth over the next 20 years.
“This isn’t going to solve the problem, but it’s going to add inventory, and inventory will have a cascade effect in our community,” said Coun. Ted Emond.
The Saytar Development property is ideal for intensification, he said, adding the city will be facing more decisions like this over the years.
Another concern that was raised at the public meeting in March was about a lack of greenspace on the property, but a staff report noted “the applicant’s agent inadvertently advised council that there was no outdoor landscaped open space available on the property for residents to use. This, however, is not the case.” There will be about 100 square metres, near the corner of Hughes Road and Laclie Street.
While the vast majority of residents who have weighed in on the matter have opposed it, some have expressed support.
In a letter to the city, Peter Caldwell and Stephen Mader said they “couldn’t believe the string of petty, self-serving, NIMBY concerns brought forward by some local residents.”
While they noted they don’t live “in the immediate vicinity” of the property, they said, “We honestly believe that we wouldn’t bring forward such concerns if a multi-storey residential development like this were proposed for our own neighbourhood.”
“Orillia needs to grow wisely, and desperately needs more housing of all kinds. We don’t know anything about this developer, but a seven-storey (or preferably eight-story, as per Official Plan) building in this location is hardly a ‘skyscraper’ as one local opponent called it,” they wrote. “In fact, it sounds like a perfect and efficient use of space and services.”
Monday’s decision grants the developer’s request to rezone the property from mixed-use intensification to a residential 5 exception zone.