New zoning approved for higher density housing

An application was brought back to Council for rezoning land between Waterloo and Bruce Streets north of Mary Rose Avenue (vacant land behind Holiday Express).

The recommendation laid out by senior planner Coreena Smith was to have the land rezoned from Residential Third Density (R3) to Residential Fourth Density (R4).  The rezoning would permit a maximum building height of six storeys (21metres) as opposed to the four storeys under an R3 designation and would enable the Lord Elgin Estates Summerside Division development of 330 rental units to more forward.  The proposed development will include three rental apartment buildings that vary in height between four and six storeys.


Conceptual design

The original R3 zoning allowed for apartments, multi-unit dwellings and townhouses and was approved in 2011 for townhouse development.  Since the original approval, demand for housing has changed considerably and intensification plans have evolved.  The applicant, therefore, has requested that the height be increased from 12 metres (4 storeys) to 21 metres (six storeys).  The existing R3 zoning allows a maximum density of 40 units per gross hectare while the R4 zoning permits 90 units per gross hectare for apartment buildings.

Throughout the community, a height of 20 metres is allowed on Goderich Street between the south town limit and concession 10 between Waterloo and Bricker Streets.  The proposed development however, is outside the permitted area and, therefore, the requested increase in building height.

The property itself abuts the existing single family homes at the west side of the property and residents have raised concerns that the increased height would mean that apartments would have a direct view into rear yards.  According to the planner, where a building is more than four storeys, there must be a set back of 13 metres or buildings can be tiered.  The proposed setbacks are a minimum but offer flexibility to allow shifting of the buildings through the site plan control process.

Many public concerns were raised with respect to the height and density of the proposed development and that the apartments were not in character with the surrounding neigbourhood, particularly adjacent to the new homes to the south. Other concerns centred around noise, privacy, lighting, shadowing and views.  The Official Plan directs that high density development be appropriately setback, landscaped and buffered from surrounding residential properties.

The increased densities, while allowing for “… efficient use of land, resources and lower material and building costs…”, is also anticipated to create lower housing costs.  Although the plan proposes 43 studio units, 195 one-bedroom units and 92 two-bedroom units, Council requested that three-bedroom units also be included to meet the current housing demands.

When it comes to affordability, policies set out by the County and local official plans, state. that housing should include 30 percent of affordable units up to the 60 percentile and that 30 per cent should be rental housing.  The applicant is to have further discussions with Town staff regarding “… potential incentives associated with affordable housing initiatives through the site plan approval process.”

The applicant has further described the proposed development as “a unique and innovate form of housing development based on modular design.” The modular units allow for an increased speed of on-site construction as the modular units are fabricated off-site and delivered to the property for installation and finishing.

Smith said that the County staff and Town staff feels the proposed development is appropriate and good land use planning and, therefore rezoning from R3 to R4 be approved.

Councilor Dave Myette said that the presentation seemed to be a ‘deja-vu’ from the previous meeting.  “I was hoping to see building three at the north end of the block as residents on Mary Rose said they are concerned with a six storey building looking down into their back yards. I am sympathetic to that (concerns).  It was said that during the site plan process the buildings may be reoriented but, if we approve this now, I would like to see some assurances that building three be located further back.  I know there are increased buffer zones but I am having hard time supporting the zoning change without assurances that we can move the building to the north end where it is parkland and wouldn’t have an effect on neighbouring residents, who weren’t aware when they purchased their properties that this would be in their backyards.”

“The intent of the rezoning is to set the envelope,” said the planner.  “This is where it’s decided on whether the buildings need to be set back, if a certain amount of landscaping is provided, the height is decided and there is flexibility for further discussions at the site plan control stage.”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau said that Council will have the opportunity to discuss all the issues, such as design, at the site plan control stage.

Councillor Cheryl Grace asked for assurance that the site plan control would come to Council.  Jay Pausner,          , said that the site plan first stage of the proposed development will come to Council.  “I am glad to hear that,” said Grace.  “With the linear park to the north it would make sense to move building three to that north end.”

She also asked what percentage of the 330 units would be in the affordability range.  Pausner said that there had only been one conversation with the developer and that the town staff had expressed the affordability and accessibility requirements and that development charges relief was in place to encourage that and also that larger units would be required. “We are excited to get into discussions about affordability, site plan and how other requirements might get integrated into the agreement.  If they want the development charge relief,  then they will have to assure the units are rentals.”

Grace also asked about the modular aspect of the building.  She has been researching the concept and an engineer said that they should actually be better as they are not constructed open to the elements.

Councillor John Divinski asked if there are currently any six storey buildings in Saugeen Shores and Pausner confirmed that there are not. “There are no buildings taller than the Southampton Town hall clock structure.”  “Therefore,” said Divinski, “this could become precedent setting.”

Pausner explained that in July of 2021, zoning had been passed to allow up to 20 metres (six storeys) between Waterloo and Bricker Streets to encourage higher density in locations that would make sense to the community.  “If this is approved tonight, the six storeys is locked in for this site.”

“I agree with Councillor Myette and I think this whole outlay can be ‘re-jigged’ so that building is on the north side and those (residents) on Mary Rose will have lots of greenery and buffer between them and the apartment buildings,” said Divinski. “I think the site plan should have some ‘bite’ here and that if the majority of Council is saying that’s what we want, then that’s what we should get rather than just talk the talk.”

Divinski also said that he was pleased that the plan had come back to Council within one week.  “I hope this is a sign of

Mayor Luke Charbonneau said that the reasoning behind the quick turn-around was that it represents a more attainable, higher density development and Saugeen Shores is going to prioritize these kinds of developments above all else.  These kinds of developments will move more quickly through the planning process. I also want to be very clear on the zoning By-law and site plan process.  There is ‘bite’.  If Council members see something come forward in the site plan that they don’t like, then they won’t vote for it and it won’t pass. These conceptual drawings that we get can get us off track in the zoning discussions.  We are not approving the layout of the site or the look of the buildings.  We are talking about the height, the set backs and the planting strip.  Where the buildings are on the site is not part of the zoning By-law decision.  When it comes back to Council at the site plan process, if we like what we see we’ll pass it and if we don’t, we won’t.”

Vice Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt said that what it comes down to is rezoning from R3 to R4 for 330 units in a community with a zero percent vacancy rate.  “I think this would go a long way to adding housing stock on the rental side of things. There are 300 families on the Bruce County wait-list for housing.  We have a dire situation here and I support high-density housing. It’s not popular for all but, for me, it’s the right thing to do to address a dire housing situation.   The Housing Task Force spoke to the need for housing diversity and those recommendations were discussed by Council and we are aware of the need for rental housing in Saugeen Shores.  There are dozens who need rental housing not just those on the wait-list.”

At R3, there would be capability for 180 units compared to R4 with 330 units.  “We have a builder who is willing to invest millions of dollars in this development and I think it’s a good thing for our community,” added Myatt.  “We have listened to the concerns and, if they are not met, we have the right to turn it down.”

Deputy Mayor Don Matheson agreed saying that he expected the developers “… will do what is required working with Town and County staff including the proposed setback, reallocation and re-alignment.  When that comes back, I think Council will have a better idea but we need to move forward with this … it’s 330 rental units that we do not have and sorely need.”

“As a Council we have aligned affordable attainable housing as one of our highest priorities,” said Councillor Smith, “and this is due to the incredible work by the Attainable Housing Task Force.  By providing this level of density, we are not only meeting our targets for managing appropriate growth, as we are the fastest growing community in Bruce County, and we need to provide housing for those who are joining our community. We also talk about the rising cost of living and everyone here can talk about supply and demand.  We acknowledge that demand will continue to grow for the next little while and by increasing the supply hopefully we can drive down some of those costs and meet some of those deliverables that this Committee has put together.”

“Concerns raised by residents do have to be addressed when it comes to site plan approval,” said Mayor Charbonneau, “and perhaps reorient some buildings with height away from the residences and we’ll have to be careful about things like lighting and amenities.  Council does expect to see some of those things addressed in the site plan.”

He pointed out that changes to zoning have been made, including merging zones R1 and R2 across the municipality to increase density and address the housing crisis.  “This particular piece of property is moving up a step from R3 to R4.  We originally zoned this property at R3 more than ten years ago and, having been on Council at that time, I can tell you that housing needs then are not what they are today.  R3 in 2011 for townhomes looked like a lot of density, but not today.  Today we need apartment buildings and rental units … hundreds of them and we need them now.  This is why this is advancing quickly and needs to get done.  We will be sensitive to the concerns of residents but we also have to be sensitive to those who are in desperate need of housing and those we want to have live here, and for whom we are going to relentlessly going to find housing for.”

After much debate, Council unanimously approved the recommendation to move from R3 to R4 zoning.