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Council rejects redevelopment plan for Speers and Kerr plaza

Town of Oakville
Town of Oakville

A redevelopment plan calling for 11 towers to be built at the corner of Speers Road and Kerr Street got a thumbs down from town council last week.

Citing concerns with the stalled underpass at Kerr Street, the potential loss of the plaza’s grocery store and a lack of coordination among property owners, councillors voted 7 to 6 against the deal.

They then reconsidered their outright rejection and instead sent the plan back to town staff for more work.

The comprehensive plan to redevelop the shopping plaza and theatre on the northwest corner of the intersection envisions 1,841 residential units in 11 buildings ranging from 8 to 28 storeys in height.

It also calls for ground-floor commercial space, including an area about the same size as the existing Food Basics grocery store.

A new public park, roughly the size of a football field, would be located in the middle of the development, while an urban square would be built at the corner of Kerr and Speers.

But worries about traffic were on the minds of both councillors and residents, given a recent decision by Metrolinx to walk away from a more than decade-old plan to tunnel an underpass beneath the busy GO tracks at Kerr Street.

“I cannot in good conscience approve this knowing that everything hinges on that underpass,” said Ward 2 councillor Cathy Duddeck.

“I don’t have much faith in the province. I don’t have much faith in Metrolinx.”

Read more: Kerr Street underpass project derailed

While Mayor Rob Burton, who voted in favour of the plan, suggested that planned growth could “incentivize” Metrolinx to build the underpass, Duddeck wasn’t convinced.

“Public safety is at risk,” she said. “If that’s not a priority for Metrolinx and they need us to provide something in an official plan to convince them to act in the best interest of the public, then it’s a sorry day, that’s all I can say.”

Her fellow Ward 2 councillor Ray Chisholm also voted against the plan.

“It’s quite obvious from our residents and constituents that they want more time to look at this,” he said. “It is a major, major development in our ward – probably the biggest development in our ward in the future and in its history.”

“I’m of the opinion that development shouldn’t happen there until the underpass is done.”

Councillors heard from about a half dozen neighbourhood delegations, all expressing some concerns with the plan.

"More crowded and crowded and crowded"

Doug Sams, executive director of the Kerr Village BIA, said his organization is unhappy with the loss of retail space in the area.

“They’re building a lot of places for people to live, but they’re not building a lot of new commercial properties for people to shop, to go to, to be entertained, and it just gets more crowded and crowded and crowded,” he said.

He also urged the town to ensure necessary infrastructure is built before adding more people to the community.

“The higher the influx of people, the more demand and stress that will be placed on amenities, public services and the creation of traffic problems if the right infrastructure is not in place, such as the Kerr Street underpass.”

Nicole LeBlanc, president of the West River Residents Association, told council that residents are concerned that the building heights will set a new precedent in an area where a maximum of only 12 storeys is allowed under the town’s official plan.

“There really hasn’t been much justification for the buildings that exceed what already is in the existing area, which is the 21 storeys of Rain and Senses (condo),” she said.

LeBlanc added that people are worried about the future of the grocery store on the property.

While recognizing that neither the town nor the developer can guarantee future rental uses, she said a nearby grocery store is essential to many living in the neighbourhood.

Melanie Hare, a partner with planning consultant Urban Strategies who spoke on behalf of the applicant, acknowledged that concern.

“We can’t commit to something today that might be coming in five or 10 years,” she said. “But we certainly have heard loud and clear from the community and the council that this is a priority, and we are prepared to work with you.”

Plan would allow Kerr Village to retain character, planning consultant says

Hare added that the property owners have been collaborating with town staff on the redevelopment plan for over three years.

“The town is forecast to grow by 110,000 people by 2041,” she said. “That’s about 5,500 people a year, and Kerr Village is one of the places in the town where that growth is to be accommodated, as per council direction.”

Focusing high-density development on the plaza site will allow the remainder of Kerr Village to retain its Main Street character, she added.

Town planner Paul Barrette recommended council approve the plan, which was presented in the form of an Official Plan Amendment.

He said traffic issues, including the need for the underpass, could be managed through allowing development in phases or, if necessary, placing holding provisions on the properties until the underpass is completed.

He added that the site is appropriate for a high-density, transit-supportive development.

“It’s located in a part of town that’s very accessible, it’s within walking distance of the Oakville GO station, there are seven transit routes on its border, and it’s next to a major street,” Barrette said.

Voting in favour of the development plan: Mayor Rob Burton and Councillors Peter Longo, Tom Adams, Dave Gittings, Sean O’Meara and Allan Elgar.

Voting against the plan: Councillors Jonathan McNeice, Cathy Duddeck, Ray Chisholm, Janet Haslett-Theall, Marc Grant, Nav Nanda and Scott Xie.

Councillor Natalia Lishchyna was absent from the meeting.

Councillor Jeff Knoll declared a conflict of interest and didn’t vote on the matter. His movie theatre, Cinemas, rents space from one of the site’s five property owners.