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‘Worst thing to happen to River Oaks’: 9-storey condo proposed to replace strip plaza

Incoming neighbourhood density: An intrusion or an inevitability?
Town of Oakville
Town of Oakville

A proposal to replace a River Oaks strip plaza with a nine-storey condo building was met with skepticism from town councillors and opposition from local residents during a recent public meeting.

The Bara Group wants to tear down the M&Ms plaza and the adjacent medical building located near Sixth Line and River Oaks Boulevard and replace them with a 247-unit condo building.

It says the neighbourhood plaza is under utilized property that could add needed housing to the community.

But local residents say the proposed building is too big and tall to fit into their low density neighbourhood and will exacerbate traffic issues on Sixth Line.

The application for official plan and zoning amendments were up for discussion at the Feb. 7 meeting of the town’s planning and development council.

The developer's plan for a nine-storey building that steps down to seven storeys, then eventually to two storeys, has been designed to be sensitive to the community, said planner David Charezenko, who spoke on behalf of the Bara Group.

"The proposal has been designed to fit within a 45-degree angular plane from Sixth Line, so it won’t have any built form impacts on the surrounding neighbourhoods."

The mixed-use building would include ground floor retail that would replace roughly half of the retail space currently on the properties. It would contain a mixture of condo unit sizes, with most being two or three bedrooms.

But the developer’s plans for two levels of underground parking with only 243 parking spaces caught the attention of town councillors.

Charezenko said 185 of the spots would be allocated for residents, 55 spots would be shared by visitor and retail users and four would be used for car sharing.

"So only 75 per cent of the people in the units can have one vehicle, never mind that anybody would ever have two vehicles?" asked Ward 4 councillor Allan Elgar, incredulously.

Ward 5 councillor Jeff Knoll was equally skeptical.

"Have you seen a (parking) scenario like this work in Oakville before?" he asked. "I’ve been here 22 years and I’ve never seen one that's worked. Actually, for those of us in North Oakville, it’s the bane of our existence."

Charezenko said reduced parking has worked in other communities and that "demand management tactics," including available car share spaces can help cut the need for spots.

"Like a block wall"

Local residents lined up to express their dismay with the plan.

"At nine storeys, whichever way you look at it, it’s huge," said Pierre Sauvageot. "Nine storeys is like a block wall."

"I believe in intensification but not at that height and level and the number of units."

Gary Bruce questioned the developer’s transportation impact study, noting that vehicle counts at Sixth Line and River Oaks were taken in midst of the pandemic, while students at the three area schools were still learning virtually.

The plaza might be under utilized, Bruce said, but Sixth Line is fully utilized and often has traffic backups extending from Upper Middle Road past River Oaks Boulevard.

"With all the development that’s happening north of Dundas Street, Sixth Line has become a critical alternate to Trafalgar in terms of north-south for those residents living up there and it’s just increasing the traffic," he said.

Residents also expressed concern with the loss of the neighbourhood plaza, the impact of one to two years of construction, and possible harm to the natural ravine area bordering the property.

Julia Kelly, a resident on Munn’s Avenue since 1984, said she has seen lots of changes in the area.

"This is the worst thing River Oaks has ever had happen to it," she said.

But Charezenko warned councillors that the plan is the way of the future for suburban neighbourhoods.

"Areas like this will receive development applications similar to this in the future because these are opportunities on arterial roads where we can sensitively intensify our neighbourhoods without replacing the single family homes that dominate these areas."

A decision on the application will be made at a future Planning and Development meeting.