NEWS December 10th, 2015

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Southvale developer promises to collaborate — or sell

'I like to be welcome in a neighbourhood, not hated,' Baghai says

Eric Emin Wood/Town Crier WILLING TO COMPROMISE: Developer Shane Baghai, with microphone, tells community meeting if they don't want his proposed condominium building on Southvale Drive, he'll sell the property. Councillor Jon Burnside is in the foreground.

Near the end of a community consultation meeting on Dec. 2, luxury developer Shane Baghai promised the application-weary audience that if they truly believed his proposal for an eight-storey, 98-unit condominium at 3–5 Southvale Dr. would disrupt Leaside, he would sell the land.

“I feel what you feel,” he told about 100 residents. “I had an apartment building go up almost next door to me at the Bridle Path. Who would have ever thought that there would be a condo building on the Bridle Path, of all places?”

But such proposals are part of the reality of living in a city with a rapidly growing population, he said.

“I assure you, my job is to enhance the city,” Baghai said. “If you honestly and truly feel that I’m intruding, to a point that I’m disrupting your lives and really and truly detracting from your neighbourhood … I can always sell the property.”

After the meeting Baghai clarified his statement for the Town Crier, confirming he would sell the land to another developer if he and the community could not agree on the proposal’s final design.

“I like to be welcome in a neighbourhood, not hated,” he said.

Overall, the community’s response to Baghai’s application was more concerned than angry, with even detractors acknowledging the proposal’s current design, a staggered mix of stone, red brick and tempered glass, was attractive.

“There’s a lot I like about this,” resident Barry Schneider said. “I think this is an ideal location for a condo…. If it gets built, we will be very proud of the quality.”

More debatable, however, was whether the rezoning necessary for the application’s approval would simply allow Baghai to redevelop the site or set a precedent for future development headaches. Given the latter risk, every resident who spoke at the meeting appeared firmly in favour of reducing the proposal’s height.

“I have a concern about eight storeys,” Schneider said. “The building across the road is five, and I think that’s probably about as much as we’d like to see right along a residential area. But I think with some negotiations with the developers, we can come up with something that we’ll be eventually very proud of.”

City planner John Lyon identified a host of concerns with the proposal, starting with Baghai’s request to rezone the site, which is located next to Leaside Memorial Gardens and currently hosts a two-storey warehouse building and a vacant industrial building. While the site is presently identified as a “neighbourhood” zone under the city’s official plan, Baghai would like it to be rezoned as “apartment neighbourhood,” allowing up to about 16 storeys.

Other potential issues included the appropriate building type for the site, the proposal’s shadow impacts on adjacent neighbourhoods, its compatibility with existing buildings nearby, and impact on traffic, Lyon said.

Architect Andrew Bigauskas, who served as Baghai’s primary representative during the meeting, presented the proposal as meeting a demand for smaller homes in Leaside, particularly from downsizing residents whose spouses had passed away or children moved out, but didn’t want to leave the neighbourhood.

“To me it’s a question of balance,” Bigauskas said. “For example, my mother lived in a house when my father passed away. She needed to move to an apartment, but did not find an apartment in her neighbourhood — so she had to change neighbourhoods.”

Baghai was taking a collaborative approach that included discussions with the Leaside Property Owners Association and a design inspired by nearby buildings such as the five-storey retirement centre across the street, Bigauskas said.

Other residents weren’t buying it, however.

“I don’t believe anything in the pictures or anything that the gentleman is [promising] is going to be put in place,” John Kittredge, a 35-year veteran of Leaside, said during an impassioned speech that received loud applause. “Whatever happens, the building will still be higher than the building across the street, which was higher than every other apartment building in Leaside at the point at which it was built… All of these things disturb us, and we’re quite upset.”

Bill Smiley expressed skepticism with Baghai’s traffic consultants concluding that the proposal’s impact on traffic would be a minimal, and with Bigauskas’ offhand comment that the rink itself wasn’t busy at peak hours.

“I don’t know when he did his study, but if you get a week-long hockey tournament there, they start at 6 o’clock in the morning and go all day long,” Smiley said. “He’s telling me that the rink is not busy in the morning? It’s busy all day long!”

Another wary resident was Francis Ekonomou, who owns a bungalow next door and expressed concerns with both the proposal’s potential impact on traffic and its half-metre setback from her home.

“Right now … it takes me at least seven minutes to back out,” Ekonomou said. “And you’re saying that there’s going to be no impact on the traffic?”

Ward 26 councillor Jon Burnside said he could not support Baghai’s proposal in its current form, but would be open to negotiation, in contrast to other recent applications.

“It’s not simply the height — it’s the conversion from the neighbourhood designation to apartment neighbourhood, and that’s quite serious,” Burnside said. “I don’t think this one is as egregious as many of others are … but we’ll see how flexible the developer is.”