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Lawyers square off over intensification in West Aldershot

Lawyers square off over intensification in West Aldershot

It may have sounded like a convoluted debate over the numbers 1.1 versus 1.25 but there was much more going on.

Last week the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal met to discuss the amount of parking required for two new seven-storey residential buildings to be constructed on Masonry Court in Aldershot.

The developer, Coletara, wants to build only 1.1 parking spots for each of the 164 residential units while the City wants 1.25. That means the developer wants to supply only 181 parking spots while the City wants 205 in order to reduce the possibility of on-street parking problems.

 After three days of virtual hearings the Tribunal adjourned to announce its decision later.

In a larger sense however the debate was about the changing nature of this west Aldershot area and the Province’s expectation that neighbourhoods around GO stations should be intensified. The Province hopes that intensification will eventually result in more use of public transit, a reduced dependence on cars and consequently the need for fewer parking spots.

Both sides agreed that Masonry Court, and adjacent Queen Mary, St. Matthew’s and Clearview Avenues are in fact in an intensification area, but they disagreed over whether the area is ready for reduced parking.

The developer’s witnesses claimed that because of the availability of nearby GO service, local buses and shopping, residents will soon become less dependent on cars so fewer new parking spots need to be built.

“This particular location is within a five minute walk of the (GO) station as well as other services in terms of retail and service commercial uses that exist today…..and will only increase as this area evolves with other mixed use development” said Land Use Planner Dana Anderson who went on to list local stores and services.

The City’s witnesses struck back by claiming that this neighbourhood is still in transition and is not yet intensified enough. They suggested that it is still suburban like, with insufficient amenities, and therefore people are still dependent on their cars. Parking should not be reduced in new buildings.

“This isn’t a question of whether the area surrounding the Aldershot GO Station should develop over time as a complete community that supports a modal split…. primarily a combination of the use of transit and active transportation such as walking and cycling, ……the bigger question is how to best transition and evolve from what exists on the ground today to a complete community that supports the modal split” said City lawyer Blake Hurley.

The arguments went in many directions.

There was a debate over whether less parking could be justified because of the availability of Burlington Transit buses on nearby Plains Road. The developer’s witnesses claimed there is sufficient local transit, but the City’s witness offered a stark contrast;

“The level of service at this neighbourhood isn’t supportive of a lower parking rate. The amount of service that’s available to the community isn’t on par with our peers that have more intense uses and lower parking rates. Transit in Burlington is seriously under-funded in my opinion. If I am relying on public transit to move people away from the car……… then it’s a non starter. We’re not going to make that transition……I think we have a disconnect.” said Transportation Planning Technologist Steve Lucas.

He added “I don’t think there are enough amenities in the area to reduce the use of cars”.

There was also a debate about the reduced parking rate already permitted at the Paradigm condo development on Fairview Street in Burlington. The City said reduced parking there has resulted in  problems with spill over to nearby GO and Walmart lots.  Many parking tickets have been issued.

The Developer’s lawyer completely rejected that notion.

“The City is dancing on the head of a pin. ….You have no evidence that there are parking problems at Paradigm. You have a list of how many parking tickets, but no source data… when the tickets were issued, what dates, what times, for what offences. How can he just take a number, that we can not verify and declare that there’s a parking problem. It’s galling to suggest that is sufficient evidence” said the developer’s lawyer Denise Baker.

She then reminded the hearing that the City actually agreed to a lower parking rate for both the Paradigm and the nearby Stationwest development on the other side Masonry Court.

The participants also argued over methodology, statistics and analysis. There were references to such things as parking rates in other cities, modal share, 85th percentiles, trip rates, bedroom units versus dwelling units, vehicle ownership statistics and more. The developer’s lawyer criticized the City’s reliance on a parking study used to establish a city-wide standard of 1.25 parking spots per unit. The City claimed that the report was just one factor in its conclusion about what would be best for this particular development.

At several points the discussion got a bit feisty with the developer’s lawyer accusing the City of “laying a trap” and “hearsay of the grossest kind”. Mr. Hurley responded; “The City is not trying to pull a fast one”.

In the end, it came down to whether the timing is right to reduce the parking rate. One speaker described it as a ”chicken and egg paradox”. Should parking rates be reduced now to discourage car use or later when more and better services are within walking distance of the neighbourhood.

“Getting people out of their cars and into using other forms of transportation in the context of a complete and walkable community is certainly the long-term goal of the City. The concern is what happens during the gulf that exists between now and the desired state. The City’s concern is informed by its experience at the Paradigm.” concluded City lawyer Blake Hurley.

Ms. Baker countered by saying : ” By encouraging an unnecessary rate of parking….by going backwards…..with that mindset, the City’s never going to get there.”

The hearing also dealt briefly with ongoing complaints from existing residents that the two proposed seven-storey buildings should not have been permitted in the first place because they are too big. The hearings officer strongly implied however that he would approve the buildings since the City and the developer had already agreed on that issue.

Meanwhile, Mayor Marianne Meed Ward and local Councillor Kelvin Galbraith met recently with residents to assure them that they will have one more chance to comment on the buildings’ design. The politicians plan to “undelegated” the final site plan approval, a process usually handled by staff, but will now be done by Council with public input.

Coincidental with all this is the ongoing request by the City that the Region of Halton, which is currently reviewing its official plan, not include Queen Mary, St. Matthews and Clearview Avenues in its final designation of the area to be intensified – technically referred to as a Major Transit Station Planning Area (MTSA).

By Rick Craven

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