Discouraging “monster homes,” while encouraging businesses to set up shop, are two priorities for Thorold councillors.
But they’re finding it challenging, due to restrictions under the city’s new comprehensive zoning bylaw.
Prompted by the provincially mandated upcoming deadline to pass the new bylaw, housing size restrictions and other zoning issues were debated at length at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Coun. John Kenny took another stab at restricting enormous homes in Thorold, insisting that council does have the authority to limit “monster” houses from springing up next to smaller bungalows.
“It’s right in our Official Plan,” he quoted; “To maintain and enhance the character of our neighbourhoods,” and ensure they’re “compatible with the scale and density of our existing neighbourhoods.”
Kenny argued that the city of Oakville has been successful in its bid to put a cap on monster homes.
“Part of our Plan is to zone and protect the small-town area of our neighbourhoods, and make sure it’s to scale and compatible with existing houses. Other cities have done it, and we are not doing it. I’m asking our planning department to limit this in our Official Plan. The citizens of Thorold do not want these monster homes. We’ve all been told by 99 per cent of the residents that we have to limit this, so we have to find a way.”
The city’s senior planner reiterated her position from a previous council meeting debate: “The direction by the Province is to intensify; rather than reduce” in residential areas,” said Director of Planning and Development Services Tamara Tannis. “Historically, in our R1 zone, single-family bungalows have been built, so when people build a bigger two-storey, people feel it doesn’t fit the character of the street, but it does fit zoning. All residential property owners have rights to build that might not fit zoning bylaws we’ve had for decades. We have to meet the Official Plan density targets established by the Region and follow guidelines.”
Speaking on behalf of developers Shane Webber and Italo Marandola, Attorney Robert DiLallo said they’re concerned with the parking space requirements in residential areas. Previously, one parking space was required per dwelling space but that’s been changed to two spaces, under the new comprehensive zoning bylaw. In addition, the maximum driveway width being allowed is amended from 7.3 metres to 7 metres; “Decreasing driveway size where these additional parking spaces could be accommodated,” said DiLallo. “That will make it more difficult to develop property in residential areas.”
He added that the new zoning requirements “do not respond to provincial direction for intensification, and the growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. You are going in the opposite direction with the new bylaw.”
Referring to a contentious one-acre property at 1970 Decew Road in Confederation Heights, “It’s zoned R1A and that class has not changed with the new zoning bylaw,” he continued. The land falls within the urban boundary, said DiLallo, “and we believe there’s an opportunity to zone it for a higher intensity and less restrictive use. A higher zoning would be more compliant with the provincial policy.”
Coun. Fred Neale asked, “We do have a number of employers who want to bring jobs, so why do we not allow certain lands to have industrial, office, commercial and a range of uses? We want industry and commercial to build in Thorold and we have developers that want to expand in our community and are being restricted.”
Problems also stem from the land that were zoned light industrial in 2016 on McLeary Drive.
Kenny wanted to “defer passing the part of the comprehensive zoning bylaw that affects M2 general industrial lands south of Hwy. 58 and on the east side of Collier Road,” and add that the city hire a planning consultant to amend the property’s zoning.
“The city’s staff must conform to the regional plan,” said Tannis, “so it’s advisable to hire a planning consultant.”
“The city of Oakville worked something out,” said Kenny. “I don’t want to go outside and spend money for these kinds of things.”
Neale suggested amending the city’s Official Plan, and incorporating the changes “into our comprehensive zoning bylaw next time around.”
The proposed zoning bylaw “is meeting 2031 targets,” Tannis noted. “We have obligations to meet employment and density targets. We are in year three of having three years to approve it. When we undertake Official Plan work, we undertake studies to determine the best employment” for the city, she added. “We’re probably 10 years behind, but we have to follow legislation. Hopefully, the Region’s Official Plan will be appealed and we can conform with any new policies they bring forward.”
Coun. Jim Handley stated: “We were led to believe on previous councils, by our own staff, that we could do something on monster homes and now we’re being told we can’t.”
Referring to changes in the bylaw that have invoked the ire of other business owners, Mayor Terry Ugulini said that the new planning staff “have been working diligently with the Book Depot, Big Red (Markets) and Hwy. 20 properties, and one of the changes they made was parking, which was addressed in a presentation tonight. They weren’t happy with it. We’re here to do the best we can and follow the Official Plan. These are not easy decisions. They are complex and no matter what you do, you’re going to upset someone. We rely on staff to guide us and we make decisions based on that.”
“The lands have always been light industrial,” said Tannis. “To go against conformity would be unwise.”
“I think the money would be well-spent getting a consultant’s report,” argued Kenny. “In that area, I don’t see a lot of industry. I would like to see what else could go in that area.”
Coun. Anthony Longo asked staff how much a consultant would likely cost.
CAO Manoj Dilwaria estimated from $25,000 to $30,000, to which Tannis countered, “Probably $40,000.”
Coun. Nella Dekker asked for an update concerning a landowner who appeared at a recent council meeting, upset because he’d purchased land for a rock-climbing facility in the Decew Road area, but now can’t use it for that purpose, under the new comprehensive zoning bylaw.
There are other sites that would be more appropriate for that type of use, replied city planner Denise Landry.
“We are looking at industrial uses; research and development, and ones where employees are of a professional nature. We know that the Niagara development community is discussing these lands.”
Kenny felt the time to act is now.
“If we don’t do something, that land will still be empty in four years” when the current council term ends, he predicted.
“We need some help, and if it comes from a consultant, so be it.”
Coun. Ken Sentance stated, “We are all on the same team; bringing jobs, bringing business. In Thorold, we don’t seem to be open for business. When we do hire the economic development officer, instead of spending $40,000 on a consultant, would he be qualified to do this?”
“Yes,” advised Tannis. “We recommend that you approve the bylaw.”
Dilwaria agreed. “We have to conform to the Official Plan. Staff’s position is very clear. We have to approve this, as we don’t have any choice on that. It was approved in June, 2016. The only other alternative is to hire someone else who can come up with an alternative, but it still won’t conform to the Official Plan.”
However, the CAO added, “We want to make sure that we are open for business. The problem from a planning perspective is their hands are tied. When the Region’s Official Plan is completed in a couple years, we will be updating our Plan and will have the opportunity to update and correct that document. It’s not that staff is not interested in developing those lands, or working with Council; it is legislated.”
“This council decided to spend $120,000 a year on an economic development officer,” said Longo. “Don’t waste his time. Have him find businesses that conform with that. They don’t want a business that has two employees. They want multiple employees. The worst thing we could do is put the wrong type of business” in the disputed lands.
Dilwaria advised that the MTO’s “interchange ramp has to be updated before you can touch the land, so it has become economically unviable for anyone to touch the land, but now that’s been taken care of. The cost was quite extensive. That has been completed. There are several owners who will develop it.”
Up until now, “this land was not ready to be sold properly,” stated Sentance. “If we don’t start filling it by the end of our term, I would consider it a failure. Is it ready now to be sold?”
“The only other condition is there has to be a left-hand turn lane” created entering the property, which should not be cost-prohibitive, replied Dilwaria.
“We are optimistic that now the opportunity is there to develop that land.”
The comprehensive zoning bylaw passed by a vote of six to three, with Councillors Kenny, Dekker, and Carmen DeRose voting against it.