London, Ont. council approves highrise near Victoria Park, rejects city staff recommendation

the London branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress is inviting those to march in support of Ukrainian mothers amid the ongoing Russian invasion of their country. Andrew Graham / Global News

London, Ont.’s, city council has voted to approve a rezoning application for a highrise near Victoria Park in a move that goes against the recommendation of city staff.

Auburn Developments first pitched the highrise in 2015 as a 25-storey apartment building, which dropped to 22 storeys in a second application followed by a 17-storey proposal which was discussed during Tuesday’s meeting of city council.

The proposed highrise has long been a point of contention for neighbours concerned about its impact on the surrounding historic Woodfield neighbourhood.

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The concern was echoed by city staff, stating in a report that councillors should refuse the rezoning application because it “is not in keeping with the West Woodfield Heritage Conservation District Plan”

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City staff also found the application does not conform with the London Plan, nor is it consistent with Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement, which promotes intensification while conserving significant heritage resources.

The report from city staff added that “the proposed development and requested zoning represent an overintensification of the site and do not pass all of the criteria of the Planning Impact Analysis.”

A slide from a City of London presentation on Auburn Development’s rezoning application for an apartment at 560 and 562 Wellington St. via City of London

Prior to voting on the rezoning application, councillors approved an amendment from Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis which added affordable housing requirements to the apartment building.

These requirements include adding 12 units of affordable housing at 70 per cent of London’s average market rent. Five of those units would be provided in Auburn Development’s existing inventory once the building’s site build plan is complete and the remaining seven would be provided in the building itself.

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The amendment was approved and garnered praise even from those who were opposed to the apartment’s rezoning application.

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The application itself was subject to a lengthy debate from councillors on Tuesday.

Ward 11 Coun. Stephen Turner took issue with going against city staff’s recommendation to reject Auburn Development’s application.

“I hope everybody just takes pause for a second and recognizes how rare it is to get a staff report like this that unequivocally rejects this application,” Turner said.

He added that he wasn’t worried about how council would vote on the application as he believed it would be appealed if brought before the Ontario Land Tribunal, due to its inconsistency with policies such as the London Plan and Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement.

“All of those things really speak to what can and can’t be built there and it’s explicitly stated that something like this can’t be built there,” Turner said.

Ward 13 Coun. John Fyfe-Millar agreed the decision would be appealed, but still offered his support for the rezoning.

“This is not the perfect location, but I go back, time and time again, there is no perfect location in our downtown,” said Fyfe-Millar.

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“Because we have no perfect location, we need to look at these individually, on their merit and decide is this good for our city? I think it is.”

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The debate ended with council voting 8-4 in favour of approving the rezoning application from Auburn Developments.

Those opposed included Turner, along with Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer, Ward 9 Coun. Anna Hopkins and Ward 12 Coun. Elizabeth Peloza.

Ward 3 Coun. Mo Salih and Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy were both absent, while Ward 6 remains vacant with its newly-appointed councillor Mariam Hamou set to be sworn in on Wednesday.

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