If developer Feroze Virani’s vision comes to pass, a central part of The Tech building may be demolished as residential units are added to the landmark building at 130 Wellington St. E.
City councilors agreed Tuesday night to allow developer Feroze Virani to build 220 residential dwelling units within the structure that was once Sault Technical and Commercial High School, then Lakeway Collegiate and Vocational School, and finally St. Mary’s College.
With the official plan amendments and zoning changes approved unanimously by council on Tuesday, Virani is planning to offer something for everyone in the 101-year-old structure: one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units, even bachelor apartments.
Asked about pricing, Virani expressed hesitation given the state of the housing market, but he mentioned “$1,200 and up” twice at Tuesday’s council meeting.
He’s hoping to add the residential units in phases.
Work on the first phase of 100 residential units will be completed within about 18 months, he says.
Virani is talking about then demolishing the middle section of the former school, and erecting two residential towers of 60 units each.
The entire project, he guesses, would take three to five years to complete.
No changes to the building’s exterior are planned and the maximum height is expected to be no higher than six storeys.
The city will waive its longstanding but seldom-followed policy that no less than 30 percent of residential dwelling units must be affordable if more than 50 units are proposed.
“Planning staff recommend that this policy be waived on the basis that the affordable housing threshold within this policy makes it extremely difficult for large-scale residential development without significant subsidies,” said planner Johnathan Kircal in a report to Mayor Provenzano and city council.
“It is staff’s opinion that this policy could have the effect of either limiting residential development to less than 50 units or eliminating residential development that might otherwise occur, resulting in lower supply that would push prices up,” Kircal said.
Citizen Mark Brown served notice on Tuesday that he will appeal “each and every one of these decisions where the planning department’s abandoned citizens who require a chance at new affordable housing.”
Peter Tonazzo, the city’s director of planning, said the 30 percent affordable housing rule found its way into the Sault’s official plan in 1996.
“Under the Rae government there was a short-lived requirement essentially requiring inclusionary zoning to be built into official plans.”
“It was very short-lived. We’re the only municipality that has it left in our official plan.”
“It was over a very short period that it was actually required. The city’s official plan just happened to be within that window.”
Tonazzo says the 30 percent rule has only been applicable about half-a-dozen times over the past five years, but in every case the city has waived it.
After the Oct. 24 municipal election, city staff are expected to ask the new city council to set up a housing task force to look for ways to provide more affordable housing.
A variety of other uses will be allowed in the former Tech building, including computer, precision and electronics manufacturing and repair, as well as group homes and group residences.
Commercial space is expected to total about 2,000 to 3,000 square meters.
A hold has been placed on rezoning the northern 25 meters of the property.
The hold will be lifted only when the developer has addressed noise and vibration issues related to the nearby Huron Central Railway.
A six-meter road widening will be required along Wellington Street East.
Virani said he has no near-term plans to develop the eastern part of Tech property, where the running track is located, but he said that could change in the future.
Speaking on behalf of 11547305 Canada Inc., Virani told city council he hopes to start “soon” on the project’s first phase.
City council agreed in 2016 to rezone the former school for use as an educational and entertainment hub including a private vocational school, amusement and fitness facilities, food services and offices.
The property was sold in 2019.