Urban design guidelines to help guide new construction in long-established local communities were formally approved by Council last week.
The long list of guidelines provides parameters on everything from size to materials to ensure new construction fits into what already exists in the communities of Regency Acres and Aurora Heights, as well as Temperance Street neighborhoods. and around Town Park.
Along with the guidelines, the Board approved a semi-annual report that will outline to lawmakers what waiver requests have been made and what has been approved.
“The report will allow staff to identify trends and provide Council with a better understanding of what development activities are taking place in established stable neighborhoods,” the city said in a statement. “Under the Official Plan, Stable Neighborhoods are protected from incompatible forms of development, and new development in these areas must respect and enhance the physical character and existing uses of the area.
While a semi-annual update to Council was a request made by residents, particularly those in the Regency Acres neighborhood, the reporting process as approved did not go far enough.
They asked that the semi-annual updates include a list of denied requests and why, a process that staff said would be too “onerous” to compile.
Council agreed while sitting at Committee level the previous week and when its decision was ratified on November 24, Councilor Wendy Gartner renewed the appeal.
Residents’ main concerns, she said, stemmed from privacy, particularly around backyards, and maintaining the existing streetscape.
Privacy concerns included minimizing the location of second story balconies on rear side elevations.
Additional issues ranged from protecting trees to providing a maximum of three entry steps to “encourage low-profile entry features close to the ground.”
“Residents have requested a report when consistency with design guidelines is not met by the developer,” Councilor Gaertner said, moving a motion that the report “include instances where staff-approved deviations regarding front and side yard setbacks, privacy and streetscapes are not consistent with stable neighborhood guidelines.
“Staff should keep track of what they recommend to developers that developers don’t want to track,” she continued. “I think this is information Council should know and residents want to know.”
But that motion ultimately fell through, with other lawmakers saying they weren’t sure what the report was hoping to achieve.
“I am always happy to provide more information to residents [but] I just don’t see the value he’s going to get by doing this,” Councilor John Gallo said.
Councilor Michael Thompson also questioned the inclusion of this in the report, who said that since what was recommended were guidelines for developers, the ultimate tools for compliance are the city’s zoning bylaws.
“Guiding lines [are] supposed to be able to shape the design, but there is a degree of flexibility,” he said. “If we want compliance in these areas, let’s reopen the zoning ordinance and put it back in the zoning ordinance and go that route.” The guidelines are just one tool and what counsel Gaertner is referring to in all these [areas] are subjective terms and are subject to interpretation.
“Design guidelines are not intended for this type of compliance. They are simply meant to shape it and that is why producing this report would be so onerous, as it would then be a matter of debating the subjective determination of what each term means and whether it was correct or incorrect. I don’t want to go that route at all.
Councilor Harold Kim agreed, noting that the motion would turn these guidelines into a bylaw.
“I want it to be at a high level and even if we go to that level of detail, what are we going to do with this information? I suspect we will try to create regulations from this and we will go back to Square 1 where we started two or three years ago. It’s for such well-intentioned reasons that the amendment is, I can’t support that,” he said.
Keeping an eye on the progress of the guidelines was something councilor Rachel Gilliland said she supported and understood what residents were looking for, but what was being asked was too broad.
“I think if they came with their Top 2 or Top 3 concrete things that were most important [and] relevant, maybe we can have a conversation, but that’s almost all the urban design guidelines that are laid here,” she said. “It’s so subjective and it’s so many topics. I think it would be very, very onerous for our staff to report.
“We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place here with subjective opinions, but that won’t do us much favor.”
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