Council hears Haist arena development presentation

“Preferred” plan keeps existing park, blends singles and townhomes

BY VOICE STAFF

In a special meeting last Tuesday evening, Pelham Town Council received another report from the Planning Partnership, the firm working for the Town to develop a plan for the current Pelham Arena site. Town Director of Planning and Development Barb Wiens introduced the presentation with several comments.

“There were many residents who were in favour of leaving the property as it is, with no development,” she said, making reference to the public meetings in September, where there was much discussion to this end. Wiens recalled that many were upset that maintaining the status quo was not one of the options on the online survey.

“But the Terms of Reference for this plan were that there was a need to explore development alternatives—that’s what Council had asked be done.”

Wiens introduced Mike Hudson, a planner at the Planning Partnership, to present the results of the process so far.

“We are just over halfway through,” Hudson said. “There is an emerging preferred concept, and we’re looking to get Council’s input on it before developing a more detailed plan.”

The task, as the Planning Partnership sees it, is to find the right balance between development and open space recreational areas.

During the first round of public consultations, held at the Pelham Arena in June, the overwhelming sentiment was to keep as much green space as possible, and that any development should remain compatible with surrounding neighbourhoods. At that point, the planners generated a number of variables, including housing types, roads, and parks.

These variables were distilled into five different “explorations,” which were then put to an online survey. Just as he said at one of the public meetings in September, Hudson told council that the 120 respondents to the survey was not a statistically significant number—rather that it was a “small, passionate group,”—but that the survey’s results were nevertheless interesting. Most respondents preferred that green space remain in the existing area, and that the public did not want a substantial change to the layout.

The preferred concept, coming from all consultation so far, is one that blends townhomes and single detached units. Hudson said that direction from the public was “no change in the location of the park, playground equipment, or platform tennis,” and that people wanted to keep the wooded area at the west edge of the area.

Hudson concluded his presentation by saying that the Planning Partnership’s preferred model met all of these things, and that it provided “revenue potential for the Town.” He said that he would take Council’s input back to the firm, where design guidelines would be developed during the project’s next phase.

Members of Council asked Hudson questions and provided comments for the final 45 minutes of the meeting Councillor Gary Accursi observed on the plan drawing that there was a large space of green in the northwest corner of the property that had been left empty.

“Is that for the drainage pond?” he asked. “Because I was walking the property a few days ago, and I thought, ‘This area has potential.’”

Wiens fielded the question, replying that it was indeed a “dry pond,” that would fill with water when rains came, and release the water at the “pre-development” levels.

Councillor Richard Rybiak expressed some concern that the preferred plan did not add any “amenities.”

“Part of the idea is to have places within walking distance,” he said. “You didn’t add any stores or anything, though you didn’t take any away, either.”

Rybiak also spoke to the matter of affordable housing, which the “preferred townhomes and single-detached units will not be.

“I appreciate the feedback was that people don’t want apartments near them. They don’t want windmills, they don’t wan’t apartments, they don’t want a number of things. They think they’re great ideas, but, ‘Please, not near me.’” Rybiak suggested that perhaps there were parts of the property that could be devoted to more affordable units.

Councillor Marvin Junkin expanded on Rybiak’s line of inquiry. “This is our last big chunk of land in the town,” he said, “if we’re ever going to do anything else with seniors’ housing. I spoke to a lot of people adamantly opposed to apartments—unless they were seniors’ apartments, for, say, ages fifty-five or sixty and over.”

Councillor John Durley expressed his concern about bringing up seniors’ apartments at this point in the process. “That was never mentioned the public meetings,” he said. “So if we go in that direction, people will say, ‘We were right. You don’t even listen to us.’ If we were to go in that direction, we would offend a lot of people.”

Rybiak replied briefly. “I do hear Councillor Durley’s admonition. The last thing that I would want in the world is for people to believe that we don’t receive their feedback with all the credibility and seriousness that it deserves. And we do have substantial land elsewhere, so there are things we can do there, too.”

Peter Papp, who has been a councillor since 2003, reminded Council of past situations in which the ire of neighbours was raised. “Some of you weren’t here when there were townhouses planned at Rose Courts. But we still have the—“

“Bruises,” Mayor Augustyn offered.

“—bruises on our backs,” continued Papp. “The last time we went through this, they were going to hang us. So as long as the housing we put in is complementary to those around, and we don’t urbanize to the point where everything’s paved over, there are other places in the town where we can put seniors’ housing.”

And with that, Council voted to received Hudson’s report. The Planning Partnership will now develop a final report, and present again to Council when it is finished.

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