Highrise at College and Clarence

The Varsity View Community Association (VVCA), in the interest of representing the community’s views, is gathering a petition to find out how many community members are opposed to the proposed College Drive high-rise.

If you are opposed to the rezoning of 1006 College Drive and 421 Clarence Avenue North to permit construction of the proposed 12 storey high-rise, please download the petition (PDF), sign, ask your neighbours to sign, and email BEFORE JANUARY 28 to Jon Naylor,  VVCP President.

The Varsity View-Grosvenor Community Association, together with our residents, has spent hundreds of hours developing an understanding of what this means for our community and what our position should be..

For those who have not heard the site is South East corner of College and Clarence. The corner is presently zoned for a mixture of 4 and 3 storey residential use with a 6 m. setback from College. The proposal is for a non-conforming 12 storey building with a 2.1 m setback.
The City is only obligated to let residents within 75 m of the new building know about the change in zoning. This is woefully inadequate. The Grosvenor-VVCA board gave up evening and weekend time to distribute the better part of a thousand extra flyers to residents.

The information presented at the meeting was incomplete. The reduced setback was not highlighted, and, in consequence, its implications were not discussed. Other aspects were disingenuous. Residents had concerns regarding traffic flow. In response, the expert stated that the new high rise would result in minimal additional delay for a vehicle crossing the College-Clarence intersection at rush hour. This is correct but has no bearing on travel time, which is the residents’ concern. Think of being in a queue at the supermarket, when the supermarket gets busier your time with the cashier does not change. However, the length of the queue changes, this determines how long it will take you to get out of the store. A final problem is that while many experts were on hand at the meeting, there was insufficient time to answer all concerns and no opportunity to view the experts reports after the meeting.

Based on the vote at the meeting (19 against, 1 in favor and 14 abstentions) and considerable further correspondence with the City planning department the Community Association is against this non-conforming development for these reasons:
• Inadequate consultation (see above)
• Potential adverse affects on parking. The current zoning requirements for visitor parking seem low. Residents around other high rises report increased parking problems because visitors cannot gain access to the spots reserved for them.
• The reduced setback limits future road improvements to College. The road immediately in front of the proposed high-rise is one of the few parts of College that will be reduced to two lanes by the new BRT routes.
• Residents report increased flooding in our neighborhood following storms. The City informs us that this will not be a problem because storm water from the roof, driveways, and paved surfaces will be collected and slowly run into the storm drains. As we are not aware of other developments in Varsity View where water from driveways is collected, we doubt that the developer will agree to this requirement.
• The ability of City water supply, sewer services, parks, and schools to absorb the additional demands of this building and the demands of conforming development that is already approved are unknown. Brunskill School is at capacity. It is unclear how the City/School Board will address the additional needs that densification brings.
• The high rise sits at the gateway to our community. It will have a negative affect on the single-family homes in the vicinity. Some of these have hundreds of thousands, or maybe millions, of investment. They anchor our neighborhood.
• High density housing decreases cohesion and increases crime. This is particularly true for the mix of high-density housing and low income groups (who do you think lives in high rises once they lose their new sheen?). Some developers suggest it is particularly true for residents who live more than 6 floors from the ground – they no longer feel part of the community and so are less inclined to help look after it.
• There is an abrupt transition from this high rise to single detached dwellings which is contrary to Saskatoon’s Official Community Plan.
• Although everyone denies this, approving a non-conforming high rise will set a precedent for our entire neighborhood. Prior to this proposal 2 to 4 storey buildings were planned for College. If a high rise gets approved our entire neighborhood could get similar additions. Another high rise is proposed for Cumberland and 8th. It is impossible to believe assurances about future development if Council does not respect its own zoning policies.

I am going to finish with a quote from the Hemson report, the bible for Saskatoon’s developers. Regarding infill: “where existing infrastructure capacity is insufficient, the cost of new infrastructure can be very high”. Unfortunately, the considerable densification that has already happened in Varsity View occurred in parallel with ever increasing taxes. It is unreasonable that we should pay more for development that detracts from our community.

Okay, maybe not finished. Firstly, your board is not against densification. We are against non-conforming densification. We believe in planning and zoning so that we can predict problems and manage the outcomes.

Finally, it is very important that you let your councillor know where you stand. We will only sway council if we are united on non-conforming development. Write or email Councillor Cynthia Block with your views.

Jon Naylor, VVCA President

VVCA Objection Letter to City of Saskatoon

(PDF below) December 18, 2018

On behalf of the Varsity View Community Association we would like to object to rezoning for a highrise at College and Clarence for the following reasons:

The approval process was inadequate.
The Planning Department only circulated notice of the rezoning request to houses within 75 meters of the proposed development. In reality, a Highrise affects residents throughout the entire neighborhood and individual notices should have been sent to all these Taxpayers.

The notices themselves and the presentation at the Community meeting did not adequately describe all the ways in which this development would affect the neighborhood. Specifically, there was no mention in the notice to Taxpayers or in the presentation that the building requires a smaller setback than allowed under current zoning. According to City Planners this was intentional. However, it means that the Community did not get a chance to appreciate and comment on this aspect of the development.

Both the Developer and the Planning Department agree that advice was given about the construction of this building. However, the Planning Department lacks mechanisms to provide transparency regarding the number, timing, and content of their meetings with the developers. There is no mechanism to separate advice about the framing of the proposal from evaluation of the proposal. A situation where advice and evaluation are carried out by the same people and may lead to bias.

The Community was not given Access to Supporting Studies
Although traffic studies were conducted by the developer, the Community was not given access to their contents. It was only after considerable questioning that the Planning Department realized that the Traffic Study could not make a prediction about the affect of the proposed Highrise on the length of a journey from Varsity View to the Downtown (See emails lines 536 to 541 and Note 1). There are likely other inadequacies and relevant facts in the study that should be made public, these include the potential for less congestion if the building was built on the west side of the river.

No Formal Drainage Study was Undertaken
At the Community meeting several residents expressed concern about back up of storm sewers in the Varsity View neighborhood. The builders indicated that the high rise would trap storm water on the roof and gradually introduce it to storm sewers. However, the problem of surface water drainage was not addressed, this includes the flow of water from newly paved laneways and driveways. At the present time, water landing on the undeveloped site drains into the ground along with water from neighboring houses that drain water in this general direction. When the surface is paved, runoff will be much faster and will add to the burden on the storm sewers. The planning department gives inconsistent explanations as to why this might not be a problem. One is that as flow through storm sewers is towards the river, upstream properties would not be affected (emails lines 330 to 331). However, the Community Association believes that if additional water downstream fills the sewer then upstream water will drain more slowly and will back up more.

The Building’s Height is not Consistent with Current or Proposed Height Restrictions
The land is currently zoned for 3 and 4 storey construction. At the Come and Grow public consultation in 2018, images suggested that 2-6 storey buildings would be built along College. The proposed development does not respect either guideline.

The Proposed Setback Limits Future Road Improvements
Under current zoning, the setback from College is 6 m. The proposal calls for a front setback of 2.1 m. This was deemed a minor detail by City Planning so was not specifically highlighted in either the notices to the Community or in the Developer’s talk. The City Planning Department justifies this as being a minor detail and promoting a sense of ‘pedestrian comfort’. However, the Community feels that broad open walk spaces promote a sense of comfort (think of Paris). Public Health studies show that crime is reduced by the presence of a tree canopy (Note 3). Good tree cover is more likely with greater setbacks. We are also concerned that BRT plans call for a widening of College to accommodate a bus lane. At present, this is proposed to occur by taking land on the North (University) side. Some of this land is University owned. As approval has not yet been given by the University it would seem appropriate to hold off on reduced setbacks until this is sorted out.

The proposed building will stand for a hundred years. Again, future road improvements may call for road widening and expropriation of land for this purpose. If this building is built with reduced setbacks it will stop all road widening opportunities on the North side. The Community believes it would be more appropriate to maintain the current 6 m. setback in case it is needed for future road, pedestrian, or cycle improvements.

A Highrise will Contribute to Crime, Social Isolation and Increased Taxation in Future Years
Public Health studies show that population density, and particularly Highrises, contribute to crime. The planning department acknowledges that zoning and density increase the risk of crime but believes it is beyond their scope to use this information to plan for crime reduction. The Community believes that planning should take crime reduction into account for both safety and taxation (increased policing cost reasons).

The Affect of this Highrise on Future growth is Unknown.
All the studies around the current proposal are concerned with the affect of this one extra Highrise on the current situation. The studies do not account for the combined affects of this Highrise and buildings that have currently been approved in principal but not yet built. Specifically, further infill is expected in Varsity View as houses are torn down and replaced with two houses, sometimes with accompanying garage suites. Also, College Quarter is approved but a substantial amount of housing remains to be built. The Community Association has asked for clarity on whether current water supply can meet all these needs and has not received a reply from the City. Similarly, there is no assurance that storm water drainage will be adequate for all these needs. The Community suggests that non-conforming project are rejected and that a development plan that takes a holistic look at crime, water supply, water drainage and traffic flow is devised.
The Affect on Community Development

Varsity View has a high building density, 15.4 units per hectare compared with a city wide average of 11 units/ hectare. Varisty View continues to grow as older buildings are replaced with duplexes, lots are subdivide and garage suites added. This growth is planned. In addition, Varsity View is renovating and replacing old housing stock. This investment requires certainty about the future shape of the neighborhood. It also requires certainty that the existing water and storm sewage capacities will be adequate for future development. All these items are achieved through planning and conforming development. Planned growth is much more likely to be of long term benefit to the City because it allows a holistic approach to crime reduction and the availability of utilities and social services.

The traffic flow calculations submitted by the developer indicate that the proposed highrise would have a negligible affect on the delay at the intersection of College and Clarence. It is implied that this means there will be little affect on traffic flow.
Intersection delay is not a meaningful measure of additional congestion. If you think about queuing at a busy supermarket, the number of people in the store does not affect the time that it takes for one person to go through the checkout. However, the time that it will take you to reach the checkout is directly influenced by the number of people in the store because it influences the length of the queue.

When College is busy, e.g. during rush hour. Additional vehicles from the Highrise will not affect the time it takes one vehicle to cross the intersection. A finding confirmed by the developer’s traffic survey. The City’s planners confirm that the traffic survey does not address the issue of travel time. It is thus meaningless to the Residents of Saskatoon who are interested in the affects of the Highrise on travel time. I calculater, the additional vehicles from the development will increase the length of the queue and may add up to 30 seconds to travel time each way.

PDF version