A four-storey Walkerville condo project vehemently opposed by potential neighbours has received the green light from city council’s development committee.
Despite pleas from 19 delegates fearful for the heritage area’s future, the committee on Monday approved the rezoning of a former church site at the corner of Kildare Road and Devonshire Court to allow for a 23-unit condo building instead of three single-family dwellings. The decision is still subject to full council approval.
Ward 4 Coun. Chris Holt said he recognized people’s “passion” for the issue, but supported the project — located only a block from his home — to give future Walkerville residents more housing options.
We do take a lot of pride in what we do in Walkerville
“I’ve supported these types of infill projects, some even larger, in very comparable neighbourhoods,” Holt said after nearly three hours of discussion on the issue. “It should not be a surprise to anyone listening to this that I would be supportive of this. This is truly in my backyard.”
Many delegate qualms stemmed from how different the proposed “box-like” building is from what they expected on the lot. Following community consultation in 2016, demolition of the former St. George’s Anglican Church was approved with the understanding that three upscale homes would be built in its place. At the time, then-city heritage planner John Calhoun said the house designs “should respect the character of the surrounding neighbourhood,” and called such single-family dwellings the “best possible outcome” to preserve the Walkerville Historical Area’s overall integrity. However, Calhoun’s report was not binding.
During a virtual open house about the condo development last May, local residents said they felt blindsided by the new proposal by a new owner, a numbered Ontario company led by local businessman Mike Spineti. The land’s previous owner was reportedly unable to sell the three single-family lots.
“We do take a lot of pride in what we do in Walkerville,” said Spineti, who lives a few blocks from his proposed development and owns multiple properties in the neighbourhood. “The building that we propose here, we’ll take just as much pride in.”
Still, residents echoed concerns they’ve expressed for months via email and letters to city administration. In addition to many claims that the building’s size and design would not fit the historic neighbourhood, several fretted about added vehicle traffic on already-busy Kildare Road, one of two streets connecting the building’s only access point: an east-west alley. Residents also worry about the privacy of those with nearby backyards — though no homes directly abut the property — as well as whether the property’s 30 proposed parking spots will suffice.
Antonio Buttice, who lives across the street from the lot, noted the developer’s requested relief from minimum front yard depth requirements (just under two metres instead of six metres) and minimum rear yard depth (just over one metre instead of seven-and-a-half metres). He called it an “absurd attempt to cram a clearly oversized building onto an undersized piece of land,” and said the development sets a “dangerous precedent.”
Jennifer Bastiaan, one of Buttice’s neighbours, called the development “pure nonsense.” Her husband Roger said the proposed rezoning left him “with grave concerns and a feeling of betrayal.”
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Others said the condo building would destroy the area.
The developer’s planning consultant, Tracey Pillon-Abbs, said the building has been designed to blend in with the neighbourhood with advice from heritage consultants. It will also provide a “buffer” between existing homes and some businesses.
“It’s not a modern condo in any way, shape, or form,” she said. “It’s been designed specifically to address some of the uniqueness of the area.”
Committee chairperson and Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin also supported the rezoning application, telling delegates the condo building was not high-density but would fill the “missing middle.”
“The neighbourhood is not only yours because you live there today,” Bortolin said. “It is just as much for the people we are trying to attract to the neighbourhood, to the city.”