Devil in the Details of 220 Dundurn South Redevelopment

Developers produce better outcomes when they work constructively with local residents to ensure their concerns are addressed.

By Jason Allen
Published June 12, 2013

Plans are in place for a renewal of the long-time Kirkendall eyesore at 220 Dundurn Street South, but part of the proposal has adjacent residents upset.

220 Dundurn Street South (RTH file photo)
220 Dundurn Street South (RTH file photo)

With a reduction in the amount of lot required for the number of units from 294,000 sq. ft. to 143,000 sq. ft. and a reduction of the required size of each parking spot from 2.6 m wide to 2.4 m wide, the zoning variance application seems highly desirable.

Add in a reduced parking ratio from 1.25 spaces per unit to 1.15, and this appears to be a development that would fit neatly into this highly walkable neighbourhood.

But for residents on Charlton, the devil is in the details.

Clearly stated in the variance application [PDF] is the request for approval to add three stories to the main two-story structure, for a total of five stories.

A five-storey building would not be out of place on Dundurn, with a condo at Aberdeen and Dundurn, and an apartment at Stanley and Dundurn already exceeding that.

However, no mention is made in the text of the variance application of the building of an additional five-storey building in the location of a current one-storey, half-demolished garage. This detail only appears on the site plan.

This one-storey garage is currently located less than two meters from the property lines of the adjacent houses on Charlton Street. If the new structure follows the same footprint, there would be a 22 m high wall overlooking their backyards, an arm's width from their back fences. This has the adjacent neighbours understandably up in arms.

Apparently, early indications were that the new structure would mirror the existing height, although whether that was the height of the existing garage or the main structure is unclear.

The attempt to introduce a five-storey structure so close to the Charlton properties appears to have caught everybody off-guard, and has resulted in a public meeting being called on Monday, June 17 at 7 pm at Stanley Avenue Baptist Church.

Contrast this somewhat murky process with the approval process for the property that will soon be constructed on Blanshard - also known as the alley beside Bar on Locke. Initial plans for this structure were met with concern by property owners on Poulette.

After several revisions, which included setting back the upper stories of the property to prevent shadows on their backyards, residents felt their concerns had been heard, and the project received the community's endorsement.

According to a resident who attended the Committee of Adjustment meeting on Thursday, June 6 for 220 Dundurn, developer Dennis Vranich allegedly said he was not concerned with neighbours' objections because he could "do whatever [he] wants". That kind of attitude is not likely to allay residents' concerns.

Councillor Brian McHattie has done an outstanding job in the past few years of shepherding complicated development projects through in Ward 1, mainly because he was blessed with developers who were willing to listen to local concerns and respond accordingly.

The hope is that this will continue as the situation unfolds with 220 Dundurn. We'll know on the 17th.

Jason Allen is a chronic hive whacker in the Kirkendall Neighbourhood.


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By ch02ce (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 08:19:47

Wah! Shadows! Sometimes I honestly wonder if planning does more harm than good. The majority of the site plan is a massive parking lot! If we all accept urbanism and intensification as a more environmentally and economically sustainable pursuit, why do we bother with parking minimums, setbacks, height restrictions, and the accommodation of even the most middling nimby complaints?

Would it be so bad to let the developer and by extension the customers decide how much parking they need? It could be zero for all I care, just don't buy a unit if you need to drive. And build as many units as people will buy, because I'd rather have them living in an intensification project in what used to be a derelict scar on the urban fabric than in a bunch of single or semi-detached homes out in Binbrook.

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By j (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 09:30:07 in reply to Comment 89490

You're right that shadows are a small concern, but look at the development at Aberdeen and Dundurn and what they've done to the balconies of the building to the south. You'd have to be pretty committed to total private property rights to believe that's not a travesty.

Your parking example only works if there is no street parking available. If all street parking had to be paid for then yes you could get rid of the minimums, which I'd get behind.

Planning is about accommodation between old and new neighbours, not just creating services for property owners. If neighbours' property values all plummet as a result of a project then tax rates go down and the net city take is smaller. Beyond that, the goal is not simply to intensify at all costs. You could do that China style by simply moving people around. Height restrictions and setbacks ensure a level of accommodation, meeting both prior owner expectations and new owner rights.

The problem with making it an issue of simply owner rights and free choice is that the new owners will do exactly the same nimby thing once the next development is proposed. Right wing enclaves do nimbyism even worse than urbanists. Every owner claims rights over externalities that are not well defined.

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By ch02ce (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 14:41:40 in reply to Comment 89496

Thanks, that was a thought provoking reply. I guess what it really comes down to to me is that in Hamilton and in many cities across North America, we *finally* have another wave of real market demand for intensified living, be it from demographic trends or changing tastes, or whatnot. It seems to me as an urbanist we should be doing everything possible to accommodate this wave by making it as easy as it can be for densification. If it means more profit for Vranich, I'm all for it, hopefully he uses the money in another intensification project.

On a building economics note - there is a cost threshold involved in moving from constructing detached housing to concrete condominiums, and with the flurry of new multiples construction recently, it's safe to say that property values have largely risen enough here to make such projects profitable. But if a setback for the upper floors removes units, it may affect the profitability envelope, and maybe to a point that kills the project - I of course don't know the project's details, and I guarantee this is precisely what Vranich will say in the meeting. While there's always wiggle room, he might be right. It is certainly something to consider.

I suppose all of this makes me one of those 'greater good' townsperson from Hot Fuzz.

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By J (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 23:23:52 in reply to Comment 89510

The thing with developers is they will never tell you their costs so you always have to take them at their dubious word that without this concession they will immediately implode and leave town. If we believe our setback and height rules have value, then variances should simply not happen and the market should dictate whether a project is viable or not within regulatory constraints. As it stands we allow developers to throw piles of money into lobbying and rent-seeking to get this bonus under s37 or that DC grant. 'Nimbies' then end up having to push back through the OMB. If the rules were clear and bright surely the net reduction in transaction costs would outweigh the benefits, and what those are I'm not all that clear.

The simplest thing here would clearly be for Vranich to negotiate with those 5 neighbours to buy out their claim to sunlight in their backyards. That would surely be more effective than 10 months of delay through committees and the OMB.

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By sally forth (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 08:48:37 in reply to Comment 89490

If you lived next door would you trust Denis Vranich to do the right thing by you?

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By ch02ce (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 08:59:24 in reply to Comment 89492

Not necessarily. I get that thats the other half of it. If I owned a home and wouldn't get eastern morning sun because of a 5 storey condo, I might be a little upset. May even affect my property values. But on the other hand, it's silly to think that as a homeowner, things will not change around your particular home, especially when you live in a city that is growing and needs to accommodate more people within its existing urban area (which is a good thing).

Plus there must be an element of opportunity here too, as finally something productive will be done with what has been an incredible eyesore and is likely a danger in the neighbourhood, two factors which probably had a more negative effect on property values than the potential for shadowing. So I understand the frustrations of both parties, but long-term I'd still rather people live in dense, transit-served neighbourhoods than somewhere they need between 2-4 cars for the family's travel needs.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 09:33:58 in reply to Comment 89494

I think you are promoting a false choice. It is possible to develop this property from an eyesore into a dense, attractive urban building without being overly insensitive to the needs of neighboring property owners.

Doing something is not itself better than doing nothing, it only matters if what you do is good. Take for example the new condo at Aberdeen and Dundern. Sure, a dense residential development there is better than an empty lot, but that doesn't mean we have to be happy with the outcome. The first two floors are parking garage, and contribute nothing to the street itself other than extra light pollution at night. Just because something happened there does not at all mean that we have to be happy with how poorly executed it was.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2013 at 09:49:41 in reply to Comment 89497

The first two floors are parking garage, and contribute nothing to the street itself other than extra light pollution at night

Would you rather a street-level parking lot? I'm actually happy to hear a developer is incorporating parking into the building instead of gobbling up the landscape with surface-level parking.

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 21:24:15 in reply to Comment 89499

That building is an ugly affront to decency.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 16:38:16 in reply to Comment 89499

Again, its a false dichotomy. Why are street-level parking garages the only alternative to street-level parking lots? Most buildings put their parking garages underground - heck, even this building at 232 St George St, Toronto, ON has underground parking, and it's a house, not a high-rise.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 09:56:38 in reply to Comment 89499

neither option should be allowed. Parking should be underground, or start at the 2nd floor. Not ground floor. Ever.

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By ch02ce (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 14:46:23 in reply to Comment 89502

Indeed. Parking is such a critical element... seas of surface parking kill land that might have a better use, while street-level parking structures destroy the building's frontage. I'm all for underground if it needs to be there, but that in itself adds an enormous cost to the project and typically results in higher maintenance fees for tenants with a heap of risk for costly repairs in the future. Hence why I absolutely despise parking minimums.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2013 at 15:01:46 in reply to Comment 89511

Still, street-level parking plus 2nd-floor parking is such a huge improvement over Hamilton's typical seas-of-parking that I honestly don't think it's appropriate to gripe about.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 16:45:53 in reply to Comment 89512

I don't know how you can call it good - from the point of view of the streetscape, that development adds nothing that didn't already exist when it was an empty lot.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 08:58:24

I can do whatever I want? That sounds bad.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2013 at 09:35:13

For those looking, the site plan is on page 61 of the PDF. Also, it's really hard to read - I'm okay at reading these things generally but that file has been compressed too far to make out what's going on along the right-hand side.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 09:55:40 in reply to Comment 89498

Yes, I had the same problem reading the document. Very generalized info available so far. Folks in the area should look up the minimum separation required by the city for a building adjacent to their property lines.

To me the worst part of the plan is the sea of parking. I currently live with my backyard facing a large wall of a church structure that is around 3-4 stories high. It's south of my property, not north like in this case. Only time we have shadow impacts is the dead of winter, and the shadows are only at the very back of the yard. Anyone with a building to their north would have no shadow impacts, and looking at the size of the backyards on Charlton there would be absolutely no threat of shadows anywhere near the homes.

I would like to see the site developed more fully with 3-5 storey building heights and parking underground. Such a waste of land to have all this surface parking.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 09:52:53

I'm sure something will be worked out, frankly anything would be a benefit then leaving the property alone in it's current state, although this is one of the buildings that really should be kept.

Anyways as a side note, here's some good news.

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By brendan (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 10:21:25

I really hope Vranich and the city listen to the neighbour's concerns. No one is opposing the development outright, they're just asking for some accommodation on one side of the property.

For the life of me, I can't figure out why the development doesn't have ground level retail on Dundurn. There's so much frontage, and a giant parking lot out back - it would have made a huge amount of sense to move the liquor or some other store there. Residential is fine, but retail animates the street.

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By Jason Stranak (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 11:37:30

The highly compressed drawings indicated three individual proposed buildings on the site of 1460 + 1587 + 359 = 3406 m^2 ~= 36662 ft^2. The application specifies 194 units. Ignoring office space, hallways, etc., this works out to <190 ft^2 per residential unit, probably closer to 150 ft^2 after taking non-residential space into account.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 12:27:09 in reply to Comment 89504

The highly compressed drawings indicated three individual proposed buildings on the site of 1460 + 1587 + 359 = 3406 m^2 ~= 36662 ft^2. The application specifies 194 units. Ignoring office space, hallways, etc., this works out to <190 ft^2 per residential unit, probably closer to 150 ft^2 after taking non-residential space into account.

I think those figures refer to the footprint of each building, not the total floor area.

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By Jason Stranak (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 15:11:06 in reply to Comment 89507

After sanity-checking my math with GoogleMaps, it seems the area values are indeed footprint, not floor area, making for a much more reasonable ~850 ft^2 per unit.

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By Grumpy Gramps (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 12:11:02

Oooooh Not in MY backyard! *shakes fist*


Get over it! Development is never perfect, just look down the QEW.
Compromise is the price we pay for the density we so desire in this city.

How can you judge the residents of Scenic Dr for fighting that development, yet cry foul when it's literally in your own back yard? Hmm..

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By GIMBY (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 12:18:04 in reply to Comment 89505

There's a difference between "we don't want development" and "we want development, we just want it done right".

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 12:53:22

Alot of city cors in North America are high rises and most of the poeples who whant a nice back yard they go live in the suberbs or live out of the core of downtown

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By Rational Optimist (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 16:34:13

Five stories will indeed look out of place on this part of Dundurn. It's obviously not inappropriate to call this building an "eyesore," but it has also been a feature of the street for a long time. It is disingenuous to say that it would "not be out of place" on Dundurn because there is already one tall building three blocks away, and another six blocks away. Walk down Dundurn, and you will see that the apartment at Stanley does look out of place.

But that's fine, it'll increase density.

Five stories two meters from existing residents' property lines, on the other hand, will hopefully be viewed as entirely unacceptable.

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By Tim Versteeg (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 19:41:10

On other consideration not yet raised is the financial cost to the is my understanding that Mr. Vranich received a city grant already to purchase this understanding that all the safety requirements were (boarding windows etc. were done by city staff and added to his tax bill? My property taxes are up to date Mr. Vranich, are yours?

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By jimh (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2013 at 21:58:03

Hamilton NIMBYs over 5 stories. Big surprise. Fine I hope it remains a derelect eyesore for another decade, maybee that will make you happy.

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By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted June 13, 2013 at 09:04:07

" developer Dennis Vranich allegedly said he was not concerned with neighbours' objections because he could "do whatever [he] wants".

No thread hijacking intended, but does this developer have the city in his pocket? To whose councilor's election campaigns does he make large contributions?

He seems to have outsized influence and operates without many constraints. If so, all the "neighbourhood input meetings" are just a sideshow.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted June 17, 2013 at 23:12:02

You're NIMBYing about 5-stories downtown.?

Comment edited by TreyS on 2013-06-17 23:12:28

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 18, 2013 at 10:47:37 in reply to Comment 89574

To be fair, the complaint is that this five story building is being built so close to houses that it is almost literally in somebody's back yard. And Dundurn, while ripe for intensification, isn't quite downtown.

5 stories in Dundurn is completely appropriate... but respecting the immediate neighbours property would be appropriate too.

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