Woolverton Park: An Urbanist's Dilemma

The City plans to sell part of Woolverton Park in Corktown neighbourhood to a developer planning to build a 70 unit property next door. What is the right balance between intensification and protection of park land?

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published June 10, 2011

Parks have their place in an urban area. They are public spaces owned by the City, and they provide more than just a public place for children to slide down plastic slides. They can also host community gatherings, as well provide respite for parents to let their children 'loose' for an hour.

These benefits are especially important to families living in high-rise buildings. Proximity to a community park is a good selling feature of nearby buildings.

The City of Hamilton plans to sell part of a Corktown park [PDF link] to a developer after declaring it "surplus".

The park at 90 Charlton Avenue East is called Woolverton Park, named after Frances Woolverton - "the mother of Hamilton's Playgrounds". It features a wading pool, a play structure that was replaced two years ago, and a multi-purpose court.

According to the Corktown Neighbourhood Association:

This little park is heavily utilized by the residents of the high rise buildings in the Charlton Avenue area of our neighbourhood who would ordinarily have no recreational areas which are specific to children's play.

The City plans to sell part of the park to 852984 Ontario Inc. (Sam Disanto), who owns the neighbouring property at 121 St. Joseph's Drive. In 2009, a 15 unit building on that property was demolished after it had been declared unsafe when a retaining wall collapsed into the park in 2007.

The developer wants to build a new nine-storey, 70-unit building with an underground parking lot, but needs part of Woolverton Park to do it. According to staff [PDF link], the land in question is "part of an embankment, and is not usable park space."

At an April 2011 Planning Committee meeting, the Committee asked staff to "review the options of reinvesting all or part of the money the City received for the sale of the park, into Woolverton Park."

Local residents to made delegations to the meeting raised concerns about lack of parking, increased congestion, impact on and access to the park, access for DARTS, noise and disruption during construction, and possible damage to the park during construction.

The Dilemma

Public parks and spaces are indeed needed, but so is density. How much density is too much? How much public space in a residential area is needed to create a critical mass for a healthy, walkable, livable community?

Should we "Rook to Queen Bishop 4" and densify - spurring local retail and F&B - at the expense and diminishing a local park? Or should we "King and Rook", and force a draw by keeping the entire current well-used parkette for area high-rise families?

This is not a huge building, given that our third tallest skyscraper, the Olympia at 33 floors, is next door. However, to accommodate the required parking, the developer is forced to purchase part of a city-owned park to make room for a three-storey parkade.

Did we forget about the Province's Places to Grow Act? Hamilton is supposed to increase our population density, but we have done very little to meet the requisite recommendations passed six years ago by Queen's Park.

An increase in our population density will help expedite all-day-GO transit, more local public transit, LRT, help with local retail/food and beverage, and also add to assessment on existing infrastructure.

On the other hand, the diminishment of a well-used park may reduce the livability of the existing neighourhood. So what should we do?

with files from Ryan McGreal

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".


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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:34:54

Between a rock and a hard place....well I see two options for this one. Either deny it, but make another piece of land nearby available to the developer for a steal (such as the Augusta Firehouse) or allow it, but demand the developer finance a new park in the area or keep the majority of the parkland publicly open present and go with underground parking and limited surface guest parking.

Carter Park and Shamrock Park are both close, there also is a possibility of an upgrade for those parks to compensate the loss. The city also has the possibility of asking for a bit more so it could convert nearby land to Parkland.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2011-06-10 10:41:54

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By JM (registered) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:50:07

what's the big deal??? the park itself is still going to remain... and are residents really concerned about parking? this is a replacement of a building, not something entirely new. it will be just as it was (if not, very close to it). besides, who wants to make a bet that not 100% of the new condo owners will have a car?

my grandparents live across the street in the taller building at 130 st. joe's.... i've never had an issue finding parking on the street when i visit. what i have an issue with is looking at the big empty void on the north side of the street!

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:59:22 in reply to Comment 64792

If they are just selling the embankment, then this is a non-issue. Build it, just don't encroach on the main area of the park itself.

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By imby (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:51:36

Not that big of a dilemma. They're only selling off the embankment at the edge of the park, all the rest of it will still be a park. Hard to see this as anything other than nimbyism -- or maybe nimpism (not in my park).

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By Brioski8 (registered) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 10:55:41

Agree. ditto to what the 2 above commenter's posted.

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By lettie (registered) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:05:29

Put the parking lot under the park.

The core cannot afford to give up greenspace. If you are going to infill and build vertically people still need somewhere to walk and sit. Downtown is already underserviced with parkland and greenspace especially Durand.

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By JM (registered) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:10:58 in reply to Comment 64796

they are not giving up "any" greenspace... (its just an embankment) this will create virtually no change to the park - where people can still walk and sit just as they do now

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By arienc (registered) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 11:58:19

What's going on with that lot at Catherine and Young? Looks like it's still sitting empty surrounded by concrete blocks, exactly the same as I remember it 15 years ago. Can't the city purchase that and add a park?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:10:11

Hamilton has loads of wonderful park space. Hamilton does not have an loads of successful highrises and good developers. I say go for it.

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 13:20:38 in reply to Comment 64799


BTW, this might even bring about traffic calming measures at the St. Joseph lights (those additional 55 units may bring more than cyclists/pedestrians), which would be an additional bonus.

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By Freedom Seeker (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 13:16:22

The "best use" and "correct price" for these lands could be determined by returning them the space of voluntary exchange and un-coerced use;

A modest proposal:
Auction the lands in question (or much better the entire park) to the highest bidder, subject to the following conditions:

1) After sale the lands would be exempt from the zoning bylaw, and all other laws restricting land use, in perpetuity. The new owners would be free to use it for whatever purpose they wished. Should they sell some or all of the lands in the future this freedom of use would follow the sale.

2) The money received from the auction to be used only to reduce the municipal debt.

3) The budget of the Parks Department to be reduced by a proportionate amount based on the size and current operating costs of the park.

4) Insofar as the property tax rate of residents in the area is based on the proximity of the park their tax rate to be reduced by that amount.

5) Provide sufficient public notice of the auction for all bidders to come forward (say 6...9 months)

This last point is important, certainly if residents in the area, or the city as a whole for that matter, wanted to organize a private syndicate to bid on the park they would need time to organize themselves. I'd certainly be willing to pay a modest annual subscription for such a purpose in exchange for the tax reductions itemized above.

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By Rufus (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 15:01:17 in reply to Comment 64801

Why the heck should residents have to buy their own park back from the city, which already owns the park as public property owned by everyone. Sorry but this just shows how ridiculous libertarian economics is when you try to put it in practice.

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By Freedom Seeker (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 22:46:31 in reply to Comment 64807

Well Rufus, I know what it means to own the socks that I'm wearing right now, and I know what it means to say that my partners and I own our business, but I have no idea what it means to say that "public property [is] owned by everyone". can you explain that one to me please?

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By lettie (registered) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 14:44:40

Hamilton does not have enough parks downtown. How big is Gore Park? How big is Durand park? How big is City Hall parkette? Not parks!!! Look at you average subdivision on a map, every one of them has a local park. If you want lots more highrises and condos downtown and a liveable core, then you have to have greenspace.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 10, 2011 at 19:11:41

If this is just the embankment, I can live with that. If it encroaches on the park at all, I've got a problem with it, and that coming from someone REALLY interested in seeing Molinaro begin to construct new highrises downtown.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2011 at 12:34:14

I remember when that retaining wall collapsed - it was a nightmare. Residents were thrown out and not allowed back to get their possessions, many of which got looted over the next few months as the building stood empty.

I really don't see any reasons to cut any of the developers in question any deals, especially those which encroach on public parkland. If this is coming from the same ownership (Sam Disanto), then we've got every reason to be sceptical.

Let's see the area involved - maps, photos, perhaps somebody could tape it out. When they say "embankment", what exactly do they mean?

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By Steve (registered) | Posted June 11, 2011 at 17:50:22 in reply to Comment 64825

Disanto didn't own the property when the when the collapse happened. The previous owner didn't pay taxes and the city auctioned the property off.

My main concern is if we the taxpayer got the best price in the auction, because if this park property was included in that auction perhaps the sale price could have been higher. Perhaps more than the $170,000.

Likewise, why should the city be "sole selling" this piece of property? If it's deemed "surplus" shouldn't it be sold in an open bid process?

Finally, the money from the sale of surplus land at a neighbourhood park should go back to that neighbourhood. Or at the very least an adjacent/adjoining neighbourhood. General Parkland Dedication typically benefits suburban neighbourhoods.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2011 at 22:04:44 in reply to Comment 64828

Disanto didn't own the property when the when the collapse happened.

Thanks for clearing that up. That just didn't sound right, even by Hamilton standards.

I'd still like to know exactly what area's involved, though.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2011 at 18:17:43

>> On the other hand, the diminishment of a well-used park may reduce the livability of the existing neighourhood. So what should we do?

Cut taxes.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 08:24:05

Who says that the topography of a park should be flat, by declaring the embankment surplus? The City's legal department's stamp is all over this one. We can't have children rolling down the embankment in the summer and of course we can't have them sliding down in the winter. Has the City violated its own policy for the sale of lands deemed surplus? Has it been listed on their site? Why not offer the developer a land swap for a surface parking lot where they can develop a larger project with more underground parking that could service the residents and other members of the public. This of course will not happen as the location is a very desirable one and all of the interests seem to have aligned, leaving the residents and the growing number of children on the bottom looking up!

Gary Santucci

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2011 at 09:58:13

Aside from Foster and Ferguson, this neighbourhood is exclusively high-rise, and probably has one of the highest population densities in the city. That wasn't always the case, though. I'm sure this was a battle waged when the Olympia arrived as well, and throughout the 60s as adjacent buildings eclipsed single-family homes. What does history tell us of those battles?

I believe that the retaining wall already encroaches on the embankment.... there was already a parking structure in place for the old tower. You can see a bit of the outline of it here, where it more or less matches the profile of the neighbouring tower:

The impact will probably be most noticeable in terms of trees, which are reasonably thick on the embankment. Some sort of incursion is probably unavoidable if you're looking to almost quintuple the capacity of the building, and I'm sure that there will be restrictions placed on the park as construction begins, whatever comes of the embankment.

For what it's worth, a five-minute walk From Woolverton Park will get you to Shamrock Park or Corktown Park. Stand at King and James, meanwhile, and it's twice that to Beasley Park or three times that to Central Park; The Core Lofts are as far to Durand Park, Victoria Park or the HAAA Grounds.

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 08:32:05

Thistle Club/City Square, May 6 2009:

The city uses parkland fees to help pay for new parks. Even after the 2 1/2-year stimulus period, developers will pay less than the current cost for parkland on townhouses and high-density projects.

Planning staff recently recommended a permanent fee reduction that will save developers from $1,000 to $4,500 per unit.

The interim stimulus initiative, which is expected to be passed by council next week, will be even cheaper, charging only 5 per cent of the land value for large developments.

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