I moved to London in 2004 to study land planning theory, practice and technology at Fanshawe College, and have since worked to learn both about the planning profession generally as well as urban planning in the city of London. It didn’t take long for our class to hear about a pitched battle that was and continues to be fought over an area of London known as Reservoir Hill, dating back to the 1960s. Since then, I’ve been trying my best to learn more about planning issues happening in our city and to understand the policy and decisions that shape those issues. I write this now because the issue will be addressed tomorrow night in a public participation meeting (PPM) at City Hall, perhaps for the last time. I’ve been trying to catch myself up on the complex issue of the potential development on Reservoir Hill – the full staff report is available here.

I’ve drawn on several London news articles and posts by London’s excellent bloggers to fill myself in. Jo-Anne Bishop, Philip McLeod and Gina Barber wrote these great articles; there are also many local media articles, including this.

In 1999, a development proposal was sent to the city for a zoning change for the property from open space to high-density residential, along with an application for 2 12-storey apartment buildings, with 165 units each. Since then, this issue has bounced between Council, the OMB and the applicant Ayreswood Development Corp.; eventually the applicant was granted a partial victory in being granted the zoning change while having the application reduced to one 12-storey, 165 unit building instead of 2.

The concerns about the site are threefold (the two latter decisions being the major considerations shaping the development debate). The site is historical (it is the site of a War of 1812 skirmish as well as having historical significance for nearby events like the “Victoria” disaster), it is currently open space as part of the Springbank Park system and therefore a change to high-density would be a major zoning change with significant impact on the neigbourhood); thirdly, (from the Free Press article) “[s]tability of the soil has been a concern for the property, which lies at the western edge of the Ingersoll Moraine, a glacial relic that consists mainly of rock and debris.”

The design for the single 12-storey has been revised a number of times; the neighbourhood has been less than pleased as the single building has swelled to 43% larger than the agreed-upon single building footprint, remaining 12 storeys and 165 units, but creating a much larger footprint than originally agreed upon because the building will be mostly comprised of two- and three-bedroom units. Tomorrow, the issue will be back before Council in a PPM. If Council believes that enough research has been done, the plan may move ahead, even if city staff continues to have doubts. And doubts they have. Philip McLeod writes:

The city’s planning staff continues to be against the proposal. “In our opinion this is not an appropriate use and intensity of development for Reservoir Hill,” says planning director John Fleming.

There are concerns that Council will approve of the plan, despite these concerns. As Jo-Anne has observed:

In just nine short months, members of the Council have dramatically changed the approach they have previously taken with respect to this site plan application, and has given itself the authority to approve the application without the support of City Staff, and against previous OMB recommendations. This current Council is looking now at approving the same application it had previously rejected in June of 2009. Why, and how can they do that? These are questions many in the community have.

These are the concerns I share as well. I understand the plight the Mayor is in to produce the jobs he promised in his election campaign; however, we must make sure that this doesn’t happen by sacrificing due diligence. I hope this will not be the scenario we will see play out Tuesday night.

Finally, as Philip McLeod has said, “Now council has told all concerned — developer and planners — to get everything together for April 24 at what may be the last battle.” I will be there to witness the meeting; I hope it won’t be a last hurrah for the concerned members of the community.