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Council hits brakes on 'incompatible' Orchard Point development

Approval of zoning amendments deferred at public meeting; 'It does not fit into what’s out there now,' says councillor

Greg McGrath-Goudie

Dec 15, 2023 2:30 PM

A rendering of the proposed development, as viewed from Lake Simcoe.

City council has deferred zoning bylaw amendments for a controversial eight-storey development near Orchard Point following strong opposition from the community.

Dozens of residents attended Thursday’s public meeting on the developer’s zoning requests, raising a lengthy list of concerns about its potential environmental effects with regard to tree removal and stormwater runoff, incompatibility with the lower-rise neighbourhood, effects on traffic in the busy area, and more.

With widespread opposition over the past couple of years, one resident addressed accusations of NIMBYism regarding the project.

“We’re not asking for change; the developer is,” said resident Lance Anderson. “We agree with the current zoning regulations; they should be maintained. That is hardly NIMBYism.”

Situated on properties spanning between Atherley and Driftwood roads on Orchard Point, developers proposed an L-shaped, 45-unit condominium development starting at four storeys near Driftwood Road, and climbing to eight storeys along Atherley Road.

Plans for 95 parking spaces, direct access to Atherley Road (as well as access to Driftwood Road), a 30-metre setback from Lake Simcoe, and more were proposed for the development in an area that has seen plenty of construction and intensification in recent years.

Coland Developments Corporation, represented by WSP Canada, sought zoning amendments to permit an eight-storey structure where four is currently allowed, to permit a parking lot adjacent to Lake Simcoe, and to permit a reduced interior side-yard setback of 2.6 metres from a slightly raised underground parking facility.

“An eight-storey building is obviously too big for this location. That is why they’re asking for variances and site accommodations as well as rezoning. It just doesn’t fit,” Anderson said. “This development is disruptive and incompatible with this neighbourhood.”

A number of residents raised concerns about the level of intensification the neighbourhood has undergone, with hundreds of units added across a variety of developments. One resident argued the design and size of the building befit a resort setting more than Orchard Point.

“If any of you have been in Cancun, you’re at the beach and you look at that building over there, and it’s eight storeys and it’s all glass and it looks like a resort, right? Because that’s where it should be,” said a resident.

Other residents said the project is disrespectful to the neighbourhood and would set a bad precedent.

“This property purposely allows for a maximum of (four) storeys. This development is asking to double this by considering this proposal for approval. You are demonstrating a lack of respect for this neighbourhood,” said resident Kathy Hunt. “Approval of this project will also set a precedent for future construction in the area, which may also be completely incompatible with the neighbourhood.”

Others, still, called for the preservation of as many trees as possible on the site — with dozens slated for removal — and raised concerns about traffic safety in the area as the neighbourhood awaits long-anticipated traffic lights at the intersection with Atherley Road.

Natalie Boodram, WSP planner, argued the city’s Official Plan, which designates the land as an intensification area, supersedes the site-specific zoning restrictions in place.

“It’s above the zoning bylaw, and the zoning bylaw is required to conform with the Official Plan, not the other way around,” she said. “The permissions that we are applying for through the zoning bylaw amendment is to be consistent with the Official Plan, (which) allows eight storeys as the maximum height.”

Ali Chapple, a senior planner with the city, also stated the subject land is within a designated intensification area and is not set to be included in the “down designation” planned for Orchard Point.

“These lands were already up-zoned for increased density more than 25 years ago, which was prior to the designating of Orchard Point (as an intensification area),” she said. “As such, the planning division has not included these lands in that review or that proposed removal.”

A majority of council members shared concerns about the project and voted to defer approval of the zoning bylaw amendments, requesting the developer reconsider a lower building height and density, and consider limiting vehicular access to solely emergency or service vehicles along Driftwood Road.

Another public meeting will be held at a later date.

“It’s not compatible. It does not fit into what’s out there now, and there’s going to be a building across the road and it’s only going to be three storeys,” said Coun. Tim Lauer. “The density, the number of people that we’re going to put on that piece of property and expect that neighborhood to absorb, I will not be supporting this.”

“I’m not a fan. I think we’ve done very well by intensification at Orchard Point ... I know a traffic light will help with traffic, but it’s not going to solve it. There’s a significant volume of traffic there, and this will add more,” said Mayor Don McIsaac. “I would encourage four to six storeys.”

Not all members of council agreed, however, citing concerns about developers appealing the decision.

Given the length of time the application has been in place, city staff said the developers will have a right to appeal council’s deferral.

“This application has been on the books for quite a period of time, so it’s already into a time frame where the developer has a right to appeal a non-decision,” said Ian Sugden, general manager of development services and engineering. “A deferral will just cement the opportunity for an appeal based on a non-decision.”

Coun. David Campbell, despite expressing sympathy with residents’ concerns, argued there is not a strong enough planning case to reject the zoning amendments.

“I’ve literally woken up in the middle of the night thinking about it. I know what I’m saying isn’t popular. That’s putting it mildly. But in the end, if we, as a council, oppose this without what I will call legal planning grounds, the developer will most likely appeal it,” he said.

“That appeal would most likely be successful, and what it would do in the end is cost the taxpayers of Orillia money in fees and possible penalties.”



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