The majority of the city is going to see mid-rise, mixed-use with animated streetfronts as the way we revitalize, intensify and enhance existing neighbourhoods.
By Jason Leach
Published January 21, 2014
Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto's Chief Planner, recently wrote a piece on the merits of mid-rise developments:
Toronto has many tall towers under construction, but we are also beginning to fill out our Avenues with mid-rise - in just the way our policy framework had anticipated.
Precisely because mid-rise buildings are able to integrate into streetscapes, capitalizing on both existing amenities (proximity to schools, parks and transit) and infrastructure in a gentle way, it's possible to underestimate their impact on shaping the form of the city.
As a result, mid-rise buildings are a desirable way to accommodate growth, diversify our housing stock, and "complete" existing communities.
But a recent article in the Globe and Mail showcases challenges facing new mid-rise developments in Toronto.
[D]evelopers complain they face many new counterproductive, city-imposed obstacles that threaten the fragile economics of mid-rise. They say new mid-rise policy guidelines are too often are treated by planning staff as strict rules and that lack of flexibility makes it unnecessarily difficult to build projects that serve the city's best interests.
"They [the planning department] say they want to help solve the problems and they're kind of nibbling around the edges," said Les Mallins, president of Streetcar Developments. "But it's not enough. It's easier to get approval to build another high-rise in Liberty Village than it is to do one of ours."
I've written in the past about the huge potential in Hamilton on streets like York, Ottawa, Parkdale, Locke, King, Main, Dundurn, Kenilworth and Barton.
While many of us are excited and hopeful to see some new highrise skyline additions downtown after a few decades with no building, the majority of the city is going to see mid-rise, mixed-use with animated streetfronts as the way we revitalize and enhance existing neighbourhoods, while adding in tasteful new density.
Hamilton has a tremendous opportunity over the next several years if we can get past the knee-jerk community opposition that sometimes erupts when a project higher than three storeys is proposed.
Locke Street South has a couple of new mid-rise projects in the works that should be fantastic. The old Asian market on Locke will also have six ground floor retail units - exactly the type of context and interaction with the street that we need to demand from new developments.
417 Aberdeen Avenue (RTH file photo)
Contrast the new building at Aberdeen and Dundurn. In many ways it's a great building, but it's horrible at street level. Stand there for an hour and look at all the pedestrian/cycling traffic at that corner. It would have been great for a corner cafe, small market or bistro.
Similarly, I like the design of City Square over on Charlton and Park, but would have rather seen a project integrated with the sidewalk and with new retail opportunities such as a Rabba food mart or urban Sobeys or Shopper Drug Mart.
City Square condo building (RTH file photo)
It would be awesome for Hamilton to update our guidelines for urban developments so we don't repeat past mistakes of ending up with big setbacks, blank streetwalls, and street level parking, such as the new Staybridges on Caroline Street.
This came up at a recent public meeting in Strathcona about our Secondary Plan and residents all agreed vocally how horrible the sidewalk experience is now at George and Caroline due to that Staybridge design. I would recommend that City Hall mandate parking to be under or above ground, never at ground level.
On the positive side, Vrancor seems to be getting it right with 150 Main West and the planned patios/restaurants all along George Street at the base of their new condo buildings.
150 Main Street West Rendering (Image Credit: Lintack Architects)
Street level retail planned (Image Credit: Lintack Architects)
If they actually design these buildings as depicted in the 1st, clear rendering, it will be dynamite for the skyline. Lots of glass, uplighting and good colours. Hopefully it turns out as advertised.
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