Story  by Karena Walter – St. Catharines Standard

 “Shortage of developable land means balancing density with aesthetics.”

Anthony Continelli can hardly wait to dig his model home at his new condominium infilling project in Grantham.

He’s purchased three existing houses on Niagara Street, south of Scott, and plans to begin construction on 20 condominiums behind them next month.

Continelli has the drawings, a logo and marketing material in the works.  As well, he believes he has the neighbourhood’s interest at heart.

“We’ve really looked at the area and developed a marketable product that’s going to be appealing to the residents and appreciate the value of their property without over-appreciating at the same time,” Continelli said.

Maintaining neighbourhood aesthetics while increasing density with infilling is one of the city’s biggest challenges.

In Grantham – with the city’s least amount of vacant developable land – any future development means infilling.

It is estimated St. Cathirines will need 5,700 new dwelling units by 2026.  It currently has vacant developable land for 2,000 to 3,200 units.

St. Catharines planning manager Judy Pihach said the city has a fixed urban area boundary that makes available land a limited commodity. Developers are reconsidering parcels of land they used to think too small or irregular.

“All of a sudden, they become attractive because there’s not a whole lot left to pick from,” Pihach said.

Policy planner Bruce Bellows said the city doesn’t anticipate going into low-density neighbourhoods like Grantham and putting in high-density development.  What residents may see are individual property owners selling parts of their property.

“We’re not out to change the existing character of development but we want to squeeze a little more out of them if we can,” Bellows said.

That can be a bone of contention for neighbours.

Last year, 80 people in a neighbourhood off Vine Street signed a petition to stop an infilling project that saw the backyard of a bungalow split in tow and a new home built on the excess.

The committee of adjustment allowed the project at 540 Vine St., though it meant the existing bungalow’s backyard would become eight feet shorter than required by zoning standards because the side yard was bigger.  Neighbours were frustrated with the process.

“The question that remains is, why are the bylaws on the books if they seem to be able to be changed so arbitrarily,” said Kelly foster whose home backs onto the new lot.  “It seems these variances are granted without almost any thought.  It’s just a rubber stamp process and it’s disappointing.”

Foster said the infill changed the complexion of the neighbourhood, added to a congestion and is not as aesthetically pleasing as the former trees.

Over on Niagara Street, Continelli says his project has residents on-side.

He’s leaving the three houses up and is planning a landscaped development.

Continelli said he’s been able to do that in the past with his infilling project of eight single-family condos on an irregular lot at 27 Parnell Rd.

“Infill is trying to develop a product that blends within the community, rather than sticking in these items and saying, where did that come from?” he said. “We’re trying to harmonize the area together.”