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Two heritage deals will add 'gentle density' to Queen's Park: New West council

Heritage revitalization agreements pave the way for a laneway house on St. George Street and a subdivision on Fifth Avenue
Heritage4
A heritage revitalization agreement approved this week paves the way for a laneway house at this St. George Street property.

A new laneway house and a new house on a subdivided lot will be built in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood after city council approved two heritage revitalization agreements on Monday night (Nov. 22).

First up on Monday night’s public hearing agenda was a heritage revitalization agreement that would allow a one-storey laneway house to be built at the rear of 515 St. George St., in exchange for preservation of the existing 1912 house. The laneway house would be a rental, and the property would not be stratified or subdivided.

Janet Zazubek, a development planner with the city, said the applicant made a fair number of revisions to the project’s design in response to community feedback, such as lowering the laneway home’s height, reducing its floor area by more than 100 square feet and creating a fully accessible building.

Gail North, president of the Queen’s Park Residents’ Association, expressed concern about the loss of green space and the lack of a heritage win in exchange for a heritage revitalization agreement (HRA).

“I think with an HRA there needs to be a win-win situation,” she said. “I don’t see a heritage win here. I do see a huge win for the homeowner because they will get a lot of extra space at the expense of the green space.”

David Brett, a former president of the residents’ association, supported the application. He said the heritage win is that the home will be designated as a heritage building, which is significant because it provides a greater level of protection of the heritage home.

“The win is not massive, but it’s reasonable,” he said. 

Laneway house is 'petite'

Council approved the application, saying it offers “gentle density” in the neighbourhood and provides housing where people can live instead of a garage on the property.  

 “I do think that this is extremely gentle density,” said Coun. Nadine Nakagawa. “This is a one-storey laneway. It strikes me as a rather petite laneway, actually, being around 900 square feet.”

Coun. Mary Trentadue said the proposal may not be perfect, but it achieves what was hoped with the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area, in that it’s preserving an older home and providing gentle density in the neighbourhood.

“I consider a laneway home a community benefit … I do think it is a community benefit to have family be able to live close together, provide support and care for each other,” she said. “The fact that unit has been addressed to be fully accessible ... is incredibly important and is not done very often.”

Fifth Avenue subdivision draws mixed reactions

The evening’s second public hearing dealt with a heritage revitalization agreement for 208 Fifth Ave., where the owners proposed subdividing the property into two lots, moving the existing 1910 house forward onto the smaller 4,000-square-foot lot facing Fifth Avenue and building a new house on the larger 4,711-square-foot lot facing Elgin Street.

Gillian Jamieson said she and her husband have been working with the city on the project for more than three years and have made “many many changes” in response to feedback, requests and requirement from the city and community members. 

“Some of the changes were moving the heritage house even further away from our neighbour’s large cedar tree. We reduced house sizes. We reduced the massing, removed the heritage house carport, installed the secondary suite in the heritage house, retained all heritage windows. We even changed the name of our house following public consultation,” she said. “I’m just highlighting that, throughout this process, we listened and made the changes.”

At Monday’s public hearing, council heard from people who support the project for a variety of reasons, including the provision of infill housing, the retention of the heritage house and the applicants’ efforts to address community concerns. 

“The new design is respectful of the neighbourhood and in is in keeping with the large number of small lots adjacent to and in the vicinity of 208 Fifth Ave.,” said neighbour Steve Azyan. 

Council also heard from some Queen’s Park residents who oppose the project, citing concerns about the loss of green space on the property, the creation of an “awkward” streetscape and the project’s potential impact on the stability of a large tree near the property line. Several people expressed concern that the application would allow the owners to subdivide the property and build a new house on the new lot in exchange for protecting a house that already has some protections under the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area.

“This HRA involves lot splitting. If this continues to be allowed, it sets a very disturbing precedent for our neighbourhood,” said Cathy McFarland. “There are obvious financial gains for applicants to split their lot, but the neighbourhood as a whole will suffer. The green space that is a defining feature of this heritage conservation area will, one HRA after another, start to disappear.”

Council members approved the application, saying it results in the preservation of a heritage home and provides “gentle density” in the neighbourhood. They’re confident staff will address concerns raised about the tree.

Coun. Patrick Johnstone pointed out that the owners are building “significantly less” square footage on the site than they’re entitled to build under its existing zoning.

Heritage conservation area changes the picture

During the development of the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area, some residents raised concerns about opportunities for small homes on very large lots like this one, said  Mayor Jonathan Cote. In this case, he said he’s not convinced that an addition to the existing house and construction of a laneway house, which could be done, would be better than the current proposal.

In June, council approved a motion to temporarily suspend heritage revitalization agreement (HRA) applications in the Queen’s Park heritage conservation area, excluding those that had already been received by the city. 

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

Britney Dack, the city’s senior heritage planner, said council has yet to consider two more heritage revitalization agreement applications that were in process when council suspended new applications.

“We have two small-scale heritage revitalization agreement applications in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood that are still to be considered by council,” she said. “The expectation is that they will be coming forward quite shortly. … We do expect both of those to wrap up probably this winter or the spring.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus
Email tmcmanus@newwestrecord.ca