Cathedral residents sure didn’t like one developer’s storey

City | by Evan Radford

A mixed-use, four-storey apartment building rejected 6-4 by Regina’s city council on July 25 appears to have exposed deep divisions between residents of the city’s Cathedral neighbourhood.

Richard McGrath wanted to build the project in the neighbourhood. Thanks to council’s

vote, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

In her written submission to council, Jane Anweiler chastised McGrath for his intent to profit from apartment rentals in the building.“As [McGrath and his wife] so eloquently stated at that meeting, ‘They are not a charity.’ I would like to say in reply that the Cathedral Area Neighbourhood was not designed to be their retirement fund.”

In her lengthy submission to council, fellow resident Susan Field expressed concern over allegations that the Protect Cathedral Neighbourhood Group harasses and intimidates people supporting new developments in the area.

Another resident, Robert Porter, took to the Leader-Post’s letters section of  to voice his concern over residents opposing the project.

“I urge council to reject NIMBYism and approve this project,” he wrote on July 14.

Responding to a letter from resident Barbara Kahan, who opposed the development, Porter noted he lives in a home 165 metres from the site in question. Kahan’s home is at 2058 Elphinstone Street, and would have bordered parking stalls on the north side of the proposed development.

This is a lot of heat for a proposed apartment block that would replace an ugly, run-down strip mall. What’s going on? What’s the big deal, anyway?

Mixed-Use And Mixed Reception

Pitched by McGrath to sit on the northwest corner of Elphinstone Street and 13th Avenue, the building was to host 29 apartment suites on the upper three floors, coupled with three commercial spots on the first floor.

The proposal also called for 29 surface-level parking stalls —one for each suite.

Height and the parking stalls appear to be the contentious points for those opposed to the development, including Cathedral Area Community Association (CACA) president Theresa Walter and a member of the Protect Cathedral Neighbourhood Group, Molly Moss.

Walter and Moss both say a three-storey building would be acceptable.

The development would have required McGrath and architect John McGinn to knock down the dilapidated, strip mall eyesore that occupies the spot now, along with a three-floor house behind the strip mall at 2064 Elphinstone Street. Both are owned by McGrath.

Another point of contention for delegates opposed to the building at the July 25 council meeting was that the demolition of the house and the construction of the building called for the house to be rezoned from R1A (Residential Older Neighbourhood Zone) to LC3 (Local Commercial Zone).

Walter and Moss say such a change represents a bending of the rules, one that would set an unwelcomed precedent for future proposed developments in the area.

Looking at the larger picture, Ward 8 councillor Mike O’Donnell and executive director of planning and development Diana Hawryluk — both of whom are familiar with McGrath’s pitch — say the marathon council meeting and the community opposition to the proposal were nods to the larger conflict between two official development plans at odds with each other.

Old Plans Versus New Plans

O’Donnell, who voted for the four-storey building, also sits on the city’s Planning Commission. He says the two plans in conflict are Regina’s Official Community Plan — also dubbed Design Regina and completed in 2013 — and the older Cathedral Area Neighbourhood Plan, first prepared in April 1987.

“The problem with it is that it’s dated,” says O’Donnell.

“In both cases, both plans were developed through public engagement and set the tone, in [Cathedral’s] case, for a neighbourhood,” says O’Donnell. “And in the case of the OCP, for the whole community.

“The OCP is a legislated mandate that we must have for our city. It’s current, a year or two old, and it affects the overall planning for every neighbourhood in the city. Further to that, city council has a stated objective that 30 per cent of all housing in our city, new housing, will be infill,” says O’Donnell.

That’s how McGrath pitched the building: as one that addresses an infill need for the Cathedral area.

In her submitted documents to city council, Moss highlights how the area designated for infill in Cathedral is further east and north from McGrath’s intended spot. That’s based on the older Cathedral Area Neighbourhood Plan, though.

She and Walter refer to the potential rezoning of McGrath’s house as spot zoning — something they both say they disagree with.

O’Donnell says that the Cathedral plan needs to be renewed and updated, noting that the OCP already sets out some guidelines for such a process.

Hawryluk also notes the age of Cathedral’s plan and its need for updating. She describes it as an ancillary document, one that feeds into the larger, 25-year-old zoning bylaw.

Often, partial or specific amendments are made to either neighbourhood plans or the zoning bylaw to allow for a new development, she says.

Her assessment of such a practice suggests a less negative conception of spot zoning than what Walter and Moss hold.

“That’s what these documents are meant for; they’re not meant to be stagnant,” says Hawryluk. “And so you’ll have seen even the Cathedral neighbourhood plan, that’s what was being proposed. [McGrath] was asking to amend one of the maps within the Cathedral Area plan to change a boundary to meet his development.

“Those are things that can always take place at any time,” she says.

Hawryluk cited the recent example of the renovated Cathedral Safeway, where amendments for it were approved.

“That’s a natural process with planning documents, because our community isn’t stagnant. And therefore we have to be able to evaluate and change things. I think the issue is we haven’t done the full refresh of that document [the zoning bylaw],” she says.

“The building should have been approved and it wasn’t,” a dejected-sounding McGrath told Prairie Dog. “Now I’m stuck.”

He declined further comment.

But in referring to the house he owns in his documents (co-submitted with McGinn to city council), McGrath wrote: “under any circumstances the house will not remain on that property and is really a non-factor in this discussion.”

That seems to indicate he intends to tear down the Elphinstone house — neighbourhood support or not.

A League Of Its Own

Had it been built, McGrath’s building would have been a bit of an outlier in the immediate area. That’s something O’Donnell sees as an advantage.

“People have to understand that when you bring in new development and new housing types, it also gives them choice,” says O’Donnell. “You don’t always have to leave your neighbourhood as you age, or whatever it happens to be.

“So we work toward that whole notion of complete neighbourhoods as much as we can throughout the city,” he says.

For Cathedral, it looks like that complete neighbourhood will have to wait for another day.

What’s The Rumpus?

Notes from an epic city council meeting

LONG NIGHT Council reconvened after a 10-minute recess at 8:21 p.m., according to the meeting’s minutes. Attendees reported that this item extended the council meeting by several hours; minutes show the meeting adjourned at 12:12 a.m. the following day.

DIVIDED DELEGATES A total of 31 delegates either spoke or submitted speeches for or against McGrath’s proposed development. Of those, 17 opposed the building and 14 supported it.

RARE REJECTION Council’s rejection of McGrath’s building is the fourth out of a total of 310 permit applications submitted for review in the last five years. That’s a rejection rate of 1.29 per cent.

NOT DESIGNATED Some residents reportedly claimed McGrath’s Elphinstone house is a designated heritage site. It isn’t. A look at Regina’s live-view heritage property map reveals there’s not a single property designated as heritage along Elphinstone Street. /Evan Radford