Mountainview Homes project conforms to Plan, but now rejected twice
BY DON RICKERS and DAVE BURKET
Considering the changes and upheaval they can bring to formerly quiet communities, real estate developers are not often perceived as sympathetic characters. But with the way Pelham Town Council has handled the proposed Park Place South development, in East Fonthill, Mountainview Homes is rapidly coming to resemble a mugging victim.
To recap the pummeling thus far, at a regular council meeting on March 22, Councillors Lisa Haun, Ron Kore, Marianne Stewart, and Bob Hildebrandt supported the development, to be built along Summersides Boulevard near Station Street, but insisted on a design change to the layout of townhouses included within it. Their gripe was the interior units, which they believed were inappropriate for the project due to a perceived lack of windows and outdoor space.
These were also the most affordable homes within the development, and likely the most affordable among new construction coming to Pelham. The same townhouse design has been successfully implemented in other Niagara communities and beyond.
At the next regular council meeting, on April 6, in response Mountainview provided schematics and artist renderings of the units in question, which were discussed at some length. (Councillor Wayne Olson, who supports the proposal, earlier told the Voice that council had already received sufficient information the first time around, saying, “I knew what I was voting for [on March 22].”)
The developer characterized the internal units as specifically designed to offer a townhome lifestyle at affordable price points for first time buyers and downsizers. Further, all livable spaces in the three-story interior units had windows to allow sunlight. Each unit had two exits—through the front door and through the garage.
Councillor Haun conceded at this meeting that the design of the units was aesthetically pleasing, but still lacked outdoor space and amenities, and did not, in her personal view, meet an acceptable standard for affordability. However, she and Councillor Ron Kore both expressed a willingness to reconsider the proposal.
The matter was referred back to planning staff for a recommendation report for council’s consideration.
The development once again came before council last Monday, May 3, during their regular meeting. Contrary to expectations, and absent any discussion, the same four councillors once again voted down the development as proposed. [See related story.]
Ken Gonyou, Director of Land Development with Mountainview, told the Voice that, “Pelham council approved the subdivision, and they approved the zoning with the exception of the blocks in the central part of the plan. We submitted additional information back to council, and provided floor plans of the units. [Council] ended up maintaining their original position to reduce the number of back-to-back townhouse units from 40 to 20, along with additional setbacks and adjustments.”
So what happens next?
“We’re assessing the situation’s impact right now—but will have to wait until we receive the final statement from Pelham Council, or the Pelham Clerk or planner, which details precisely their adjustment to the approval. We don’t have it in writing yet,” said Gonyou.
Based on similar cases, Mountainview may have grounds for a damages award, if a judge agrees that Town Council acted in bad faith, going against the advice of the Town’s own staff, who approved the site plan as submitted.
“There are options for us to appeal [via LPAT, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal] but we haven’t given much thought to that yet,” said Gonyou. “We still want to see the written statement, because the actual terminology might be different from what people think.”
Gonyou underscored that Mountainview’s design complies with both provincial policy and the Town of Pelham’s official plan, and was supported by the Town’s planning staff.
“We had numerous meetings with planning and engineering staff at the Town, and we made numerous adjustments and redesigns of the plan.”
The Voice reached out for comment from all six councillors and Mayor Marvin Junkin. Councillors Hildebrandt, Stewart, Kore, and Haun did not acknowledge the request.
Mayor Junkin told the Voice that he was surprised by last Monday’s vote.
“At least two councillors had indicated at council’s April 6 meeting that they were prepared to vote favourably for this development, in light of the additional information that they had been given that night,” said Junkin. “Obviously staff was under the same impression, that being the reason why they brought this item forward again.”
After this latest setback, said the Mayor, “I would speculate that the developer won’t want to waste any further time, and will take his case to LPAT, where, because he has followed all the rules, he will win his case.”
In detailed remarks to the paper, Councillor John Wink argued that council’s original request to the developer to change the design was wrong on two counts.
“Firstly, the change to semis from townhouses brings the intensification target of the subdivision to 66 persons per gross hectare, which is below the medium-density target of approximately 70 persons per gross hectare,” said Wink. “The second reason is I believe as a councillor I should not let my personal biases enter into my decision.”
Wink noted that Mountainview did the research to determine that back-to-back townhouses were a reasonable option for the subdivision and that there would be demand for this type of housing. He also noted that there was no public opposition to the proposed design.
“When the staff report was presented [last Monday] to council to…approve the draft plan of subdivision, there was no discussion by council,” said Wink. “Procedurally, if a councillor is in opposition to a motion, we as councillors are to make comment as to the reasons why we oppose the motion. Hearing no opposition to the motion, I saw no need to make comment on the staff report. I was completely caught off guard by the vote of the council.”
Wink added that there may be “considerable legal costs incurred by the Town” if the original proposal is not approved, forcing an LPAT hearing and almost certain decision in favour of the developer.
Councillor Wayne Olson said he disagreed with the premise that there is anything wrong with the townhouses as designed.
“I voted in favour of an attractive, walkable, bikeable, shopable, sustainable, convenient and affordable housing alternative,” said Olson, referring to the development’s proximity to downtown Fonthill. “Our houses are the best available way to secure our financial future while we get on with living. Many older residents have told me that they want to sell their family homes, help their kids, and take up a low-maintenance lifestyle in the community that they grew up in.”
Olson argued that council’s time and that of Town staff was better spent in tweaking the development with the next decades in mind.
“It is my hope that we can get on with adding some important and practical measures to address climate change, such as solar- ready alternatives for a variety of uses, such as electric vehicle charging, and increased permeable surfaces to return storm runoff to the water table. Now is the time to work with the developer to add these valuable enhancements to the development.”
Over four decades, Mountainview has built neighbourhoods from Fort Erie to Grimsby, and west towards Kitchener-Waterloo. A company donation during the Town’s community centre fundraising netted them naming rights the facility’s upper lobby, including the servery and lounge—that is until council recently voted to change the name of the lounge as a tribute to the late Councillor Mike Ciolfi, a lobbying effort spearheaded by Councillor Lisa Haun.
UPDATE: Corrected on May 14, 2021 to reflect that Mountainview’s naming rights pertain to the MCC’s entire upper lobby, not just the servery and lounge found there.
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