Almost 50 residents attended a public meeting in May to review a proposal for semi-detached homes in the St. Luke’s Precinct in downtown Burlington.
The semis are being proposed by Maurice Desrochers of Burlington Furnished Rentals, and his son Matthew Desrochers. Maurice has assembled several properties stretching from Burlington Ave, wrapping around Caroline and up Hager. He’s proposing five semi-detached homes (10 units in total) and one single family home to replace an existing bungalow on Hager. The project has been named Camryn Lanes, after his daughter.
The semis, one facing Burlington Ave. and four facing Caroline St., would be designed to look like single family homes, and architecturally would mirror historic homes in the area. The proposal would require a rezoning, as the area is zoned for single family homes only.
The city planner who attended the meeting, Rosalind Minaji, acknowledged that the project, if approved, would set a precedent for similar proposals down the road. It would become an example of semi-detached in the neighbourhood that future builders can point to if they want to undertake similar projects.
The proponent is suggesting that the proposal helps to meet the city’s need for intensification. When intensification was enshrined in the city’s Official Plan update in 2008, care was given to determine where intensification was appropriate and where it wasn’t. The downtown is an urban growth centre. However when the growth centre was established, two precincts were also established to specifically protect downtown neighbourhoods from intensification, including St. Luke’s Precinct. The boundaries of the precinct, and the urban growth centre, are on the map below.
The city’s Official Plan states that the need to intensify must be balanced with other considerations, including “compatibility and integration with existing residential neighbourhoods.”
The planning objective for St. Luke’s precinct outlined in the Official Plan (pg 73) is specifically to “preserve the stable residential and heritage character of these neighbourhoods, and to ensure that any re-development is compatible with the existing character of the neighbourhoods.”
The Official Plan permits detached homes in this precinct, to a maximum of 2.5 storeys. The zoning allows only detached homes.
A group of residents has formed the St. Luke’s neighbourhood association to advocate that existing zoning be respected in the area. You can learn more on their website sign up for updates, or leave a comment.
The concerns of residents aren’t with the design; most were quite complimentary of the upgrades Maurice done to other properties in the area. The concern is with the rezoning, and the precedent it would set for future developers to buy up land and turn that into semis also, or push the envelope even further to towns, back to back towns. Each step builds on another and soon the single family nature of the area could be lost entirely.
Zoning is critical in maintaining character, which was confirmed by several recent decisions by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The OMB recently ruled in favour of the city and the Roseland Community Association which opposed a lot severance in Roseland to create smaller lots than permitted in the zoning. The large lot pattern was considered integral to the neighbourhood character.
Similary, the OMB upheld Oakville’s zoning in a recent decision against Fernbrook homes for redevelopment of the Harvest Bible Chapel Property on Lakeshore Rd.. Fernbrook had initially proposed semi-detached homes for the site, and finally single detached homes on small lots with reduced side and front yard setbacks. The board said the plan was not appropriate for the site because it was not in keeping with the densities and homes that currently characterize the area — predominately single, detached homes on large lots.
The Camryn Lanes project is still at the concept stage. No formal applications have been made. Any rezoning application would take about 9 months to process, and include additional public meetings, culminating in a staff recommendation report to city council. The report would recommend either approval, denial, or approval with conditions. Council could choose to accept, reject or modify the staff recommendation. The council decision could be appealed by any party to the Ontario Municipal Board, which would render a final decision.
I support retaining the existing single-family zoning in St. Luke’s precinct, and have encouraged Mr. Desrochers publicly and privately to develop a single family redevelopment proposal for the assembled properties.
The St. Luke’s precinct zoning has already taken the need for intensification into account, as the precinct was established at the same time that the Official Plan was updated to designate the downtown as an urban growth centre. The Official Plan specifically carved out St. Luke’s as a pocket where single family redevelopment should be protected and encouraged, and directed intensification outside this area.
Any change to the zoning will threaten the long-term vision for the area as an oasis of single family homes in a sea of downtown intensification. Rezoning would set a precedent and encourage for future assemblies and conversions to semis or other non-detached forms of housing.
In planning, as in real estate, “location, location, location” is key in guiding intensification. The residents of Ghent Ave would have loved a semi-detached project of the type being proposed by Mr. Desrochers, instead of the standard and back-to-back townhomes that were recently approved through a rezoning.
On the Ghent project, as on some others, council agreed to the rezoning in part out of fear of winding up at the Ontario Municipal Board and incurring legal costs. However, as the Oakville and Roseland decisions indicate, if the city is prepared to defend its own Official Plan and zoning, we can win at the OMB.
Council needs to show leadership in defending the community’s vision for its neighbourhoods as outlined in the Official Plan and zoning. Our existing Official Plan has already taken into account where intensification should go to meet our provincial obligations, and where it shouldn’t.
The pattern of development emerging in Burlington seems to be whatever is allowed, the proposal is for the next highest level of intensification, or more. As council allows chipping away at our Official Plan and zoning, it chips away at the character of our neighbourhoods – in direct contravention of the Official Plan which says intensification must respect existing character. Over time that erodes council and the community’s ability to defend our plan and zoning at the OMB. In time that means the vision for the community isn’t defined by our own plans but by development proposals.
Your take: Do you support semis being introduced here or do you think it’s important to preserve the single family character of the precinct? Leave a comment below.