An ongoing dispute between a local developer and the City of Kingston appears to underscore one of the reasons why the city is facing a crushing shortage of housing.
Developer Jay Patry says he’s had a frustrating time dealing with city officials over the issue of dedicating park space within his planned west-end housing project that aims to provide dozens of rental apartments.
Patry says he’s ready to walk away from the project.
“As it sits now, I don’t think it’s going ahead.”
When contacted by Global News, Paige Agnew, the city’s chief planner, says she’s surprised to hear the project could be stalled.
“That’s an unfortunate point of view. If Mr. Patry has those concerns he should call me. I am the chief planner. The concerns you’ve identified are the first I’ve heard of them.”
The Kingston-based housing developer says he purchased the 4.4-hectare (11.1 acres) property at 809 Development Dr. — about midway between Gardiners Road and Bayridge Drive — about a year and a half ago. It’s located in an area of the city that already features a mix of industrial businesses and single-family homes.
Patry is seeking rezoning approvals to construct a four-storey, 158-unit rental apartment complex with bachelor, one, two and three bedrooms, plus six townhouses with a total of 18 condominium units.
However, he says his housing plan could fall apart over the city’s insistence that an easement be granted along the eastern side and back portions of the property for a multi-use trail as part of the city’s active transportation plan.
The easement would grant public access, but Patry says the sticking point is that he would be responsible for the upkeep of it.
Instead, Patry says he’s offering to provide about two acres of park space on the southern portion of the property, which is not slated for development, on the condition the municipality assume ownership and future maintenance costs.
“I don’t want to be in the business of owning parks,” he says.
Patry says municipal parks officials made it clear to him in recent talks that they’d prefer an easement, and his staff provided Global News with a portion of the city’s written position. It says: “We still think the easement works better for long-term development options of the south block and it reduces the City’s cost to manage the land if it stays in private hands.”
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Agnew, the city’s director of planning, building, and licensing services, says it’s not uncommon for her staff to engage in parkland discussions but says it has to be measured with the broader public interest.
She says park dedication options can be in the form of a land conveyance, easement, or cash contribution for large housing projects.
“We are working to help the city grow in responsible and smart ways.”
The project is still early in the technical review process and “no staff recommendation has yet been determined,” she adds.
The dispute over parkland dedication comes at a time when Kingston is facing a desperate shortage of rental housing. The city’s 0.6 per cent vacancy rate is the lowest in Ontario making it hard to find affordable accommodations.
With both sides at apparent loggerheads over the park ownership issue, a frustrated Patry says he’s focusing on building rental units in other Ontario cities.
“I’m building three other projects in Ottawa and London and nothing in Kingston.”
The developer says he plans to have one more meeting with city parks officials before deciding how to proceed with the apartment and townhouse complex, but says he’s not optimistic it will proceed after recent months of negotiations.
Kingston recently set up a housing task force to examine barriers to housing development and determine tools or incentives the city could make available to spur new development. The task force report is due within a year.
So far, the task force has discussed topics such as intensification, high construction costs, and municipal red tape.
“We have to look at the details. We have to dig down because we know that any answers, any recommendations are not going to be easy to find,” explains former MP Ted Hsu, who chairs the task force.
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Patry suggested his case is an example of why builders are slow to meet the market demand, and why it’s apparently easier for them to build in communities other than Kingston.
“I’m building in other cities I don’t live in.”
His vacant property runs south of Development Drive to the main CN tracks, although the southern half of the property will be left in its natural state, featuring a wetland and creek, according to a planning study done for the developer.
“The site has been laid out in a manner that allows the natural heritage area and undeveloped lands at the southern end of the site to provide a natural buffer between the residential buildings and the railway line at the southern limit of the property.”
A driveway into the proposed housing will be immediately south of Truedell Road, although traffic lights or stop signs are not planned for the intersection. A single-family house will be demolished to make room for the new entrance.
The proposed Z-shaped apartment building will include 218 surface parking spaces along with 31 spaces for the nearby townhouses that will front onto Development Drive.
Patry’s company, 809 Development Drive Inc., is seeking a rezoning to support the new housing project.
“The applicant is seeking relief from the maximum density, minimum lot frontage, and maximum building height requirements, and is also seeking to remove a provision relating to a children’s play area and to permit front yard parking,” according to city planners.
The application was the focus of a recent public meeting at the planning committee.
Patry says public concerns raised at the meeting focused on issues such as fencing and snow storage, adding: “These are all things we can accommodate.”
It’s not the first time someone has tried to build housing on the site in recent years.
In 2015, it was rezoned to accommodate a collection of four, four-storey apartment buildings with 153 units and six townhouses. However, following the municipal approvals, the property was sold to the current owner in November 2017.