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Proposed community hub 'doesn't respect' character of neighbourhood: residents

'It doesn’t respect the current character of the neighbourhood never mind enhance it,' citizen says at virtual public meeting; Council will make decision June 28

Orillia residents expressed multiple concerns about the proposed affordable housing hub on the former Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute property at the corner of Borland and West streets today.

During Monday afternoon's two-and-a-half-hour virtual public planning meeting, eight local residents weighed in on the County of Simcoe’s proposed $80-million "campus" that will feature affordable housing and a hub of community services.

Former Orillia city councillor Tony Madden expressed multiple concerns and cited the setbacks and heights facing the stable neighbourhoods to the south and west.

“My preference would be to see that the design step back in order to maintain a little better enjoyment of the stable neighbourhood properties, particularly the wing facing Borland Street East,” Madden said.

Raj Gill, who lives on Borland Street, said he is also concerned with the proposed height of the building.

“The old school was only seven metres (in height). The current proposal on Borland is going to be 15.5 (metres), the current zoning bylaw is 12.5 (metres) and I really think that needs to be respected,” she said.

Despite concerns from residents, Coun. Jay Fallis feels the development will "work out."

“I know there are some elements of the building that might take some getting used to, but I think, generally speaking, I’m overall supportive,” he said.

“I’m balancing the need to say ‘yes we need to make sure it fits the north ward’, I’m certainly sensitive to that, but also we need a lot of affordable housing in the city," said Fallis.

Cheryl Lousley, whose house faces the proposed development on Borland Street, says she is concerned the height of the structure will not fit within the surrounding neighbourhood.

“The height of the buildings are widely disproportionate to the surroundings, architecturally, and they seemingly undermine the privacy of surrounding single-family homes,” she said.

“There are apartment buildings and seniors residences located throughout our north-ward neighbourhood; every street has at least one, none is higher than three storeys, none takes up the length of an entire city block, they fit in with their surroundings.”

Gill says certain design elements of the current proposal "disrespect" the surrounding neighborhood.

“It doesn’t respect the current character of the neighbourhood never mind enhance it,” she said.

Paul Taylor, who lives in the neighbourhood, also has concerns with the compatibility of the proposed development with the surrounding area.

“The proposed development is clearly not compatible with the adjacent historical nature of the stable neighborhood," Taylor said at the virtual forum. "The Orillia official plan is full of references to compatible with existing, enhance the existing character, compatible with surrounding height, integrate and preserve the historical character of the neighbourhood, no undue adverse impacts on privacy for adjacent residential building…this project fails to meet all of those,” he said.

Another big concern among many of the residents who attended Monday afternoon’s virtual public planning meeting was vehicle access from Peter Street North.

“I am concerned about the long-term impacts on Peter Street and the other streets that join up with it. I feel that Peter Street, in particular, is already under distress for excessive traffic,” Madden said.

Local resident Andrew Barnett said the development's proposed exit on Peter Street "dangerous" and called it a "hazard."

“When doing a traffic survey during COVID, you have to put an asterisk on it, no one is traveling, and if you really want to source an opinion, go to residents who have lived in the area for ever,” he said.

Brad Spiewak, the county's maintenance and facilities project manager, told the virtual forum that traffic data collected by the county looks at a number of years data.

“It’s not a very small sample snapshot in time; it also allows for traffic growth,” he explained.

On the topic of traffic, residents also expressed their concern with heavy truck traffic flooding area roads during construction.

Don Brough, a resident of Peter Street North, says he is concerned with West Street potentially being the only entrance for trucks and commercial vehicles servicing the building.

“When Front Street was being renovated and uprooted, Peter Street was the racetrack for truckers, and speed limits were not followed. I have great concern over truck traffic and oversized truck traffic on Peter Street,” he said.

However, Spiewak says during the county's traffic data collection they didn’t see much truck traffic increasing in the future.

“We do have truck traffic when people move in, moving trucks would make up for the large portion of that, and that’s gradual. After that it’s the garbage trucks which are there a couple of times a week,” he explained.

“The primary entrance for truck traffic is West Street. There is no intention of a barricade going across the Peter Street entrance at this point, but we can put signage that says no trucks and cars only.”

Some residents also expressed frustration with the county's lack of communication with the public in regard to the development.

“I know in other developments in the community such as Building Hope there has been robust community involvement, dialogue, and consultation, and it saddens me to see that our neighbourhood was not seen as deserving to see the same kind of consultation,” Gill said.

“The public consultation portion of this has been laughable," Taylor added. "The system is very skewed away from the residents. The consultations are like ‘here is the information we are giving you; we don’t really care what you think.’”

Lastly, some residents expressed concern with light pollution seeping into the nearby residential areas.

"I’m worried about light pollution. I just ask that the design considerations be made to reduce the impacts (of) lighting,” Madden said.

Spiewak says parking lot lighting will be reduced as much as possible.

“We will be putting shields around parking lot lights; the shields actually get bolted on right from the factory which helps,” he explained.

“It’s like a sheet metal type cone that goes around which directs the light straight down which has helped a lot at our other developments.”

The county requires a "site-specific Official Plan amendment and Zoning Bylaw amendment" to permit the development of what they're calling a regional community campus-style hub complex.

In order to facilitate this development, the county is seeking council’s approval for the following:

  • An Official Plan amendment to increase the leasable gross floor area (GFA) for non-residential uses which include Business, Professional and Administrative Offices, community kitchen, program rooms and café from 750 m2 to 3,000 m2 . The proposed development complies in all other respects with the requirements of the Official Plan.
  • A Zoning Bylaw amendment with one proposed new use and four site-specific exceptions which include:
    o the addition of a respite care facility use;
    o the identification of West Street North as the Front Yard;
    o a combined GVA for non-residential uses of 3,000 m2 ;
    o a maximum building height of 21.5 m; and,
    o a minimum of 134 residential parking spaces with 29 associated visitor parking spaces.

City council will decide the matter at its council meeting of June 28.

The proposed development features an ‘L’ shaped building proposed to be divided into three distinct sections. Four- and six-storey ‘wings’ are proposed to be visually separated by a tiered central hub.

A total of 130 affordable housing units designed in a variety of configurations are proposed with 134 associated parking spaces of which 29 will be for visitor parking.

The building is also proposed to include a child care centre, business professional and administrative offices, a community kitchen and small café. Parking associated with the proposed non-residential uses comply with the requirements of the Zoning Bylaw including nine accessible parking spaces and 70 bicycle parking spaces.

Click here to read the report prepared for today's meeting.

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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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