By Mike Williscraft
Gabe DeSantis said he was listening to the citizens of Grimsby and now he is set to deliver on that declaration by delivering a downtown condo design with Official Plan guidelines.
During an open house on DeSantis’s proposed eight-storey Century Condos project planned for the old Roxy Theatre site on Main Street East, many members of the public and all members of the Town’s Planning Committee noted their opposition to the initial design.
The message delivered to DeSantis and his team was consistent with that voiced repeatedly at an open house he hosted himself earlier in the month at the Carnegie Building: basically, stick to the Official Plan (four storeys) and maintain a heritage look in keeping with the core’s atmosphere.
“We got the message loud and clear,” said lead consultant on the project, John Ariens.
“It was much the same as the open house the developer had, but every member of the Planning Committee was clear and unified that a different direction was needed.
The redesign will not cause the project to lose a great number of proposed units as more ground will be utilized. Ariens explained that the initial design had gone to great lengths to accommodate a nine-foot wide town-owned lane which connects Ontario Street to the land being developed.
Ariens said the initial eight-storey design was developed using direction provided by Niagara Region and Grimsby’s planning department during a pre-consult meeting in July 2017.
“The pedestal base and clock tower, that is straight from the Region, and Grimsby’s planners said they
would support the design at six storeys,” said Ariens, noting that anything over the Official Plan’s approved four storeys would trigger the “bonusing” option.
That alleged support from Grimsby’s planning department directly opposed comments made by Ald. Nick DiFlavio when he chaired a different open house March 20 regarding the proposed twin tower condos
At that meeting, DiFlavio stated, “There is a misconception someone from the Town is telling developers to bring things back at a certain height. Property owners have the right to bring anything forward they want. That is a misconception that is just not true.”
At that time, resident Tony Joosse challenged the accuracy of DiFlavio’s comment, citing another developer he claimed had been “sent away and told to go higher.”
With planning’s apparent withdrawal of support for the eight-story design for DeSantis’s plan amid a public firestorm, Ariens said a new direction for a widened design – not worrying about the narrow alley – was discussed during a two-hour meeting last Thursday, March 29.
“Density was never an issue and this will blend better,” said Ariens, noting the new design will still come in with about 80-90 units. The initial proposal had 86 units.
“You really want as much density downtown as possible,” said Ariens, noting the Town’s Official Plan is “suspiciously silent on density”.
“It is not the size of the Kleenex box. It is the number of tissues inside.”
With four storeys now the plan, a heritage look and feel is a major focal point for the design team, said Ariens.
That was one of many points repeatedly driven home during the March 27 open house.
That 7 p.m. meeting got off to a rocky start with doors being locked on townhall about 6:45 p.m. due to the room being at maximum fire capacity of 195.
To start the proceedings and again at Monday night’s regular council meeting, DiFlavio apologized to those who could not get in.
While last week he said a special open house would be held to allow those who could not get in an opportunity to comment, he updated that Monday saying the meeting would not be needed since the plan was being rejigged.
However, a full open house meeting will be planned to allow the public to comment on the brand new design when it is ready.
While DiFlavio said Monday, “I received notification the night before that we had concerns about the attendance”, staff were worried about attendance a week earlier at the twin tower meeting. CAO Derik Brandt had recommended to planning officials that a move to the Peach King Centre may be needed. However, being an official public meeting and having advertised the town hall address, a move anywhere could have proven an issue, he was told.
Despite the design changes to conform to the Official Plan, many of the comments made at the March 27 open house dealt with traffic and service saturation in the core, particularly on Doran Avenue, which will be the only in/out for the site.