Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr won two significant victories at Committee of Adjustment today, gaining two major exceptions to Downtown Zoning Bylaws as "minor variances".
Farr came to the Committee of Adjustment in support of the Downtown Mosque's request to operate their parking lot as a commercial surface lot to raise funds to cover their new building debt, and the approval of a 33-storey tall building for Vrancor's final phase of their King/George/Caroline five tower development.
The "minor" variance was to increase the allowed development height from the present 22 metres to 106 metres. The Committee of Adjustment, at the request of Farr, approved the 500% variance as a "minor variance".
Traditionally, tall buildings are subject to public hearings, consultations, and public review of studies. The new Ward 2 process of declaring tall buildings to be minor variance developments, means tall buildings can now be built in Ward 2 without public hearings or consultations, no consideration of Section 37 community benefits, or - with recent changes to the Planning Act - inclusionary zoning.
The tall buildings will be subject to a staff review, which is closed to the public. Under the Planning Act, the documents submitted to City staff are public records and can be accessed on request or by access to information requests.
Expect developers to make sure of this new, unique in Canada, process of treating tall buildings as "minor variances".
The Downtown Mosque took over the 221 York Blvd location in 2014, the building originally being a grocery store with a large ancillary parking lot for customers. The Downtown Mosque asked to change the lot from ancillary to commercial parking to sell parking spots on a monthly basis to raise funds to pay down building purchase debt.
New commercial surface parking lots are prohibited in the downtown area, both in the Downtown Secondary Plan and in the new Urban Hamilton Official Plan.
This was an interesting hearing, because there is overwhelming public support in the downtown for the mosque, and to see them succeed in their new location. While traditionally, there is community outcry over new commercial parking in the downtown. Only a block away, in 2012, Vrancor created a new parking lot just outside of the Downtown zone. There was a large community outcry.
The mosque commercial parking hearing lasted about 30 minutes, with neighbours primarily concerned that by selling parking, the mosque will be lack parking during Friday prayers and on street parking shortages will result.
A few Committee members suggested this wasn't a minor variance, and belonged at Council to review the official plans.
The Committee of Adjustment approved the conversion for a two year period with two members opposed.