Ontario Land Tribunal Hearing Status Update

By September 29, 2022 Uncategorized

4101 Rutherford Road Development (Velmar Plaza)

On September 19, 2022, the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) hearing for the 4101 Rutherford Road Development (Velmar Plaza) began.

As you may remember, after much community input, the City of Vaughan (City) council rejected the City Planning Department’s recommendation to approve the application and referred the Developer, the community, and the City to OLT-led mediation. The Developer, however, decided to bypass mediation and took the case directly to the OLT. The City hired a lawyer and planner to represent City council’s decision to reject the proposed development.

The hearing had evidence presented by both the Developer’s and the City’s lawyers and experts. The hearing lasted a week and ended on September 23, 2022. The final decision to approve the application in whole or in part, or to dismiss the application will be made by the OLT member and will be communicated in 30 to 60 days.

Background

The Vaughan Official Plan (VOP) designated this site for a 4-storey mixed-use low-rise building. In the application to the City, the Developer was seeking an amendment to allow a 7-storey mixed-use low-rise building. The Vaughan Official Plan permits a maximum 5-storey height under the low-rise designation, however, the Developer applied for a variance to allow a 7-storey “low-rise” building.

At the OLT, the Developer modified their application and was seeking approval for a tiered building which had a 3-storey condominium on the side fronting Velmar Drive and a 6-storey built form fronting Rutherford Road and the park. The amended application included commercial space on the first floor along Rutherford Road.

A 6-storey building is defined as a mid-rise building, not a low-rise building, in the Vaughan Official Plan. The Developer has proposed to maintain the low-rise mixed-use designation but increase the height to 6-storeys with a Floor Space Index of 2.72; both metrics are within the mid-rise classification in the Vaughan Official Plan. Essentially, the Developer has attempted to change the site designation from low-rise mixed-use to mid-rise mixed-use under the façade that the site is low-rise mixed-use with ‘marginal’ increases.

Hearing Summary

The Developer, through his lawyer and expert witnesses, presented a case arguing that the location was underutilized, and the development would provide significant improvement to the neighborhood. Here are some of the highlights of his argument:

  • The neighbourhood must experience a change from the “unrelenting conformity” of suburbia.
    • Urban designer Harold Madi gave testimony at length on the need for change and offering different types of housing. The City Lawyer respectfully disagreed principally with the height and density of the proposed development, as well as any change in character.
  • The proposed development site is unique and warrants special consideration and could not be viewed as precedent setting.
    • There is no reasonable justification for this claim as there are limited existing commercial or mixed-use sites within established neighbourhoods and the decision to amend Vaughan Official Plan limits on height and density will be used as justification by other developers for their sites.
  • The building height is consistent with other buildings in the area.
    • The only supporting reference made was the St Clare Bell Tower.
  • The building is buffered by the park and therefore does not have a height issue.
    • However, standing on the ground in the park residents would still be faced with a 6-storey building, it would be in direct view to all surrounding residents, and it only reduced the height to 3-storeys along Velmar Drive.
  • Reduced crime – the building height and number of balconies would reduce crime in the park by having more “eyes” on the park.
    • The community, however, does not currently have an issue with crime in the park and the City lawyer clarified this issue several times.
  • Our need for neighbourhood amenities would continue to be served by the proposed commercial space.
    • The proposed commercial space would, however, be inconveniently served by underground parking, and the size of the proposed commercial space is about half of the current commercial space.
  • Although traffic volume would be higher, the area would accommodate the increased traffic.
    • Regrettably, traffic modelling can be manipulated through various assumptions. Anyone who drives along Velmar Drive during the morning or evening rush hour knows that an additional 130 units will impact traffic.

The City lawyers made a very strong argument that the application itself was precedence setting because the Developer was trying to obtain approval for a mid-rise building on a site designated as low-rise in the Vaughan Official Plan. In addition to the issue of precedence, here are some other highlights of the City lawyer’s argument:

  • The height of the building in this development exceeds the maximum number of storeys permitted in low-rise designation of this site and the proposed 6-storey building is and has the built form character of a mid-rise building.
  • The development is not in character with the surrounding area.
  • The development is not required to meet the provincial and city growth plans.
  • There was not a single expert witness or the Developer’s lawyer who provided even remote justification for the need for a 6-storey building when a 3-storey or 4-storey building would provide the same ‘benefits’ their case was arguing.

Decision

We will now have to wait for the OLT member to decide and make a ruling. The timeline for the OLT decision is 1-2 months from the last day of the hearing which was September 23rd, 2022.