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New West to consider next steps for heritage projects in Queen’s Park

Project at 328 Second St. was the last to be considered before HRA review

The last of the heritage revitalization agreements that were in the works for the Queen’s Park neighbourhood before council paused applications last summer has been approved.

Last July, council voted to temporarily suspend heritage revitalization agreement (HRA) applications in the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area, excluding those that had been received by the city before the motion was approved. Council recently considered a heritage revitalization agreement for 328 Second St.

Britney Dack, the city’s senior heritage planner, said 328 Second St. was the final small-scale HRA application in the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area that council ‘in-streamed’ last July. At that time, she said there were four small-scale projects in the works, all of which have now been approved.

“Two other projects listed were at the ‘pre-application’ stage, and no further development applications have been received,” she said in an email to the Record. “Notably, the Holy Eucharist Cathedral redevelopment (501 Fourth Ave. and 408 Fifth St.) application is still in-progress. It’s not expected to be considered by council until the end of the year/early 2023. However, that site is exempted from the conservation area’s protection, and would not be covered by the scope of the HRA refresh (too large).”

In a five-to-two vote, council approved a motion by Mayor Jonathan Cote in July 2021 to temporarily suspend HRA applications in the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area.

At the time, Cote noted the city’s HRA policies and guidelines were developed before the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area was created in 2017, which makes it “challenging” for council to evaluate the benefits of supporting heritage revitalization agreements in Queen’s Park compared to neighbourhoods where that level of heritage protection doesn’t exist.

On the same night as the public hearing for 328 Second St., council received several memos outlining some of the challenges staff are facing with staffing and how departments are dealing with those issues, such as delaying work on certain initiatives.

A memo from the city’s climate action, planning and development department stated this year’s work plan will include work on “HRA refresh policy principles” – but the “HRA refresh policy/implementation” is being placed on hold. The Record contacted the city to see what that means for future HRA applications in the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area.

“Further discussion with council on this is anticipated; both related to the timing for resumption of the HRA refresh work/completion of the project, as well as whether to extend the suspension of HRA applications in the Queen’s Park conservation area,” Dack said. “We’re hoping to have this conversation with council over the summer or early in the fall.”

A heritage revitalization agreement is a form of long-term, legal protection of a home that’s negotiated between a property owner and the city. In exchange for retention of a heritage building and some restoration work, an HRA allows the city to supersede local zoning regulations and provide non-financial incentives that would make it viable for the applicant to conserve the property.

Project approved

An 1889 home will be restored and a new infill house will be built as part of a recently approved application in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood.

Following a one-hour public hearing on May 30, city council approved a heritage revitalization agreement for 328 Second St.

“The proposed heritage revitalization agreement would facilitate subdivision of the property into two lots. The existing 1889 house would be retained and remain in place on the smaller of the two lots, fronting Second Street. It would be restored and legally protected with a heritage designation bylaw,” said Hardev Gill, a planning technician with the city. “A new infill house would be built on the larger lot at the rear, which would have a panhandle connecting it to Second Street. The strip would provide shared vehicle access to the parking for both properties.”

According to a staff report, the heritage revitalization agreement would allow the 8,167-square-foot (759-square-metre) property to be divided into two lots – a 3,674-square-foot (341-square-metre) lot for the 1889 Hugh Henry and Jane Mackenzie House and a 4,488-square-foot (417-square-metre) lot for a new infill house. The existing house, which is two storeys and has an in-ground basement, is 2,669 square feet (248 square metres) and the new craftsman style house will be 2,235 square feet (207 square metres).

Applicant James Garbutt said he and his wife purchased the home in 2012 from her great uncle with plans to build their dream home on the property. But that plan changed when the city created the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area and the plan didn’t meet the city’s design guidelines.

“So, this is our Plan B – and by B, I think it’s better. I am excited about it,” he told council. “The heritage revitalization agreement that would bring it forward – I’d love to see this old home brought back to life and protected. I’d love to create an additional family home that blends well behind it, where the garage currently sits. I think the project is respectful of the trees, ties well into existing infrastructure, has minimal environmental impact and adds to streetscape of Second Street in Queen’s Park.”

Elana Zysblat, the applicant’s heritage consultant, said the existing house could be massively enlarged, according to the allowable square footage in the neighbourhood and in keeping with the heritage conservation area’s incentives, but a large, expensive house is not the best scenario for the homeowners or for affordability in the neighbourhood.

“Although allowable, doubling the house in size would change its historic character, scale and proportion, and detract from the harmonious streetscape. …  In this case, the ideal sustainable scenario is in the modest original scale of the house and the large size of the lot is to have two families reside on the property and for each of them to own and maintain their own building individually,” she said. “This brings a new family to the neighbourhood, taking advantage of existing infrastructure, and with no demolition or environmental deficits.”

Some concerns

During the one-hour public hearing, council heard from several neighbours who voiced concerns about issues such as lot splitting and increasing density in Queen’s Park, as well as parking concerns, the use of a subdivision to facilitate the project, the loss of greenspace on the property and the lack of yard space for the two homes.

“I have a big back yard that I use a lot and a beautiful garden,” said Leanne Hall. “I don’t want a big giant house towering over my whole yard, and neither does my neighbour.”

Emma Tones said more consideration should be given to residents living near the property, rather than those living elsewhere, as they’re most impacted.

“I do think that these projects are good when they benefit the community. I realize that there is some benefit to having the house revitalized or improved,” she said. “But I just wonder whether the benefit is to the street and to the neighbourhood, or if the benefit is really going to be on the person selling the home?”

New West resident Christa MacArthur supported the project, saying the density being proposed “is very reasonable” and fits into the Queen’s Park context. She said younger people or folks who aren’t winning the lottery shouldn’t be forced to move out of province to buy a home.

“We can’t forget we are in a housing crisis,” she said. “Young families are living in condos and moving far outside the city to areas without good walkability, without the services, because we are not building new homes for them or, if we are building, we are building condos or one-bedroom condos that are massively expensive. It’s kind of brutal. If we want communities, we need to allow for some change.”

Garbutt responded to concerns raised about the loss of trees and greenspace. He said the proposal has 22.4 per cent site coverage, so there’s a lot of greenspace on the site.

“In total there is 44 trees that affect the arborist report and this property,” he said. “And out of those 44 trees, we are removing one fig tree, a dead tree and a stump, and we are protecting everything else.”

In a six-to-one vote, council supported adoption of the heritage revitalization agreement and third reading of a heritage designation bylaw for 328 Second St.

Mayor Jonathan Cote said council has seen a lot of heritage revitalization agreements and has often heard concerns that they’re not doing a big restoration, but this is a really good example where a significant amount of work is needed and is being proposed to protect a heritage asset.

“I think, obviously, there is a community benefit to that in the heritage conservation area,” he said. “I am also comfortable with the creativity and the scale of density that is being proposed on this lot. I fully recognize that this is not the type of proposal that is really addressing the affordable housing crisis that we face here, but we do have to see the housing issues as a spectrum and we need to be providing housing options throughout the community. I think this adds a single small family home in a really wonderful, walkable neighbourhood in our community, and I think it will be a positive addition.”

Other council members also supported the application, voicing support for the size of project being proposed, the protection of a heritage asset, the preservation of trees on the site and the creation of housing.

“I am not concerned about the subdivision. I think that that makes sense in some cases; it does in this one, in my opinion,” said Coun. Mary Trentadue. “I also really support housing choice and diversity, and I think that this allows that on a lot on Queen’s Park where many people want to live, and it gives people an opportunity to live on the ground as opposed to in an apartment, if they choose. I think that it’s Important that we continue to support this type of diversity.”

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr was the lone council member to oppose the application, but only because it calls for the property to be subdivided. He said he has no issues with the proposal itself and thinks it does an “excellent job” of preserving greenspace and saving trees.

“The thing that I have an issue with and the reason I will not be supporting this is the subdivision aspect,” he said. “I believe that if this proponent were to build this as a carriage house/laneway house, whatever you want to call it, I think it would create a rental property, it would be under the same title. It would not be a separate lot for sale for profit, and it would provide long-term, and in my opinion, more affordable housing then putting it on the market for sale.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus