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Exchange District tower approved

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Overwhelming neighbourhood opposition to the construction of a 24-storey apartment tower on Waterfront Drive was unable to convince a civic committee this morning to stop the project.

Members of the downtown development committee approved a variance for the tower project – even though its 24-storeys is three times the permitted height of eight storeys for the East Exchange neighbourhood.

Committee members — councillors Mike Pagtakhan, Jenny Gerbasi and Jeff Browaty — dismissed the residents’ concerns as unwarranted, and sided with planning staff who said the project is necessary to save a historic building.

Developer Peter Anadranistakis said he hopes to start drilling the foundation on the $70-million project by the end of March.

Anadranistakis said the tower project is contingent on his group getting permission to build an adjacent parkade.

The city planning department had approved a variance — a series of exemptions — for the tower, which the residents were appealing this morning.

The city had actively promoted development on Waterfront Drive as a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood, restricting building heights to eight storeys and requiring buildings to be built right adjacent to the sidewalk.

But the tower project violated those regulations, which residents pointed out repeatedly during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

Residents said it would be inappropriate to stick a 24-storey tower in the middle of a low-rise neighbourhood: it would alter the look and feel of the street; cast permanent shadows on surrounding buildings; and would set a precedent for further high-rise construction.

Jenna McMahon said she bought a condo on Waterfront Drive because she believes it is an exquisite neighbourhood, but said the tower doesn’t belong there.

"This is a huge monstrosity," McMahon said. "This building does not fit at all with the vision and the energy, culture and community of the area."

The tower will be built on the corner of Waterfront Drive and James Avenue, literally on top of the city-owned James Avenue pumping station, built in 1906 and decommissioned in 1986.

The city had been unable to find a buyer for the James Avenue property, which was built to deliver water under high pressure for fire protection for much of the downtown area.

Developer Peter Anadranistakis and architect Sotirios Kotoulas said their project would preserve the street facade of the pumping station and its pristine mechanical works, which include six massive engines.

The pumping station’s roof would be raised and the tower built atop 18 caissons drilled into the facility’s floor.

Kotoulas said the mechanical works would not be touched and the former engine room would be converted into a community meeting space that would likely include a café or restaurant.

Kotoulas downplayed residents’ concerns over the impact the tower would have on the building. He said he had carried out 150 shadow studies and found that the tower would not cast a shadow on any building in the historic Exchange District.

The project does not include parking but Anadranistakis said it won’t go ahead without a parkade – built on provincially-owned land west of the tower, either by his group or someone else.

Anadranistakis said he is prepared to build a large, multi-level parkade that would link the tower to Centennial Concert hall.

"It’s important that we take a leap of faith on this important project," said Pagtakhan (Point Douglas), who chairs the committee.

Gerbasi said she understood the residents’ concerns but is satisfied the project will have a "relatively minimal impact," on the neighbourhood.

"When you add up the positives, it’s not too difficult to support this," Gerbasi said.

Browaty said he didn’t think the 24-storey height of the building is inappropriate for Waterfront Drive.

"I think in the long run, this will actually be a benefit to the condo values of the other properties on Waterfront Drive," Browaty said.

The committee approved the variance order with five conditions, including: the building’s final design be approved by the historical building committee; the project must be completed within two years; all existing pumps within the original building be incorporated into the project; all pumps be accessible to visitors; and all final designs to be approved by the downtown development committee.

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