OLT Approves 361 Whitelaw Development Despite Council’s Objection

Buried once by a proposal for a 21-storey tower downtown, and then buried again by the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a proposed development for 361 Whitelaw Road is back on the front page, and the Ontario Land Tribunal has said it can go ahead. Nearly two years after council had put the kibosh on the proposed zoning bylaw amendment, the OLT has raised the planning dead for nearly 700 new units in the west end.

The Tribunal has considered all information that the Parties have provided and is
satisfied that the scale and built form proposed by the Appellant on the Subject Lands
are appropriate for the area and compatible with the existing and evolving context of the
area,” said adjudicators Mario Russo and Steven Cooke in their decision report.

The Tribunal is satisfied that all issues provided in the Procedural Order for this
hearing have been addressed and the evidence provided supports the approval of the
Proposal.

This is technical-speak for saying that the OLT is overriding the original council decision to refuse the new development and accompanying rezoning, and they’re ordering the City of Guelph to approve it. According to Russo and Cooke, based on all the testimony they heard and the evidence they saw, the proposal brought to the City of Guelph was consistent with the growth plan, the Official Plan, and the Provincial Policy Statement, and it also represents “good landuse planning in the public interest

To recap, a proposal to develop 361 Whitelaw Road, which is west of Elmira Road South off Paisley, came to council in July 2019 for a zoning bylaw amendment that would allow for the construction of four apartment buildings at eight or nine storeys in height, plus two additional six-storey apartment buildings along with stacked, back-to-back townhouses for a total of 700 units.

In February 2020, staff came back with a recommendation to approve the development at 678 units, but council had a number of concerns about parking at the development and increased traffic in the area. The application ended up being rejected by council in a vote of 3-8, but there was almost immediately an effort by a couple of councillors to get the matter reconsidered.

“I believe that council made the wrong decision without a strong enough planning rationale to make the decision it made,” Ward 6 Councillor Mark MacKinnon told Guelph Politico in March 2020. “Whenever an application comes forward for Ward 6, it’s almost always going to get approved, where if it’s a different part of the city, it might not.”

MacKinnon’s point was that there are many high-rise, high density developments along the Gordon Street corridor that seem to sail through the planning process when compared to this development in Guelph’s west end.

“What we approved on Gordon Street was super-dense, super-tall, and on a smaller property, and yet we’re not approving the one on Whitelaw, which is much bigger with embedded parkland. It’s not as dense, but it doesn’t measure up to what we had approved on Gordon Street,” MacKinnon added.

A Notice of Motion was schedule for the March 30, 2020 regular meeting of city council to reconsider the vote, but then the pandemic hit and all but emergency measures took a back seat for several weeks. By May, the developer, Armel, had taken the City to the Ontario Land Tribunal and the rest, as they say, was history.

Council’s big concern about traffic was directly addressed in the decision with the Tribunal saying that they were satisfied traffic will still be able to proceed safely through the intersection at Paisley and Whitelaw. “Although improvements will benefit the current situation, the Tribunal also concurs that the site plan stage can address any technical concerns,” the report said. “Further, the Tribunal is satisfied that the inclusion of a Holding provision included prior to any development to satisfy outstanding concerns, further eliminates any uncertainty and the need to demonstrate compliance at this time.”

The report also found that, “walkability as well as public and active transportation already in place and proposed are sufficient.”

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