The Salvation Army’s Vanier Development Proposal: Who is the Real Applicant?

When applying for amendments to the City’s Official Plan and/or Zoning Bylaw, applicants are required to submit several technical reports as supporting documentation which are then used as part of the review on the part of appropriate City staff (not just planners). These documents include, for example, environmental site assessment, transportation/traffic impact, geotechnical investigation, building elevations and site plan and, planning rationale. Document requirements can vary depending on the complexity of the application. All of the technical documents for the Salvation Army proposal are made available to the public on the City’s web site.

Typically, the planning consultant or architect act as the applicant on behalf of the owner. In the case of the Vanier proposal the prospective owner is The Governing Council of the Salvation Army in Canada (the Salvation Army has submitted a conditional offer to purchase the subject property) and the applicant, and planning consultant, is FoTenn Consultants Inc.

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The consultant’s planning report is similar to the format of a City’s staff report in that it describes, for example, the proposal in terms of built form, urban design and land use, compares the requested Zoning or Official Plan changes to existing relevant City and Provincial policies, examines the land use impacts of the proposed project on surrounding existing uses and, prepares a rationale for approving the application(s). The consultant report also includes recommended planning statements for the Official Plan and/or Zoning Bylaw amendments just as the planning staff do when writing the specific recommendations when approving each development application. The Planning Rationale report prepared for the Salvation Army was submitted to the City as part of the development applications package on June 13, 2017.

Comparing the consultant’s Planning Rationale report to the City’s planning report that was submitted to Planning Committee reveals one very significant difference. The FoTenn report describes the 4 different housing models included in the proposed development: emergency accommodation (140 beds); working men/life skills/aging demographic (100 beds); stabilization and anchorage (50 beds), and; specialized medical care (60 beds). The description also includes the day program services such as life skills training, housing supports and referrals, community and family services that are offered to both the clients at the centre and the broader population. The report, however, still presents the entire project as a shelter consistent with the City’s Zoning By-Law definition of “shelter” but at the same time recognizing that it does provide other forms of longer-term accommodation with support services. The actual wording in the report is as follows:

“The Zoning By-law defines a shelter as “an establishment providing temporary accommodation to individuals who are in immediate need of emergency accommodation and food, and may include ancillary health care, counselling, and social support services”. The proposed development is defined as a “shelter” as it offers the emergency accommodation and food, but the proposed facility will provide many other forms of longer-term housing, community, health and social services that all contribute to the importance of establishing a framework for the support and success of individuals served by the facility.” (p.4)

Nowhere in the report does the consultant break down project’s floor area based on the distinction between “shelter” use and “residential care” use. The consultant’s report even describes the proposed use as being similar to the existing hotel, Concorde Motel, in that both uses provide temporary accommodation.

“The subject property is currently being used as a motel, which is defined in the by-law as a hotel, a building that provides temporary accommodation, meals and other services. The proposed use, in many ways, is very similar to a hotel, other than the additional support services that will be offered.” (p.29)

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The planning staff report, on the other hand, does make a clear distinction between the shelter and residential care components stating that the later represents the largest share, 85%, of the total floor area of the project. This distinction is a critical piece in the planners’ rationale for supporting the development applications. As I stated in an earlier blog, by identifying a separate residential care component, it establishes the impression that 85% of the proposed project, would have been allowed to proceed without any amendment to either the Official Plan or Zoning Bylaw – a point made by the Mayor in his summary statement at City Council. More important, the inclusion of an emergency shelter could then be viewed as a complementary but minor use and therefore making the approval of the project more palatable to decision makers. Seeking planning approvals for a 140-bed shelter as an ancillary use is very different than obtaining approval for a 350-bed shelter representing 100% of the proposed use.

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The other interesting difference found in the City’s planning report is the specific limit placed on the size of the shelter component at 900 sq. metres of gross floor area. The recommended limit is interesting in that the size of the shelter component in the Salvation Army’s proposed development is about 10% less at 801 sq. metres. It’s not that often that planners actual give more floor space than what is asked for. The City planners’ rationale for increasing the size of the shelter is somewhat unclear so I will simply quote it here.

“The proposed amendments [by City staff] to the Zoning By-law include permitting a maximum of 900 square metres for the shelter use, to accommodate some flexibility above the proposed 801 square metres. The shelter is an integral component of a larger care facility and it is the conglomeration of all these uses together that define the overall functioning of the site. To ensure that each component has its own role and that the shelter plays only the part it is intended to do, the size has been limited to 900 square metres.”

The intent on the part of the planners may be to allow the Salvation Army to provide more shelter beds from other housing components to homeless men should demand increase in the future. Still, it is not clear why City staff would modify the programming elements of the proposed project and increase the size of the nonconforming component of the project especially since the applicant did not build in this flexibility in the submitted proposal. Regardless, City Council did eventually approve an amendment to the planning report to scale down the 900 sq. metres back to the original 801 sq. metres.

When asked at Planning Committee if there were other examples of similar developments in other cities in Canada, representatives from the Salvation Army indicated that there were comparable projects in Toronto and British Columbia without actually naming them. The Toronto project is most likely the Maxwell Meighen Centre. According to the Salvation Army’s website, the Centre is a multi-care facility offering various programs and services. The Centre provides 288 emergency shelter beds for men, a 10-bed crisis stabilization Primary Support Unit, 45 beds in the Transition to Housing program and a 34-private rooms for people living on fixed incomes as well as counselling/case management services, housing help support workers, addictions services and consulting psychiatrist services.

The Centre’s 2016/17 registered charity tax return (T3010) includes a summary of where its time and resources are invested in terms of its primary program areas. The summary is provided below. The table shows that, according to the Salvation Army Centre, that the largest share of resources is invested in the emergency shelter operations.

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By making the distinction between shelter and residential care, the City of Ottawa’s planners clearly gave more weight to their recommendation for approval.  Making this distinction and modifying the original applicant’s Planning Rationale, would have possibly been less a problem had there existed a clear zoning definition of what constitutes an emergency shelter versus a residential care facility and an agreed-to understanding of how they differed in terms of temporary vs transitional / supportive housing vs domiciliary hostels vs permanent housing, assigned beds vs emergency beds, accommodation as private residences vs individual beds in a common space etc. Such clarity or common understanding of the differences between the two types of housing does not exist as evidenced by the contrary arguements presented by delegations at the marathon 3-day public consultation meeting at Planning Committee.

'Wait a minute! Aren't you the chap who refused planning permission on the St., Mary's church extension?'

 

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