This is what I said during the vote today on the Dobbin house proposal for 180-184 Signal Hill Road. It did pass, however, with 8-3 Councillors voting in favour of the proposal. The development will likely begin in Spring 2018.
I want to start with some praise for the proponents. They are really trying to do everything right. They’ve hired a first-rate architect, they’ve put together a very thoughtful and well considered design, and they’ve been very open to discussion. In a lot of ways this is an excellent proposal.
Earlier in this process I had many of the same design concerns that you see in the Built Heritage Experts Panel report. I was concerned about the use of modern materials, about the curvilinear shape, above the use of a single large mass. But talking through these issues with Mr Pratt has given me a deeper appreciation for the design choices. The proposal blends into the contours of the hill. It doesn’t block views and it stands out as little as possible, while having its own internal logic and appeal as a building. It’s very impressive.
However, as my concerns about design have receded, my concerns about sheer size have come to the foreground.
This proposal is too large to be automatically approved under the Battery Overlay within the Development Regulations, therefore a comprehensive design package was required in the form of a LUAR. The Development Regulations allow Council to approve developments that don’t fall within the Overlay, but only if Council concludes the LUAR is acceptable. In the Municipal Plan, Neighbourhood development a huge priority and I believe this development will be detrimental to the neighbourhood. In deciding whether a proposal is acceptable, I am guided by the values underlying the Overlay and the Battery Development Study that it comes from.
The basic logic of the proposal is that tearing down several small houses makes up for erecting one large one. From a floor-area-ratio perspective that’s very logical. This proposal doesn’t add to the amount of built space on the hill.
But the character of the Battery isn’t defined by a floor-area ratio. Many traditional Battery houses have a very high ratio: they’re densely packed and are built to the corners of their lots.
The Battery’s appearance and character is defined by clusters of small houses. That’s why the Overlay doesn’t focus on density or floor-area ratios. It talks about the size of houses and whether they are proportional to the neighbourhood.
From that perspective, you can’t just trade a cluster of small houses for one big one. Imagine if we made that trade throughout the Battery, trading clusters of houses for huge individual houses with large setbacks. There’d be nothing left of the character of the neighbourhood.
When you focus on proportionality and size, this proposal is radically out of step with the character of the neighbourhood or the spirit of the Overlay. As the Historic Trust emphasized in its submission, the proposed home has five times the footprint of an average Battery home. It’s more than 2.5 times the size of 176 Signal Hill Road, which is described in the Overlay as being disproportionately large for the neighbourhood.
So as much as I admire the work the proponents and Mr. Pratt have done on this proposal, I don’t think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the regulations. We can’t protect the character or image of the Battery and also approve the construction of homes as big as this, however well they’re designed.