Council approves re-zoning; has harsh words for property owner

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An application to re-zone an Allard Street property to allow for the development of a five-story, 47-unit apartment building was approved by City Council Monday night, over the clear concerns of the Mayor and several councillors regarding the property owner’s track record of managing other properties he’s purchased in Sault Ste. Marie.

Mathew Moxness of Allard SSM Inc., said the proposed building would house 10 one-bedroom, 15 one bedroom-plus den and 20-25 two bedroom units. The property, at 105 Allard, is formerly home of the Red Cross. The vacant structure will be demolished to make way for the new apartment building, with work expected to get underway this spring.

“The (units) are geared more towards economical housing, it’s geared partially towards students,” said Moxness.

Moxness is the founder of Crescendo Equity Corp. He’s actively involved in purchasing under-performing apartments and builds. His history of property purchases in the Sault, mostly in the downtown area, came under fire from council.

At the outset of what became a 45-minute roundtable discussion on the application, Mayor Matthew Shoemaker suggested council focus on the application itself and not on the applicant’s history of local property ownership.

“The applicant is fairly well known to many of us in the community for the derelict state of many properties that are owned by companies of which he’s involved,” said Shoemaker. “That is not what’s before council. So while I, like many of you, have been vocal and would like to tee off on poor property standards that are prevalent throughout our community on properties owned by this applicant, that is not what is before us,” the Mayor added.

“The questions generally speaking should be limited to the application that is before us. I think that there is a need, and a time and a place for questions on the property standards bylaw and the compliance with it by the applicant’s other holdings.”

Shoemaker added he did not believe council had the jurisdiction to deny the application based on compliance issues experienced with the applicant’s other properties in the city. This was later confirmed by city solicitor Karen Fields.

Ward 2 Councillor Luke Dufour said “with all due respect” to the Mayor’s comments “I do feel a significant need to say something about the character of the applicant and the character of other properties that they own in this city.”

Dufour explained in the past five years he’s worked to help bring safe, affordable and quality housing to the community.

“Over that time, there have been several companies that have been perpetual and repeat offenders to not just to property standards, but to a standard of care that each and every one of us would expect from any living to any living dwelling in our country.

“We have precious little authority in order to effect the kind of changes our community expects of us when it comes to priority standards.”

Dufour said, given that minimal authority, the re-zoning application process might be a time to address an applicant’s character.

Fields said a denial on the basis of character would open the city up to an appeal, the hearings of which would take people away from their regular work. If the decision to deny went before a tribunal, and was deemed to have been made in bad faith, it could result in a monetary award.

Moxness, an out-of-town landlord based in southern Ontario, said 

break-ins have been a problem for some of his properties, particularly in the downtown area. At one point, he said homelessness and drug use were the source of the problems plaguing properties he owns in the city. He later walked those comments back, somewhat.

“What they were before we took over were far worse than they are now,” said Moxness.

“We are in fact trying very hard. We have one beside some sort of shelter where people go to get soup and so on. That particular property is definitely challenging but our intent is to fix it up and put good people in there. I just don’t think anyone can deny there are challenges in those areas.”

Ward 3 Angela Caputo said she could empathize with Moxness on the issue of break-ins, that some things are beyond his control.

“But what I have a hard time with, at this time, is that there are a lot of things within your control that we’re getting a lot of complaints about. Bed bugs. Tenants without heat. I hope if you’re going to be furthering development in our community you’re going to be responsible for things that are in your control.”

The application maintained the property’s medium-density designation, but called for a repeal of some provisions, replacing them with new ones. The most contentious of the six provisions was the slashing of required parking spaces from 59 to 37.

Elisa Turk, of Pine Allard Properties, manages four buildings in the immediate area of the Allard Street property, two on Pine and two on Allard, encompassing 200 units. The buildings were constructed in 1962-63, a time, she said, when the number of parking spots did not have to correspond with the number of apartment units.

She told council that slicing the required parking spaces by 22 as stipulated in the application would create problems.

“I really don’t believe that they have enough parking with the number of units that they have,” said Turk.

Turk said in her experience, parking needs are an ongoing balancing act with some residents needing a space, some two, and others none at all, but the needs fluctuate. She said in the last couple of years parking on Pine St. was lost to allow bike lanes and her management group had to create two visitor parking spots to help offset the loss.

Planning Director Peter Tonazzo said outside of a few pockets in the downtown area, the area of the proposed development is the most densely populated section in the city.

“We’re prioritizing a roof over your head as opposed to a place for your vehicle,” said Tonazzo.

He said staff conducted a high-level study of parking in the area and found   parking utilization ranged from 0.4 to 0.8 cars per dwelling unit., noting the 

application’s apartment ratio would be 0.79.

Mayor Matthew Shoemaker, with some reservations, supported the re-zoning app. He told Moxness the evening was likely uncomfortable for him adding it “wasn’t terribly comfortable” for council, either.

“The re-zoning you present to us, makes sense. Based on the planning recommendation and the planning principles that are set out in the report, it makes a lot of sense,” said Shoemaker.

“But it is obvious council is very displeased with your property maintenance, of the properties that you have in town.

We haven’t had much of a chance to speak directly to you. And so you’re hearing it from us tonight, and I hope you’re hearing it loud and clear. It is frustrating and unacceptable and the type of property maintenance that you allow to take hold at your many holdings in the community is frankly, deplorable. I hope the message has gotten through to you, that we are very unhappy with how you manage your properties in town.”

The re-zoning motion carried. Ward 1 Coun. Sonny Spina did not support it, citing infrastructure concerns.

3 thoughts on “Council approves re-zoning; has harsh words for property owner

  1. There are all kinds of travesties going on in the ever shrinking little village including paying the part time childish mayor $90K per year for doing very little other than squandering tens of millions of vital funding and taxpayer money on all of the wrong priorities, time after time, causing things to get worse every single day. Nothing will change for the better as long as this out of touch hobby mayor continues with this foolishness.

  2. This applicant should not gain approval until he pays what is owed to several contractors who worked on his derelict properties.

    1. Yes allowing this person to build more while his other properties are in derelict condition is just a slap in the face to the tenants who do not have heat, and are dealing with repairs that are not being done. He needs to be held accountable first before he is allowed to build any further.

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