Maranatha Gardens project alters character of New Street; marketed to select group

Maranatha Gardens - New Street BurlingtonCity council voted 6-1 Monday March 17 in support of an apartment planned for New Street and Cumberland, in the Roseland Heights neighbourhood between Pine Cove and Rosslyn, South of New St to the Lake.

The new development, called Maranatha Gardens, proposes a 6-storey apartment with underground parking, beside an existing 3-storey seniors building operated by the same group. Maranatha Gardens is described on its website as a “not-for-profit non-sectarian Christian aging-in-place community” with 63 units in the existing building (called Maranatha Homes), and another 148  units in the proposed 6-storey building (Maranatha Residences). Five properties, with single family and commercial uses, have been assembled to make way for the development. Read the staff report here.

The current Official Plan and Zoning policies for the assembled properties limit height to four-storeys for a retirement building. Retirement buildings are defined as having a common dining room; the Maranatha Gardens building will not have a common dining room. Therefore, although the apartment is marketed to seniors, it does not meet the definition of a retirement home.

The units will be sold on a “life lease” basis, with purchasers providing as much as $400,000 in capital, and leasing their unit for around $1000 per month. When the individual leaves, the unit goes back to the non-profit board for resale; the purchaser receives the proceeds from the sale, less a 5% commission that goes to the board.

If there is no capital investment, rents range from $2074 per month for a 1 bedroom plus den, to $3677 per month for a 2 bedroom.

Under Halton Region’s definition, affordable housing for 1-2 bedroom units  is $944 to $1919 per month in rental, and between $126,000 to $244,500 per unit for purchase. As such, these units do not qualify as “affordable housing” under Halton Region’s definitions.

My Take:

I support the project at 4 storeys but did not vote for the project at 6 storeys. A 4-storey building would bring seniors housing to a group of seniors  in our community who want to live in a Christian environment and can afford the substantial capital investment or monthly fees. There is apparently a waiting list of some 100 interested purchasers. A 4-storey building respects the Official Plan & Zoning, and meets our goal of increasing housing within the built boundary.

I voted against the 6-storey building because it does not honour our Official Plan & Zoning, will fundamentally alter the character of New Street and drive up land values, and does not achieve any of our policy goals of affordable, inclusive housing. The principles at stake here affect not simply this project, but our entire planning policies throughout the city.

Character: In that section of New Street there is nothing higher than 3 storeys. This project will become the new standard for development on the street, as each potential new development will want the same height concessions.

Land Value Inflation: The expectation that future projects will get similar height concessions will be built into future land sale prices, making it that much more difficult to build anything that meets our Official Plan & Zoning. One of the reasons given for going to 6 storeys for Maranatha Gardens is that 4 storeys was not economically viable. The role of government is not to assure viability for the private sector, even non-profit groups, but to make decisions based on sound policy in the best interests of all of our residents.

Policy Goals: If the city is going to set aside our Official Plan & Zoning, we should only do so to achieve policy goals. We certainly have a need for more seniors housing in Burlington that is both affordable and inclusive to all of our residents on an equal basis. It’s important to be clear that, as worthwhile as this project will be for a segment of our population, this project doesn’t meet the criteria of affordable and inclusive. As stated,  it does not meet the definition of a retirement home; it does not meet the definition of affordable housing; and units will not be available on the open market. The development is being marketed to seniors who are able to make a significant capital investment or pay substantial monthly fees. Units will be sold through a board to purchasers “seeking senior’s accommodation in a Christian environment.”  Resale of units will also be handled through the board. In effect, this is an out-of-scale apartment marketed to a select group of seniors.

Official Plan: We need a stronger commitment to honouring our Official Plan & Zoning, otherwise we have piece-meal, ad hoc development that meets the needs of builders but ignores the vision of residents and the city that is captured in our Official Plan. Changes to the OP/Zoning are often defended under the need to “intensify” to meet provincial growth targets; our Official Plan was updated in 2008 after those targets came into effect in 2005 and are already taken into account in our Plan. Our Plan was also approved by both the Region and the Province. We don’t need to give height past what is envisioned in our plan to meet our growth commitments.

Ontario Municipal Board: Another rationale for approving developments that go beyond the Official Plan & Zoning is that if we don’t, the developer will simply appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, and win, costing us time and legal fees. Oakville has recently won a number of decisions at the OMB because that city has a track record of defending its Official Plan & Zoning. In addition, Burlington and other municipalities across the GTA have asked the province to end appeals to the OMB that meet existing Official Plan policies. Every member of Burlington council voted for that resolution – so why are we voluntarily giving away extra height?


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