Woodstock PAC approves development despite pushback from neighbours

by | Jun 24, 2024

Project opponents express frustration after committee debates project behind closed doors

Residents of a dead-end Woodstock street question the process leading to the approval to construct a pair of multi-unit residential buildings in their neighbourhood.

Woodstock’s Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) asked opponents of the residential projects on Helen Street to leave the room as committee members debated the issue at a noon-hour PAC meeting on June 17 at Sam’s Room in the AYR Motor Centre.

The PAC allowed the residents to return to see the PAC vote to approve the variances required to enable the projects to proceed.

Woodstock MLA and Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Bill Hogan and his wife Heather, whose house is across the street from one of the proposed structures, attended the June 17 meeting with about a dozen Helen Street residents.

“I’m very disappointed in the process,” said Bill Hogan, who is familiar with the PAC process as a former member of the Woodstock council.

He and several Helen Street residents noted the unusual step the council took at a May 14 regular council meeting: unanimously moving a motion declaring it did not object to PAC approving the variances.

Hogan explained that it did not direct PAC decisions during his time on council.

For many Helen Street residents, the fact that one of the owners of the Keenan Martin development firm proposing the two townhouse projects is Woodstock Councillor Mike Martin further taints the process.

Helen Street resident Jamie Wishart, one of several residents attending the two PAC meetings dealing with the projects, raised the issue following the May 28 regular council meeting he attended.

The reduced setback for a proposed four-unit townhouse will bring it within 3.5 metres of the neighbouring house on Helen Street. (Jim Dumville photo)

“I feel as though they did it with purpose. It’s deceiving and they’re all friends with their councillor friend who is set to make money personally and is set to make money for the town,” Wishart told the River Valley Sun at that time.  

Coun. Martin recused himself from the May 14 council meeting during the debate on the PAC issue. His company already owns two 12-unit apartment buildings on Helen Street. On the subdivided property where the apartment buildings sit, the developer plans to construct one three-unit and one four-unit townhouse.

Most of the residents opposing the townhouses noted they had no problem with the development firm, noting they take good care of their existing properties on Helen Street. They don’t believe the proposed projects fit into the limited available space.

Frustrations mounted at the June 17 PAC meeting when Woodstock Planning and Development Director Andrew Garnett and PAC Chair Peter Kavanaugh denied the residents an opportunity to address the committee.

Garnett unsuccessfully tried to shut down comments and questions from the gallery, noting the public’s opportunity to speak took place at the PAC-hosted public forum on May 21.

While CAO Allan Walker filled in for Garnett, who was away because of a death in the family, at the May 21 public forum, Garnett attempted to address the residents’ questions at the June 17 meeting.

As he explained during his presentation to the council before its vote not to object to requested variances, Garnett provided background to the proposed Helen Street development.

Garnett explained under the new Municipal Plan that the properties in question are zoned R1, allowing one- and two-unit residences. He added that the plan also adds conditional use of R1 property for townhouses with up to six units.

The back of the proposed three-unit townhouse on Helen Street overlooks the Townsview School playground. (Jim Dumville photo)

Garnett said PAC could allow conditional use, noting the street is already home to two 12-unit apartment buildings and another four-unit townhouse complex,

Garnett also dismissed opponents’ concerns suggesting row houses must face the street, noting that requirement is no longer relevant under the updated Municipal Plan. He cited townhouse units on Jones Street as an example.

Garnett explained that PAC’s decision involved approving variances, which allowed the developer to reduce the front and back setbacks permitted under the municipal plan.

The PAC decision allowed the developer to reduce the front setback from 6 to 5.1 metres on the front of both buildings. It also grants variances, allowing the developer to reduce the back setback from 6 to 5.1 metres for the proposed structure at 108 Helen and from 6 to 3.5 metres at 115 Helen.

Helen Street resident Bob Stokes, who attended both PAC meetings in hopes of gaining clarification on several issues, cited the significantly reduced backyard setbacks as an intrusion on neighbour property owners.

During the May 21 public forum, he asked, “Are the proposed variances using the land safely and efficiently?”

As he offered River Valley Sun a tour of the proposed building sites on June 21, Stokes pointed to the proximity between the existing single-family home and the back of the proposed four-unit townhouse at 115 Helen Street.

He explained that the proposed building, of which no design has been shared yet, will sit a little over 10 feet away from its neighbour’s house. Stokes added that the proposed three-unit building at 108 Helen Street will border the Townsveiw School K-to-Grade 8 playground.

Stokes noted that the town hand-distributed notices of the public meeting, but no one answered whether Anglophone West School District or Townsview officials received the same notice.

Stokes raised these questions, among many others, at the public hearing. Garnett answered some at the June 17 meeting but not all. PAC and Garnett refused to answer follow-up questions at the second PAC meeting.

Stokes, Wishart, and several other residents raised safety concerns on Helen Street, which is already heavily travelled during school days. Parents drop children at the end of the dead-end street at the back of the school.

Wishart said the heavy morning traffic puts children and all residents at a safety risk. He said drivers rush up and down the street as they drop off their sons and daughters and then hurry away to get to work.

“You’re packing too many people into one small area,” Wishart said

Stokes said the need to reduce setbacks significantly confirms Wishart’s comment.

Stokes asked at the public meeting, “Does construction identify a border between adjacent properties so as not to impact the quality of life for adjacent property owners?”

All opponents criticized the town and PAC for their lack of transparency during the process. In addition to banning them from the PAC debate, Stokes and others complained about the lack of clarity from town officials about the process and bylaws.

Stokes cited difficulties finding details about the bylaws, Municipal Plan and PAC regulations on the town website.

When asked to leave the room during PAC’s deliberations about the variances, Heather Hogan questioned committee members’ motives.

“If you have to do it in secret, that is a problem,” she said

The PAC consists of Chair Peter Kavanaugh, Vice Chair Marlene Hassard, Garth McCrea, John Slipp, John Morrison, Kurt Young, Sarah Leech, and either Councillors Jeff Bradbury or Will Belyea as council representatives. Bradbury took part in the Helen Street vote.

PAC approved the variance, with PAC members Hassard and Leech opposing it.

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