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Proposed Picton sub-division targets affordable townhouses

By Sharon Harrison
Three separate in-person open house sessions provided early details of a proposed residential sub-division in Picton by Port Picton Homes. The idea includes smaller and more affordable units – under $300,000.

The hour-long sessions, each restricted to a maximum of eight people – to allow for COVID-19 safety protocols- took place in the parking lot at Port Picton Homes in downtown Picton and was meant to be casual with open conversation, and an alternative to a Zoom meeting.

The open house and presentation was hosted by Jennifer Wood, a land use planner with Fotenn Planning and Design of Kingston. Port Picton Homes’ developer David Cleave was also on hand to answer questions.

The ‘Talbot on the Trail’ proposal relates to an extension of an existing sub-division in the area and is located on the north side of Talbot Street, adjacent to the Millennium Trail.

The proposed development covers a site of 8.56 hectares on land owned by Port Picton Homes and would consist of 290 units comprising a mix of townhome dwellings, including what are known as ‘stacked’ townhomes.

There would be just one single detached dwelling situated on an odd-shaped lot.

Wood said it was still very early in the overall process with a lot more consultation to come, including formal public meetings. Last week’s informal meetings were to provide a sense of what the planner and the developer have been working on for the past year, as well as an opportunity to gain feedback.

“The development of any piece of property is borne by a number of factors and disciplines from technical to civil engineering to environmental,” said Wood. “A mean starting point from a planning perspective is looking at the overarching factors, planning documents and policy documents that guide local development in the County, specifically the Official Plan which is the County’s endorsed land use plan for how lands are to be developed in the future.”

She noted increasing load pressures in the County already being experienced now.

“As a result, the Official Plan really attempts to provide guidance on how development and growth is to take place, and also where,” said Wood. “Generally speaking, it is the existing settlement areas, such as Picton and Wellington, where the majority of growth and new residential boundaries should happen.”

Wood explained that the County also has a Secondary Plan.

“Secondary Plans are even more specific planning and guiding documents and are more area specific,” she said. The Secondary Plan designates these lands as ‘town residential’, so the lands are essentially on the edge and are considered the final piece of the puzzle of the urban built-up area, so it is the last vacant piece of land in mind that the County has already established that is in this boundary of urban development.”

Wood noted that the engineers and planners initially designed a fairly standard sub-division layout for the site, similar to those in the surrounding area.

“More and more, we are hearing from folks and politically that it’s just so expensive to buy in the County and they wanted to see some more affordable or attainable housing prices.”

The planners went back to the drawing board to look at some new ideas as an alternative housing typology and types, and how new residential uses can be achieved other than a typically density sub-division.

Wood said the challenge was to achieve something that was still going to be compatible and integrate, but that would include smaller and more affordable units – they are looking at under $300,000 – that would appeal to a diverse range of families.

“We said why don’t we look at alternatives when it comes to urban design and architecture and attempt to move away a little bit from what’s very typical which is dwellings, front facing garages and driveways,” explained Wood.

“One of the things we’ve heard all the way through when we go to council with draft plans is toward the affordable element,” said Cleave. “We stayed away from singles and we didn’t want to do any single family, but we just wanted to be in that higher density and try to be more attainable in our price bracket.”

“It may not be for the people who are here today and it may not be what you want to do, but from the council side, affordable housing is a big issue; it’s a huge issue in Prince Edward County, so this is the product that we are going for.”

“One of our main goals was how can we increase landscape green space, minimize hardscaping as much as possible, focus more on streetscape design, architectural, providing more room for landscaping, and garages in the back as much as possible,” Wood said. “That’s what really got us to this design which we did want to integrate some more traditional forms of housing.”

The design integrates stacked townhouses (which are up and down), some back-to-back houses, a lot of rear-lane access, which will be privately owned and maintained.

Wood said it is only the main streets that will be public, where a lot of the smaller streets will likely end up being privately maintained by condominium corporations.

On the plan, the blue blocks indicate standard townhomes, known as front-loaded townhomes which will have a driveway and a detached garage in the front. The number of storeys is unknown, but will be two-storey maximum.

“This section at the top we are planning for and anticipating allowing for basement secondary suites, again attempting whatever we can to improve affordable housing opportunities here.”

Purple blocks on the plan indicate back-to-back townhouses, with exterior facing walls on two sides.

“You drive into a communal driveway and you access your unit through a communal drive island that goes through a 50 per cent below grade,” explained Wood. “It’s not an underground parking lot, but it goes below grade and your parking space and your attached garage is effectively your lowest level built-in. You would have a walk-up style, about half level, six risers up to front door,” added Cleave.

The pink blocks on the plan are stacked townhouses. Wood noted each block would contain two units.

“Singularly, you are going to get the half-storey walk-up and you are going to get a few steps down, so the stacked townhouse, instead of being side-to-side, they are actually one up, one down, so you would have all the parking in the back, so driveways and attached garages,” said Wood.

“If you were walking down Street A for example, you would get a more traditional row house style that you maybe see 100 years ago when there were no cars and you would have basically a small walk up, a half flight of stairs, then the upper unit and it goes down to the lower unit,” explained Wood. “It’s those stacked townhouses that lower half above grade unit that’s going to be a little bit smaller that we are really achieving a lot of that affordability goal.”

Cleave said it is just in the last couple of years that stacked townhomes have been coming into the market.

“It’s been very accepted,” he said.

“You come up into a bungalow which is your first floor, and the next two floors above and then a two-storey town above that so they can be three up or almost subterranean where you can be three up and one subterranean in the ground also.”

Wood noted this is a product Cleave has never worked with before and one that doesn’t exist in Picton, so the design details are still being worked out.

The site also contains a significant environmental sensitive area (the white area at the top right side of the plan), an area considered environmentally wet area associated with hospital creek.

“We have already been working with Quinte Conservation to really define the edge of that sensitive area and then beyond that (the hatched area on the plan), defining an area beyond which is basically a buffer or a set-back,” said Wood. “We do want some breathing room between the edge of the environmentally-sensitive area and where we actually see development. There is a real opportunity here to expand the pond and the open space systems.”

The green block (Block 301 on the plan) is proposed future parkland (about one acre in size) and sits adjacent to the environmental protection area (approximately four acres in size). A boardwalk is proposed that will connect the two areas and also the Millennium Trail.

“For a residential development, you have to give a minimum of five percent of green area, so I think we are a little bit over that here,” said Wood.

“We were conscious the whole time, this is a little more density and we have designed it so that all of the units have their own parking, but we really wanted to avoid spill-over parking to this neighbourhood and surrounding neighbourhoods on the street.”

The development includes a separate parking lot with 70-80 spaces that will act as overflow for visitor parking, but also for the public to park to access the park.

Most of the meeting attendees were concerned residents who live on Jasper Avenue. Concerns raised covered the size of the two-and-a-half storey townhouse in relation to properties on the existing adjacent sub-division, including privacy and noise issues. As well, access points to the Millennium Trail, grading concerns, lack of public transportation in Picton, groundwater run-off, and the high-density aspect of the development were discussed.

One person objected to the development being described as ‘compatible’ with the surrounding developments.

“It is not compatible with the adjacent development because that is single family, this is all townhomes and the Official Plan says a mix,” she said. “As owners of single family homes on Jasper, this is a concern for us because this is not a mix; it is a mistake not to have a mix of homes.”

Cleave said single housing is on the way out.

“As a developer, we have to be really careful we watch the market,” he said. “You couldn’t sell a townhouse 15 years ago, then all of a sudden rural Ontario (Belleville, Kingston) suddenly started spotting in some towns.”

Cleave said 10-1 people want townhomes versus singles.

He said land prices are at a premium everywhere, including Prince Edward County.

“Land costs are skyrocketing, even in the County,” said Cleave.

“As we look into these types of properties, Secondary Plans are tightening down, prices just keep moving: how do you get a product under $300,000?” he said. “You have to have this density; you can’t make a project to 180 units, because you are back in $350,000. The horseshoe want compatible affordable housing under $300,000.”

Another question asked, why build townhomes when you lose a lot of space with staircases, especially when there is a lot of land in Prince Edward County.

“Our Secondary Plan is tightening up really quickly; you think there is a lot of land, but when you look at the Secondary Plan, there really isn’t,” said Cleave. “That’s why the planners are pushing people like us to increase density. They want more and more density because they have a water and sewer system that are in the multi-millions of dollars to pay for and they need users because the capacity of those plants are under used.”

“It’s all that driving force,” he said. “It’s not just about density and people living, it’s also about our infrastructure and our Secondary Plan and our urbanization of those plants to use them.”

The target demographic for Talbot on the Trail will be professionals, late 30s/early 40s with families.

Cleave noted the COVID-19 outbreak has changed the market of people coming to Prince Edward County, with people coming from the city who are looking for a different lifestyle, especially since many people are working from home and can relocate anywhere.

“I employ 100 people and it is a hardship employing young people in our company because we are such a closed market,” Cleave said.

Addressing concerns over the proposed high-density, Cleave said, “Main Street needs another 500 people because they are barely hanging on. It is tough being a businessperson here; being retired here is wonderful, but you need that serviceability around us too.“

“Nancy and I and our daughters are all part of the program,“ said Cleave, about Port Picton Homes. “There’s a lot that happens in this office and it takes 100 employees to do what we do, and we have a huge team of engineers and planners and professional people that make it happen every day.“

Next steps will involve submitting planning applications to the municipality and Quinte Conservation which comes with a detailed planning rationale.

“That is an extensive review, it gives you a really detailed overview of all of the components, like a planning justification,” said Wood. “There will be traffic studies, all of the servicing-related capacity studies, environmental study as well, geo-technical.”

Cleave expects a late spring 2021 start, and once servicing starts, building will begin within three or four months.

“Sometime next summer we would be in the ground,” he said, noting the development is a phased program that is expected to take around five years to complete.

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  1. Gary says:

    If you are making $14.00 an hour, a $100,000 home is not attainable. Has to be different approaches to this.

  2. David Harrington says:

    300K NOT AFFORDABLE AT 14.00 per hour seasonal job

  3. ADJ says:

    I’m a bit off topic here but I still think it pertains to the subject. I really think we can trace all these headaches back to amalgamation. As townships, we were able to elect and then on a small scale decide if or not how building projects were granted. Now, because we were lead to believe that more tax money in the pot made for a better tax base Council and staff have a free hand to spend, spend, spend.(Show me how our runaway debt is being paid down.) Council seems to think more housing for more people results in more taxes… As stated no jobs here for the blue collar worker means this housing is unaffordable to only the retired wealthy. How about some “geared to income” housing? How about some small type industry or job incentives so that locals can live out their lives here. I’ve seen no good come from this amalgamation. In fact higher taxes based on out of County assessments, bloated policing costs, extravagant grants to fly by night organizations who present a rosy picture to a Council and staff and better roads to the more populated, larger wards er townships. It’s easy to understand why residents with deep roots here have had to sell the heritage farm or century home and move out of County to a rental somewhere. Yes they say “well, that’s progress” But progress for who?

  4. Marie Powell says:

    In reference to the statement in the article that, “Main Street needs another 500 people “, I have some words of advice for business owners who would like to attract more local residents: Treat the County residents who work for you with dignity and humanity. Pay them fairly, and pay them on time. Give them the lunch break they are legally entitled to, and step in for them a few times during the day so they can use the washroom. If an employee wants to start a family, don’t berate or intimidate him or her because you don’t want to deal with paternity or maternity leave. If an employee injures himself or herself, don’t discourage him/her from contacting Workers’ Compensation. If your employee is being treated abusively by tourists or other customers, step in and put a stop to it. And for goodness sake, don’t expect your employees to stay an hour past closing time because a browsing (potential) customer wants to linger. Let them go home – they have a duty to their families, too.

    It should be a no-brainer that word of mouth is still a pretty big deal here. Employees who are mistreated have neighbours, friends and family members, and these people will boycott your establishment because of shoddy business practices. Have a heart – word of exemplary behaviour and a good reputation will serve you better.

  5. angela says:

    A $300,000. house is hardly what those with lower incomes would call affordable. A couple working for minimum wage or a little better would have a hard time with the mortgage payments.

  6. Marie Powell says:

    I agree with Dennis. These are neither affordable nor attainable for many local people. I know – I used to be one of those people who worked a full-time job and two part-time jobs just to survive and keep my County home during this ongoing process of gentrification. I’ve watched many locals leave the County because they can no longer afford to stay here. Many grew up here, and have County ancestors dating back 200 years or more. How nice for them that they were pushed out by greed, having their voices ignored, and no longer being able to enjoy the heritage that should have been theirs. In addition, I am deeply saddened to watch more land being torn up and more wildlife displaced so that we can bring more residents into a local infrastructure that doesn’t adequately support the population we have now. I feel like I’ve been grieving for years over this issue, and I’m sure many others are, too. I’m disappointed and angered by this development, and while my voice has fallen on deaf ears in the past, I will continue to speak up for the environment and wildlife, and for the disenfranchised who have served and supported this community, only to be left behind.

  7. Dennis Bond says:

    Whether you call it attainable or affordable it is neither in a community driven by so much tourism/agriculture and paying at or near minimum wage, seasonally.
    At a cost of 300k per unit it is industry driven verbiage repeated by media coverage.
    I realize that this is a sign of the times, but I find it self serving by the industry and lacking insight into the community needs.

  8. renay weissman says:

    This had to happen. Please let’s do it with as much care for them environment and quality of life as possible. People need homes in this in pri price range.. Certainly not any higher for County folk!

  9. Terrence Hodkinson says:

    you should start referring to this type of housing development as “attainable ” rather than affordable. Unfortunately “affordable” has developed an almost negative connotation. This housing project will require hard working individuals and families to access entry level housing. We used this approach in Calgary and had fantastic success.

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