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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Meaford's Sykes Street Development - the facts

Following is a letter sent to the Municipality in advance of the Public Meeting on Feb. 2 regarding an application to amend the Official Plan to permit additional height for a development on #35-47 Sykes St:

The interest in development on Sykes Street is exciting news. It validates what we all know – Meaford is a great place with a lot of economic potential – and it's gratifying to have that recognized.

At the same time, we acknowledge and stand behind the decade-plus worth of time, energy, and careful consideration Council, municipal staff, and volunteers from the community have put into developing sound plans for sustainable economic growth. These plans recognize the importance of our well-preserved and authentic heritage street-scape, and include specific recommendations and controls to preserve it:

Meaford's Economic Development Strategy (2010) recognizes the economic importance and value of downtown heritage architecture.

Meaford's Community Improvement Plan (updated December 2011) recommended the height limits later adopted in the Official Plan.

Meaford's Official Plan (amended May 2014) limits building height to 11 metres and three storeys (with a maximum of four considered, if stepped back or beneath a sloped roof.) Even under bonus zoning provisions, in which the developer provides additional public benefits in exchange for increased height, the maximum is set at 15.5 metres.

Meaford's Heritage Conservation District has been created under the direction of Council. The process, which took two years and considerable expense, affirms the economic importance and value of authentic downtown heritage architecture.

So what are we considering?

The proposed zoning By-law amendment would increase the maximum building height permitted by 6 metres (19.7 feet). This is 54.5 % (more than half again) higher than the current allowable height.

It's also 1.5 metres (5 feet) higher than the maximum considered in the Official Plan under bonus zoning provisions.

The proposed development also implicitly requires the demolition of four existing buildings.

Neither of these things should be considered lightly. We need to very carefully review the details of what's being proposed.

The elevation provided by the architect approximates a height of 15.4 metres. But the proposal asks for 17 metres (approximated below:)

Obviously, standing beneath the buildings or looking down the street would reveal a very different perspective at 17 metres (approximated below:)

While height increases to the rear might be accommodated, a façade of this height is precisely what all of the planning documents above seek to discourage or prohibit.

Furthermore, demolition of a significant percentage of our downtown core to accommodate this development is at cross-purposes to this community’s vision.

There are other options. A height increase up to the maximum provided for in the bonus provision to the rear, with a reasonable setback might be considered "in return for the provision of facilities, services or matters of public benefit as are set out in the by-law", as the Official Plan has it. Two potential matters of public benefit suggested in the plan are:

ACO Meaford agrees with the developer’s architect, Wes Surdyka: “Units [bricks] should be restored to the original condition to have proper appearance.” We would like to see the developer save the original façades, and build a modern building behind them.

This new development could be a great thing for Meaford. But before we rush to discard a significant investment of time and money in careful planning, and rip out an irreplaceable part of our very rare street-scape, we need to consider how we can combine development with efforts to maintain the integrity of our downtown. Let's not do something we'll regret later; instead, let's consider how we can encourage a heritage development success story.

Truth in advertising

Stedman's is approximately 12 metres high. In this rendering from the developer, the new building is purported to be 15.5 metres high, though appears to be much less. The actual proposed amendment to the Official Plan would allow for 17 metres.

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