A ‘minor variance’ approved by the City of Peterborough for Ashburnham Realty’s East City residential-commercial development is anything but minor for concerned neighbouring residents.
Meeting last Tuesday (September 19), the city’s committee of adjustment approved Lett Architects’ application for a change to the footprint of the Ashburnham Realty development that fronts Hunter Street East adjacent to Rotary Greenway Trail.
The modification will now see three buildings constructed at the site — instead of the four as originally revealed publicly back as 2019 — with the third building rising to six storeys as opposed to the three storeys originally approved.
Ashburnham Realty owner Paul Bennett says “one big and long building” originally planned has been scrapped entirely, with the resulting loss of residential units made up by adding three storeys to the already approved building. While the address of the still-do-be-developed property is 367 Rogers Street, the actual six-storey building will be built facing the Rotary Greenway Trail just north of Robinson Street, with the remainder of the property being used for a laneway and parking.
“There’s no change in the number of units,” says Bennett, which he says will number about 100 for all three buildings. “At the committee of adjustment meeting, there was a lot of worry about extra traffic and where all the people are going to park, but the unit count is staying the same. There were also a lot of traffic concerns, but that was addressed as part of the rezoning (process). A whole new Robinson Street is coming as part of that.”
At present, the first phase of the development, a six-storey building at 127 Hunter Street West known as The Railyard, is complete. It features 40 one and two-bedroom apartments, with the ground floor tenants being a café and Grant Thornton LLP.
Meanwhile, construction of a five-storey building at 109 Hunter Street East to the west of Rotary Greenway Trail continues. It too will have ground floor commercial space with 12 apartments on the floors above.
Bennett says construction of the third building, which will be all residential, is planned to begin by spring 2024, with all three buildings forecasted for full occupancy come late 2024 or early 2025.
Among those at the committee of adjustment meeting was East City resident Sharyn Inward, who lives across from the site of the proposed six-storey building.
On her Facebook page prior to the meeting, Inward posted the revised site plan that was subsequently presented to the committee and explained that those who plan to speak against the change must register in advance.
“I’m more concerned now than I was,” said Inward after the committee meeting, which she attended. “They just rubber-stamped it (the variance). There was some discussion. They pretended they were grateful that people made submissions, and then they just ignored them.”
“Traffic, aesthetics, parking — those are the concerns. I didn’t complain about the six-storey building on Hunter Street because I thought it fit in there, but now they’re building six-storey buildings on residential streets. Is that what’s coming soon to every vacant lot in Peterborough?”
The numerous comments related to her Facebook post were mixed.
“Everyone wants more housing until someone starts building it,” noted one, while another wrote “Happy to see East City growing and developing.”
Another wrote “B.A.N.A.N.A. … Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody.”
But differing views were equally represented.
“There’s ways to build and ways not to,” wrote one person. “Making ugly, view restricting accommodations will only hurt mental health and the architectural beauty of areas with new development.”
“Seems all these buildings are all going up in East City … the streets are already narrow in this neighborhood,” wrote another. “I’m wondering why we aren’t seeing any built in the west end.”
For his part, Bennett, an East City native who owns and manages several Peterborough properties, takes criticism of his development in stride, with one exception.
“If you’re going to go on social media and say bad things about anyone, have the decency to talk to them in person,” he says, noting he personally reached out to all who commented. “Hiding behind social media isn’t a great way to move our world forward.”
“Anything any of us does going forward has to be done as a community. I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything we do, but I would hope that everyone agrees that, as a community, we have to do something. We’re doing our part to create some apartments in East City.”
“We worked with neighbours from the start on landscaping, fencing, and all that kind of stuff. None of them were concerned at all. Any kind of construction is not fun but, for the most part, people have been incredibly positive about the impact it’ll have on East City.”
In answer to Facebook-posted criticisms these new apartment units will do nothing to address Peterborough’s available housing void, Bennett notes 30 of the 40 units have been sold to people who sold their homes, which “freed up 30 houses for younger families to purchase.”
Bennett adds there’s a bigger issue at hand that should cause more concern than his development.
“Due to interest rates and building costs, there aren’t a lot of apartments on the horizon,” he says. “There’s a real need in Peterborough as a whole for the community to band together to find solutions to get more apartments built. Some people talk about affordable housing, and we’re trying to address that in other projects, but the economics of building right now is a huge, huge problem.”
Speaking to the concerns of some residents about a six-storey building in a residential neighbourhood, Bennett pointed out that’s the way of the future.
“Long gone are the days that any builder will build a two or three-storey building. It’s never going to happen again. The option is we get some intensification and go up or we won’t get any buildings.”
Ahead, says Bennett, is gaining site plan approval for the development as modified.
“The city is part of the whole planning process,” Bennett points out. “It’s not done without significant professional input. There are a lot of hands involved, ensuring the buildings fit into the area and are something that will be timeless and cool.”
Bennett’s assurances do little to placate Inward.
“There should be parameters of what’s allowed to go through that committee (of adjustment) and what’s not,” she argues. “When I read ‘minor variance’, I thought ‘Oh, someone is going to build a garage six inches closer to their lot line.’ I was flabbergasted when I saw that a building could be (approved for) twice the size through that process. How is a 100 per cent change a minor variance?”