Waterfront condo proposal gets city council approval

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Sarnia’s waterfront is getting a new high-rise.

Plans for a 19-storey condo building at 135 Water St. – currently Sarnia Rent-All –received council’s approval in a 6-2 recorded vote on Dec. 9, despite objections from neighbours over its largesse.

Sarnia can’t afford to turn away development, nor pass on tax base growth over “NIMBY (not in my backyard) concerns,” Coun. Bill Dennis said.

“Let’s face it, any of our development downtown or anywhere in the city could have been argued to have blocked someone’s view,” he said, targeting one of the objections from neighbours.

The proposal also promises to create jobs, he said.

“I will vote to move our city forward and help our taxpayers overall,” he said.

An amendment proposed from Coun. Mike Stark, to sink two of the five planned levels of parking garage below ground – reducing the build to 17 storeys instead – died when he couldn’t find a seconder.

Coun. Margaret Bird voted in opposition, calling the building too large for the land.

The proposed 100-unit building would be consistent with other structures in the area, but council was being asked for rezoning because requirements for setbacks, lot area, parking spaces and others wouldn’t otherwise be met. The lot, for example, is 2,900 square metres but the zoning requires 5,050 square metres.

Concerns from neighbours focused on shadows, possible soil contamination, and the potential for wind speeds to accelerate between closely packed buildings.

Soil testing has come back clean, meaning no contamination above what is permitted by the province, said David French of Chatham-Kent based Baird AE, representing property owner Henry Mehta.

The build will create about 70 jobs over the course of the two-year construction project, and another 10-20 full-time jobs, Mehta said.

Concerns were expressed about construction noise negatively impacting terminally ill residents at St. Joseph’s Hospice, but the hospice agreed to support the project so long as it has a seat at the table for construction meetings, said hospice executive director Larry Lafranier.

Being in constant communication could let the hospice work around the noise, potentially deferring some admissions, he said, noting several meetings were held between the hospice and property owner.

“We addressed a lot of their concerns and will be in full support to talk to them from starting to end,” Mehta said. “Any communication they need to have, we’ll provide anything they need.”

This was the second public meeting held in council chambers on the subject – a rare move after council decided, amid objections at the Oct. 28 meeting, that there hadn’t been enough public consultation.

About 40 to 50 people attended a public consultation in the interim, but that council had to force the issue was disqualifying, said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, the other vote against the development proposal.

“We had to force this on them, and I can’t accept that,” he said, also noting that if the build had been reduced to 15 floors, he could have supported it.

Councillors Terry Burrell, Brian White, Bill Dennis, Dave Boushy, Nathan Colquhoun and Mike Stark voted in favour of the development.

Coun. George Vandenberg was absent.