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Residents fear Ward 1 'not ready' for affordable housing project

'Things like hydro, traffic, parking ... these are things that need to be addressed and fixed and updated before putting any new residents into the area,' says resident

Two residents raised concerns about a planned 48-unit development at the Regent Park United Church property during a public planning meeting Wednesday afternoon.

At the meeting, applicant Kindred Works made its case for a zoning bylaw amendment to permit the development of residential units on the property.

A community garden and childcare centre are also planned for the site, which proposes a 70-30 split between market rate and affordable housing units, and a target of one-third of the one- and two-bedroom dwellings being built to be accessible for seniors and disabled tenants.

The three-storey, walk-up stacked townhouses will have 50 parking spaces, with 38 for residential uses, 10 for visitors, and two for childcare.

Residents raised several concerns, particularly with regard to how the development would impact the neighbourhood’s traffic volumes, and questioned whether residential uses were best for the property.

“In regards to the best use of the land, I think that institutional (uses are best) to support our current community,” said resident Jennifer Jackson. “For example, affordable daycare, I think that is a huge need in this area.”

Jackson said the neighbourhood is not “a walkable area” and worried increased traffic might bring safety issues.

“I think there will be major safety concerns regarding the street parking on Oxford and Millard,” Jackson said. “It will create some issues for any pedestrians that are trying to walk on the streets, especially Millard doesn't have any sidewalks.

"This isn't a walkable area. We're not downtown so residents do need cars," she said.

“The parking needs to be substantially increased for this development, and we also should have a full traffic study, including the feeder streets of Millard, Regent, and East to see the true impact of the 48 units.”

Resident Chris McKean shared similar concerns, but also questioned the neighbourhood’s hydro capacity, while questioning if the development can integrate into the neighbourhood’s character.

“It's our opinion currently Ward 1 (is) not ready for 48 new homes. There's a lot of inadequate infrastructure here. It's already an issue in this ward, in this neighbourhood. Bringing 40 new homes into the area is only going to make it worse,” McKean said. 

“Things like hydro, traffic, parking … sidewalk conditions, under use of public transportation–these are things that need to be addressed and fixed and updated before putting any new residents into the area.”

“I do respectfully ask the city council to delay any zoning bylaw amendments until these are addressed.”

McKean also said communications for the project have been lacking throughout the process.

“August 24, that initial virtual meeting, I got the link the day of,” he said. “I had no time to prepare.”

He also criticized the traffic study carried out in the area and called for a “full capacity analysis” of the neighbourhood, and questioned whether the project’s accessibility targets meet the requirements laid out in the province’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

“This study for traffic volume (is) limited in scope, because it's restricted to just the three intersections,” he said. “We need to see the impact, holistically, on the whole neighbourhood."

City senior planner Jill Lewis explained that communications for the previous public meeting were sent out 20 days in advance.

“In terms of expressed lack of communication around the project, the applicant’s open house notice needed to be mailed out about 20 days in advance,” Lewis said. “Although that link wasn't shared … until the day of so it wouldn't get lost in people's emails, the notice was mailed out to the residents within 120 metres of the subject site approximately 20 days in advance of the open house.”

Regarding the neighbourhood’s hydro capacity, KPMB architect Peter Kitchen said the applicant requested Hydro One assess the area’s capacity.

“We are in communication with Hydro to begin having a look at the infrastructure,” Kitchen said. “Regardless of how these units are laid out, or how many there are, we shouldn't be overloading the infrastructure. It's a very lengthy process … we haven't received feedback from them yet, but it's certainly something that we'll be coordinating with them.”

Ward 1 Councillor David Campbell says capacity is not an issue.

“I had a discussion with some people at Hydro One and asked (about capacity in the city), and they were quite confident that there is actually a fair bit of capacity within the grid in Orillia, so that was good to hear,” said Campbell. “That's not specific to this development, but just in general, so I don't see that as being an issue moving forward.”

On traffic concerns, Carly Forrester from Kindred Works said the organization is working with the city to ensure the neighbourhood can accommodate traffic volumes.

“We're working with city staff and making sure that we're meeting at least the new requirements,” she said. “Our intention is not to decrease safety in the area and increase impacts on the neighbourhood, so we do take that pretty seriously.”

Lewis agreed.

“Staff in fact did not ask for a full traffic impact study – staff asked for a brief and (are) satisfied that a brief was all that is required,” said Lewis. “Typically, a full traffic impact study is required when staff is concerned that development will result in the need to improve roadways … and the brief in fact confirmed there are no needs to upgrade municipal infrastructure from a traffic perspective.”

On parking, city planner Anna Dankewich said that since the units will be rentals, tenants will be made aware of available parking before they move into the development.

“All units will remain as rental units, which really allows the applicant the ability to control who they're renting the units to, and from the outset people would be aware of how many parking spaces could be allocated per unit,” she said.

Residents may request the city reduce street parking options, as well, said Ian Sugden, the city’s general manager of development services and engineering.

“If the neighbourhood wishes to prevent parking on the street, you can pursue a request to council through that policy, which does require some neighbourhood support – I believe in the neighbourhood of 51 per cent have to agree to the change, and staff would evaluate it to see if that's applicable in this case.”

Councillors Pat Hehn and Jay Fallis questioned whether sidewalk improvements along Millard Street and through the neighbourhood were slated for updates in the city’s 10-year forecast, and whether any deficient sidewalks might be repaired sooner.

Sugden said Millard Street is not within the city’s 10-year forecast.

“Generally, we always look to replace those sidewalks that are in the worst condition first, as opposed to where new development is going on. Unless new development is creating a sidewalk, and that creates an opportunity to connect to missing pieces, for instance," said Sugden.

“Every year council approves between $400,000 and $500,000 worth of sidewalk replacement projects as standalone sidewalk replacement. In addition to that, we also have between $10 million and $20 million worth of road reconstruction on an annual basis," said Sugden.

In terms of the project’s integration into the neighbourhood, Lewis explained that a compatible project does not mean it is identical to its surroundings.

“The definition of compatible does not mean the exact same as what's already in the neighbourhood, but ensuring that there is no adverse impacts to the surrounding neighbours,” she said. "There's been a lot of care with this particular development to ensure that the buildings are sited more internal to the site.”

Lewis said the proposed development will have sideyard setbacks of 7.4 to 10 metres to ensure it does impose on neighbouring properties.

With regard to accessibility, the project’s accessibility targets will meet and exceed accessibility requirements, said Lewis.

“Kindred Works is exceeding the building code requirements for accessible units,” she said. “In conversation with our chief building official … seven would need to be built for accessibility, and in this case they're proposing 16 that will have universal design.”

When asked by Campbell, Forrester also confirmed the project’s affordable units will remain at affordable prices for a minimum of 40 years.

Council resolved to formally consider the application for a zoning bylaw amendment at a future council meeting. The earliest date it will be able to do so is Nov. 7.

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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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