Durand residents oppose 17-floor condo complex

Some Durand residents are upset that a planned 17-storey condo tower was not what was promised.

Developer says original four-storey plan is not feasible

Some Durand residents are upset that a planned 17-storey condo tower is not what was promised.

Worried residents of the historic downtown neighbourhood packed a room at Ryerson Recreation Centre last week to hear more about the third phase of a development from New Horizon Development Group between Charlton Avenue West and Robinson Street.

Members of the Durand Neighbourhood Association say that a 1996 agreement between the association, the city and a previous owner of the property calls for a row of four-storey townhouses on the property. The association also says that it actively promoted slightly increasing the size of the other two towers to accommodate New Horizon. Now it feels hoodwinked.

"Our position is that enough is enough, and it was supposed to be four stories," said Janice Brown, association president. "I'm dumbfounded, to tell you the truth."

New Horizon Development Group held the public meeting last week in response to the questions from neighbours about the downtown complex, which is known as City Square. The project is the last of a three-building development worth about $70 million.

The first tower, located at 90 Charlton St. W., is nine floors and 76 units. The second, located at 85 Robinson St., will be 11 stories and 99 units, said Jeff Paikin, president of New Horizon Development Group. That project is at least 14 months away from completion.

"We're not NIMBY in this neighbourhood," resident  says

The property has changed hands several times since the original site plan agreement, Paikin said. And New Horizon has informed Durand residents that four stories isn't feasible.

"One thing we repeatedly told members of the Durand Neighbourhood Association is that building a four-storey building that close to the roadway and the sidewalks was financially impossible," he said.

In a letter to city staff on May 8, Brown writes that the 17-year-old settlement is binding on all subsequent owners. And despite a session of slides, questions and comments from the audience, she's less clear than ever about why the building is 17 stories.

"We're not NIMBY in this neighbourhood," she said. "We do not oppose development. But you need balance and we truly, truly believed we had a great site plan in place that made sense with the built environment."

New Horizon must apply to have the property rezoned before it proceeds with the building. In the letter to the city, the association implores councillors to deny it.

Coun. Jason Farr, who attended the New Horizon meeting, says he's talking to residents.

"I'm concerned if a large majority of residents are concerned," he said. "That's certainly where I'm at right now."

Farr is happy with the first phase of the development, which "looks fantastic," he said.

He was "a little" surprised when he heard that the plan was 17 stories. But he also attended a recent community meeting where Paikin said four stories wasn't economically feasible, he said.

"It doesn't have to be a massive, ugly protest," Farr said. "I think Mr. Paikin has the ability to be very diplomatic. I think here's a guy who rented a big room and said to the entire community 'Here are the plans.'"

Farr said his vote on rezoning would also depend on what city staff, such as its planners and traffic engineers, advise.

"I've learned from past experience that it's best to just gather as much information as possible and let both sides have a conversation."

Paikin is a lifelong resident of Hamilton, and his parents live in the neighbourhood. He believes the project is a boon for downtown, and promotes appropriate urban intensification.

He said he's interested in reaching an agreement with the residents.

"The simple answer is that we're listening to every concern," he said. "Some of them we can do something with and some of them are just a necessary evil to the process."

"We're not intentionally doing anything underhanded. In fact, it's quite the opposite."

About 80 residents attended the meeting.