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Council OKs bylaw changes to allow project

Morgan Ian Adams

COLLINGWOOD - Town council has approved changes to the downtown heritage district plan that will pave the way for a six-storey project at the corner of Hume and Hurontario.

Council voted unanimously in favour of amending the the district's bylaw, which would normally limit building height to a maximum of three stories.

According to municipal solicitor Leo Longo, the change means council can move ahead anytime on zoning and official plan amendments for Admiral Collingwood Place; council also approved changes to the heritage district bylaw that would permit the neighbouring four-storey Admiral Village to go ahead.

"We need to be flexible as a community when someone comes forward with an opportunity," said Councillor Keith Hull in a lengthy dissertation that kicked off debate on the two bylaw amendments. The people he associates with, said Hull, have "made it abundantly clear that we need to get on with it."

Council, he said, is not focused on more important issues such as a second ice surface, job creation, and affordable housing, "and we're not talking (about those issues) because of this one specific issue that continues to dominate."

In amending the district bylaw, council not only approved changes that allow for greater height and massing, use of different materials, and window treatment. There will also be revised objectives for the district that will apply to the Admiral Collingwood Place property, including a provision that the "design of a new building, or an addition, does not need to replicate historic design model to be compatible with the (heritage conservation district)."

"This is not a desire to turn our back on heritage," said Councillor Dale West. "We always have to remember our heritage, and add on for the future... it's time to put our stamp on the future of the community."

Councillor Ian Chadwick said he didn't believe the project would diminish other buildings within the heritage district, and he doubted whether people in five years would remember the debate.

"Council has to look at the big picture, and whether this will help the downtown be vital and strong," he said.

Even Councillor Joe Gardhouse, who had raised concerns over the last several weeks about the town's role as applicant for the zoning and official plan amendments, supported the bylaws. However, he also made it clear the town's heritage committee should not be demonized for asking council to respect the heritage district bylaw.

"There has been a lot of rhetoric that the committee has been holding up the development," said Gardhouse, who is also the council representative on the committee. "They are volunteers who believe in what the work they do."

He also emphasized that if the project ultimately doesn't get built, "it's not because of the actions of this council.

"Council has gone well beyond normal procedures (to move the project forward)," he said.

Longo also addressed the peer review of the project by heritage architect Wayne Morgan, hired by the town to assess the revisions that would be needed within the heritage district bylaw in order to allow Admiral Collingwood Place to go ahead; Morgan also advised against making the revisions, and in his report presented an opinion that the project was contradictory to the objectives of the district.

Morgan was also of the view that allowing the development ran counter to provincial and county planning policy.

However, noted Longo, Morgan's peer review is but one opinion that council needed to weigh in its decision-making, and ultimately take into consideration economic and social factors in determining whether allowing the project made for sound planning.

Hull said he was not surprised by the outcome of the peer review, noting it would be like asking a sports writer if Wayne Gretzky was a great player.

However, he added, if it came down to arguing whether Gretzky was the greatest player, that would come down to a matter of debate.

"The context changes... and I'm not sure the whole question was asked," he said. "We have to look at this from a greater perspective.

"It's important that we cherish what we have, but we have to embrace the opportunities."

Reached by email, project developer Steve Assaff said he was pleased by the decision.

"I am extremely pleased that it was a unanimous vote, as that sends a strong signal to the Ontario Municipal Board," stated Assaff.

However, he still anticipates council's decision will be challenged.

There is a 30-day window, following the official publication by the municipality that the bylaw has been passed, for an objection to be filed to the Ontario Municipal Board; it is expected that window will close around March 12.

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