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Letter: Heritage or high density? What should Stratford choose?

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Monday’s Stratford council meeting will decide the fate of a developer’s application to create a high-density housing project on Ontario Street between Queen and Trow. Queen is the entrance road to the Festival Theatre. The developer wants to build a set of two 15-unit “stacked” townhouses, essentially condo apartments with outside staircase entrances. The development also proposes a 47-car parking lot.

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Currently there are no high-density zones in the Official Plan, though there are some high-density apartment buildings and other complexes. It suggests that Stratford should aim for 25 per cent intensification within the current city boundaries, each such requiring a change to the official plan. The planners cannot tell you how far we have already proceeded on that goal.

So far, the plan has the blessing of the planning department staff, and by a 7-4 vote, of the council planning and heritage committee.

All clear so far?

Here’s where it gets interesting. There is considerable opposition to the plan from neighbours to the north who will suffer long winter shadows from the height of the building and will have a 47-car lot against their backyards. Stratford’s Official Plan requires that there be no “significant” adverse effects. These are not significant, according to the planners. Our Official Plan prohibits high-density “intensification” in stable residential neighbourhoods. The plan also demands that high density be intermixed with medium density. There is no medium density nearby. Finally, the Official Plan suggests that developers reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That won’t be happening here, as the 47-car asphalt parking lot with no charging stations attests.

But perhaps the most alarming consequence of the approval of this application is the effect it will have on the heritage corridor. Stratford has several such streets designated as heritage corridors, including Ontario Street, Huron Street, Erie and Downie. Hayden Bulbrook has written a very compelling history of the buildings slated for demolition here, sosstratford.com/aco-stratford-perth/,noting the original residents were railway, furniture and cigar manufacturers, and disclosing the original beauty of the Golden Bamboo building. These streets were designated “heritage”by a previous council, no doubt to preserve the heritage look and feel of the many one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half-storey houses that were built around the turn of the last century and form the entryways to Stratford.

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The city planner, and the planning committee, have decided that those older homes can be replaced by new, dense, stacked townhouses, and that the Official Plan permits it. In my opinion, it does not permit such a conversion. First, there is no transition from low, to medium to high density. That is a requirement of the plan. Second, no matter how it is prettied up, the look and feel of two-storey century single homes is not replicated in a stacked townhouse development. Finally, the impact on the surrounding neighbours is significant, which is prohibited by the Official Plan.

But the most dangerous effect of this decision, should it be allowed to stand, is the zoning contagion that will undoubtedly follow. By stating that this proposal meets the official plan requirements, and is permitted on a heritage corridor, the rest of the properties on the corridors just tripled in value, not as single family dwellings but for their value as high-density redevelopment. Just imagine the heritage corridors lined with three-and-a-half to six-storey stacked townhouses and apartment blocks. That is what council will be deciding is permitted. Objections from adjacent homeowners in the “stable residential areas” will be dismissed as NIMBYism.

If council has determined that a desirable result is the demolition of the older homes to be replaced by density in its quest for intensification, so be it, but don’t hide this fact from the public, or suggest that this is somehow “just one.” You can’t have “just one” in the developer-friendly Ontario we live in. Perhaps this is ultimately the correct direction to take Stratford, given climate change and the need for denser housing, but let’s have that debate, publicly and openly, first.

Mike Sullivan

Stratford

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