Approval of the proposed condo tower on the Tivoli site will set a precedent which will significantly change the character and future development of James Street North.
By Herman Turkstra
Published March 30, 2015
The issues in dispute over the proposed Tivoli site redevelopment are quite simple. If the Tivoli site, for whatever reason, can be developed to the height and location proposed by the developer and supported by Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr, the land use rules for James Street North will be radically altered. The result will be a serious change in the character of the street.
Tivoli redevelopment rendering
There is no doubt that approval of the development as proposed for the Tivoli site will be a precedent-setting decision. Other land owners will claim the same height approval.
Land use planning relies on consistency and compatibility. As the City planners have said, the proposal is not consistent and not compatible. If it is approved, the approval will set a new standard for the street. The Council and the OMB would have a difficult time refusing similar requests in the future.
The so-called "historic preservation" rationale for the excess height proposed by Councillor Farr is only one of a dozen similar possible excuses for varying from the existing character of the street.
For example: the owner of the land across the street can rationally argue that increased height and density will encourage speedy redevelopment of the buildings that have sat empty for 40 years. And that's true - it would.
New three-storey commercial building at James and Vine (RTH file photo)
Certainly, the owner of the just-completed new three-story building across the street will feel foolish for not having taken a run at asking for approval of a 20-storey residential condo above the three stories of retail and commercial he built, a building that at three stories is in perfect harmony with the character of the street.
The implications of this precedent run all the way along James Street North to the harbour. Approval of the Tivoli development will set in motion re-assessment by developers of other sites on James Street North. It will significantly impact the values of the lands on the street to the point where demolition becomes the practical business option.
It will change the value of the buildings for assessment purposes and thus change the level of realty taxes and then the level of the rents for the stores and apartments in the existing buildings.
It's a connected system of dominoes that have been demonstrated in many places.
My message for Councillor Farr is that what happens on the Tivoli site is unequivocally connected to what happens down the street. Our City planners have it right. James Street North has become a place that people like to use and visit because of its character. That character will be significantly harmed if the Tivoli project is approved.
That is not to say that bringing people to live in the area is not a sound planning goal. But there are many ways to do that without changing the core character of the street. The proposed Acclamation project shows how that can be done right.
Acclamation redevelopment rendering
As to tall condo buildings that overshadow and dominate the street scene, there are many sites in the downtown for 20- and 30-storey buildings where the fit is right and cohesive. James Street North is not one of them.
In other words, there is growth, smart growth, and un-smart growth. The Tivoli project fits into the latter category and should be rejected.
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