City staff had to pull out more chairs to fill the lobby of City Hall for the most recent meeting of city council and many were still left standing in the back near the doors as the proceedings began.
Most of them were neighbours of a development happening behind the movie theatre in Merecroft Village who had came out to see if the builder would be granted a development permit – with a height variance.
The property is zoned to house a total of 302 housing units, which the developer, Broadstreet Properties, has planned to build in four phases. Phase 1 was the 70-unit apartment complex already completed at 525 Dogwood. Phase 2 is the 28 units of townhouses currently under construction. Phase 3 is to be another apartment complex in the form of an 80-unit tower that the developer wanted to make two stories taller than what is allowed under the zoning. What Phase 4 will look like is still an unknown, but it could be another 124 units of some kind.
One of the residents’ main concerns was that the new tower would negatively impact the views of the mountains of Strathcona Park to the west and that an additional two floors of apartments over and above what is currently allowed on the property would only increase that impact.
However, upon receiving the staff report containing concept images showing how various possible building types would look, council determined that a taller, skinnier building would be the least impactful of the possible future build-outs. Any building over three storeys would impact the views of the mountains, city staff said in its report, and a six-storey or eight-storey, 80-unit building would be much more obtrusive on sight lines than a 10-storey one (including two storeys of parking) with a smaller footprint on the ground.
Coun. Michele Babchuk seemed to sum up council’s feeling on the height issue, saying “I actually have no concerns about the height of the tower. I actually believe that to limit the footprint in there gives us the ability to be more walkable and be lit better so we’re not creating shadowy places for people to hide. My concerns surround the other issues, like servicing and access.”
Access and traffic issues were, in fact, the other main concern from neighbouring residents, as well, expressing concern about the impact an additional 80 units of apartments would have on an increasingly-congested area of Dogwood Street. While there are three pedestrian accesses incorporated into the property design, there is only one vehicle access, other than the emergency vehicle access being created to the property behind Merecroft Village.
Presently, traffic isn’t supposed to turn left into the complex when heading southbound on Dogwood Street and neighbours on surrounding residential streets are concerned that would mean people would detour through their neighbourhoods in order to approach the complex from the south. The city is currently undertaking a review of the entire Dogwood Street corridor, and consideration is being given to changing that situation, however.
“There was a recommendation from the traffic study that recommended the allowance of a left turn from Dogwood into the site…that would prevent residents from taking a left on Merecroft and skirting around local streets to access the development site,” says city development planning supervisor Andy Gaylor.
“I still have a very large concern about the density we’re putting in there and there being only one exit,” Babchuk says.
In the end, after about an hour of discussion, council awarded the variance, but has also requested that city staff bring back a report on options that could see the development process changed so that multi-phase projects like this would need to be fully outlined before approval of any phase, as they didn’t like approving one phase without being able to see the rest of the concept for full build-out.