At council Monday night there will be a final decision about the proposed apartment building to be constructed at 75 Dublin St. N. The process has been very controversial with the speed at which it's been done, the effect on the heritage landscape, and the placement immediately next to Central School all being considerations. Public reaction seems negative for the most part, but there are three groups in particular that might tip the balance against the development's approval.
Many of the primary concerns about the development have had to do with Central Public School. A group of parents released a video last week noting how the children will be affected by the placement and construction of the apartment building. On an official level through, the school board that runs Central School, the Upper Grand District School Board, got a lawyer.
In a letter dated November 24, A. Milliken Heisey of the firm of Papazian Heisey Myers wrote "Our client is of the opinion that both the proposed five storey development and the four storey alternative recommended by City Staff constitute an overbuilding of the site, with unacceptable massing and overlook, inadequate setbakcs and landscaping and unacceptable shadow impacts."
The UGDSB through their lawyer outlined a number of amendments that they'd like to see adopted for the Downtown Zoning by-law including a height limit for the property - including antennae - to be enshrined, a maximum floor space index, increased setbacks on all sides, and a prohibition on balconies and main room facings on the side that overlooks the school. It's hard to see 75 Dublin moving forward with any of those restrictions though.
The Guelph Wellington Social Justice Coalition, meanwhile, is skeptical of the developers dedication to creating affordable housing, and asked City Council in a press release to make sure that any money going to create new, cheaper housing for seniors actually go where it's needed. “The Coalition is concerned that the bulk of this public money may be benefitting the developer, rather than low-income seniors”, said Lin Grist, Council of Canadians Guelph Chapter representative. “Guelph City Council needs solid projections generated by City Hall to guide their decision-making.”
The Coalition did the math, and if the rent on a one-bedroom apartment is $708 for 2016, the monthly savings would come out to a little over $2,000 per year. Spread across the 20 affordable units being made available in the project, the savings amount to $42,480, or 1.4 per cent of the original $3 million grant. On top of that, the Coalition points out that the development will not be subject to rent control under the Residential Tenancies Act, and Annual Market Rents rise at a much higher rate then rent control increases.
"This situation raises red flags about what is happening with public money not just in Guelph, but across the Province,” said Coalition Chair George Kelly. "Citizens need to know that tax money destined for affordable housing is going to provide long-term solutions for those who need it most, not ending up as lucrative investments in private real estate portfolios."
Last, but not least, there's the heritage concern. Susan Ratcliffe of Heritage Guelph will make the point Monday that the construction of the five-storey building proposed at 75 Dublin St. N. will have a negative effect on Guelph's premiere tourist site, the Basilica of Our Lady and Catholic Hill. "An irreplaceable combination of highs and lows in landscapes and buildings that gives Guelph its truly unique character among Ontario towns," Ratcliffe writes to council. "We need to be careful stewards of these priceless treasures.
In her letter, Ratcliffe notes the pains that the City has taken, all the way back to John Galt himself, to protect the City's skyline and its priceless view of Catholic Hill and the Basilica. Radcliffe also points out the disparity of the Federal funds being offered to pay for affordable housing construction on a site where that construction will then negatively impact a National Historic Site. "The most prominent piece of vacant real estate in the whole city, it is adjacent not only to a National Historic Site (the Basilica) and an identified heritage resource (St. Agnes School and the rest of the Catholic Hill Ecclesiastical Campus), but also to a historic neighbourhood of listed and designated houses no higher than two storeys," Ratcliffe wrote.
And there's also the marketing aspect. Local tourism is directly connected to the Basilica and the view to, and from, Catholic Hill. Ratcliffe quotes University of Guelph emeritus professor of history Gilbert Stelter, who's research, in part, deals with Early Canadian town planning and architecture. "The main question faced by Guelphites and their City Council is: do the views of Catholic Hill matter?" Shelter said. "The views today from various angles represent Guelph’s chief branding as a community with real pride in its heritage. Anything that detracts from it weakens Guelph’s most important identifying symbol."
So what will happen when council votes on the matter Monday? Stay tuned...