By Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News
Northwest Dundas might be targeted for multi-residential development – but the devil really is in the details.
While accepting the argument that an irregular-shaped lot alongside the Niagara Escarpment is part of an area intended for residential intensification using special development rules, councillors on the City of Hamilton’s planning committee questioned additional variance applications to permit a 6-storey, 48-unit building at 24 Brock St.
The committee referred the rezoning application back to planning staff for further consultation with the applicant, well-known Dundas business owner Alex Szabo, and local city councillor Russ Powers.
The goal is to see if requested rule changes to the proposed zoning can be “tweaked” to become more acceptable to councillors and the community – despite support for the proposal from planning staff.
Powers is not a member of the planning committee and did not have a vote, but did tell the committee the process has continued for more than three years already – suggesting a further delay to any decision wouldn’t be a big deal. He opposes the application.
“The property is within a unique designation that applies to brownfields,” planner Cam Thomas said of the former industrial site, adding the same planning designation applies to three other Dundas areas – on Hatt Street, Creekside Drive and 10 Bond Street.
“There are special considerations for developing these sites in the town of Dundas official plan.”
According to Thomas, an effort to obtain residential intensification of these brownfield spaces allows taller than normal buildings, up to six storeys, and more intensive residential development – up to 100 units per hectare – than other areas of Dundas.
More than 800 Dundas residents, including 14 who spoke at last week’s meeting, oppose the six storey, 48-unit building, arguing the existing zoning provides the necessary tools to realize residential intensification targeted for the area.
Several Dundas residents say they support development of three storey townhouses on the site – a proposal made by a previous owner of the property in 2002.
Among the concerns speakers raised were flooding, runoff and storm water management questions that have not yet been addressed in the development plan.
But even within the special development rules that encourage intensification of specific Dundas areas, the proposal for 24 Brock asks for further rule exemptions to permit an even taller building and lower than normal setbacks from neighbouring properties.
Dundas residents and councillor Powers said it’s too much to ask, and the proposed building is just too big for the site.
But only one committee member expressed frustration at seeing the application go back to planning staff for further review.
“All we’re doing is sending it back for tweaking,” said Flamborough councillor and former Dundas resident, Judi Partridge. “What I don’t hear is the development will change. I just think the development as it stands is inappropriate for the location. I want to be recorded as opposed.”
Dundas resident Bill Hilson said only a fraction – 0.18 hectares – of the 0.46 hectare property is actually available to develop. But the proposal relies on the entire property to request the additional size and units, despite the fact those extra units will be confined to a limited area of the site.
“This is an example of over-intensification,” Hilson said.
Much of the property is a slope of the Niagara Escarpment, plus a buffer zone between the development and the escarpment.
The proposal requests a 4.4-metre setback along backyards of exiting townhouses facing Park Street West – where normally at least nine metres would be required.
Hilson described it as “shoehorned” into a tiny space between the escarpment and park street townhouses.
Recognizing future residential intensification proposals are anticipated for 10 Bond St., the former Tammy’s Restaurant at 338 King St. W., the large site of Valley City Manufacturing on Hatt Street and property along McMurray Street near Hatt, residents stressed how significant the Brock Street decision is.
:”This is an application that would change the face of Dundas forever,” said Andrea Dalrymple, adding it would open the door to any developer with “a scrap” of land.
Former Dundas town councillor Keith Sharp said: “A building this size does not belong. Virtually everyone who has knowledge of this proposal – except the proponent and planning staff – is opposed. If you are swayed, you’ll open the floodgates.”
And although several councillors acknowledged 24 Brock St. N. has special considerations attached to it that allow higher than normal intensification, a couple did question whether the proposed building goes too far beyond those special rules.
“Essentially, we’re adding another floor through the variance,” said Chad Collins. “When we start peeling back the variances, the development looks a lot different. If we ask them to stick to the maximums, the building looks a lot different.”
Councillor Brenda Johnson wondered why a storm water management plan hasn’t already been completed, and wondered how safe the early suggestion of storm water holding tanks below an underground parking garage would be.
“On of the things that concerns me is the variance on the setback to 4.4-meters,” Johnson said. “(That) is not acceptable for a building this size.”
But only Partridge went as far as joining Powers – who isn’t on the planning committee and won’t get a vote until the recommendation goes to full city council – in fully opposing the project.
“Planning rules changed. But communities don’t change that radically,” she said.
Szabo bought the property in February 2008, from a numbered company whose directors included former local builder Fred Spencer, for $330,000. Within a month, Szabo consulted with city planners on development options, and three days later an application for rezoning and official plan amendments was submitted for a 7-storey, 56-unit building. That information was circulated to the community in March 2008.
Two years later, the application was amended to the current proposal.