Downtown Bureau

Clarifying Design Elements of Proposed Television City Development

Much of the opposition to this project has centred around fear and uncertainty about what the plan actually proposes.

By Jason Leach
Published March 24, 2018

Lost in all the back-and-forth during last week's Planning Committee vote on Brad Lamb's Television City housing project are a few details worth clarifying as the conversation continues in the days ahead.

Conflicting information regarding certain design aspects has been floated online during the past week. We dove into some of the numbers with the hopes of clarifying what exactly is being proposed, and how a compromise between Mr. Lamb and the city could end up shaking out.

Ground-Floor Retail

Some of the opposition to this project has centred around the idea that ground floor retail is hidden away in an obscure ground floor space, which would have a detrimental affect on the streetscape and overall vibe from the sidewalks that front onto the buildings.

However, a review of the architectural plans [PDF] should set these fears to rest.

Television City architectural plans, ground floor
Television City architectural plans, ground floor

Four retail spaces are proposed as part of the ground floor of this entire complex. Two are in the western tower facing Hunter Street. One is in the east tower at the corner of Hunter and Caroline. The last one looks to occupy a new two-storey addition along the rear of the preserved Pinehurst Mansion.

Each retail space ranges from 150-320 square metres (1,615-3,444 square feet).

Of particular note is the ceiling height and window sizes of these units, along with the ground floor lobby areas. The ceilings are seven metres high (23 feet), with ground-to-ceiling windows facing Hunter and Caroline Streets.

Not only are these retail units not hidden or difficult to see, they will be bright, modern and prominent, and will activate this entire corner which has been a pedestrian dead zone since the CHCH studio was built.

For comparison sake and to help visualize these retail spaces, the AGH pavilion on the south side of the Art Gallery has 18 foot high ceilings.

Art Gallery of Hamilton pavillion (Image Credit: Art Gallery of Hamilton)
Art Gallery of Hamilton pavillion (Image Credit: Art Gallery of Hamilton)

These retail units will be spacious, bright and possibly nicer than any in the entire lower city. And with the buildings being set back from the sidewalks, there is ample space for patios, benches and trees.

As one final point of comparison, the ceiling height of these retail units perfectly matches the top of the 2nd storey windows of the Pinehurst Mansion. (see A.13 - North Elevation)

Looking at the height of the mansion from the sidewalk to the top of the second floor windows gives a great idea of the prominence, height and visual appeal these new retail and lobby spaces will have on the streets around this complex.

Pinehurst Mansion (RTH file photo)
Pinehurst Mansion (RTH file photo)

Building Height

Many different ideas and numbers have been floated as to what height should be allowed on this site. The city is planning to examine the possibility of passing a new bylaw that would forbid any buildings in the immediate downtown core from being taller than the Niagara Escarpment.

This idea has never been on the books before, which is why we have had buildings taller than the escarpment since the mid 1970s. One wonders if we would be wiser to implement such a restriction south of Young/Robinson Street so as to protect views of the downtown core from the Mountain Brow, but at the moment the new plan will only address properties between Hunter and Cannon.

The current CHCH site has two different elevations in the vicinity of each proposed tower: 109 metres at the western tower and 112 metres at the east tower.

The city's new height plan proposes to have builders line up their downtown property with the top of the escarpment to their south.

In this case, that roughly brings us to the top of James Mountain Road. Various elevation mapping devices were used to come up with an accurate elevation. The Google Earth data for 115 Claremont Drive has an elevation of 197 metres. This is the location of the first home overlooking downtown when one ascends James Mountain Road.

Online elevation mapping shows an elevation of 196 metres at this site, so we know we're in the ballpark.

This provides Mr. Lamb with the allowable height under the proposed new escarpment height guidelines. Using 196 metres as the escarpment height, this would allow for an 87 metre building on the site of the west tower, while a slightly shorter 84 metre building would be allowed on the site of the east building, due to the slightly higher elevation toward Caroline Street.

The architectural drawings for Television City show a height of 85.45 metres at the 29th floor of these buildings. The 28th floor has a height of 82.50 metres.

Television City architectural plans, north elevation A13
Television City architectural plans, north elevation A13

Using the city's own calculation formula, Mr. Lamb is not far off from satisfying their future goal of restricting building heights.

Negotiating Elements

One wonders if negotiations will centre around a few key elements:

1. The long distance between this site and the Niagara Escarpment. It is 1.2 km from the Television City site to the edge of the escarpment. Compare that to the Olympia Tower on Charlton Avenue, which is only 400 metres from the edge of the escarpment.

The further one gets from the escarpment, the less impact height will have on views.

Downtown Hamilton skyline view from Claremont Access, Television City location highlighted in red (RTH file photo)
Downtown Hamilton skyline view from Claremont Access, Television City location highlighted in red (RTH file photo)

2. Preservation of the Pinehurst Mansion. Mr. Lamb is doing something rarely seen in recent decades in Hamilton: offering to preserve a historic home instead of demolishing it to provide more development land.

Most Hamiltonians would love and appreciate a final product on this site that involves adaptive reuse of the mansion, as well as the wonderfully designed public park being proposed for the current parking lot in front of Pinehurst.

The Durand neighbourhood suffers from a lack of public gathering space and tree-shaded sitting plazas. This civic amenity should be rewarded with some dialogue and leeway on the part of local neighbours, and city staff.

3. Future development plans from Mr. Lamb. He has made it clear that he sees great opportunity to develop quality urban housing in Hamilton, and most folks agree this is long overdue. A good working relationship between a developer and city hall is always desired by both parties.

I suspect Mr. Lamb would prefer to avoid the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in order to help lay the groundwork with a city administration he is going to be dealing with a lot in upcoming years.

One possible compromise on the issue that seems most important to neighbours - height - could be to suggest a swapping of the towers.

Perhaps Mr. Lamb could build a 35-storey building on the western site where our above numbers show roughly 29 storeys matching the escarpment height. 35 storeys would come in at 103 metres, the identical height of the new building currently under construction two blocks north at Caroline and George Street. Then he could build a 28-storey building on the eastern portion of the block, matching the escarpment height exactly.

One thing is certain. Hamilton's downtown is on the verge of seeing much-needed investment and growth. Many Hamiltonians have waited decades for this. Weighing all the pros, cons and civic amenities in this project should make it rather easy for City Hall and Brad Lamb to agree on a fantastic development that will enhance this immediate neighbourhood, as well as the broader Hamilton community.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

9 Comments

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 26, 2018 at 09:01:25

I checked the higher resolution pdf's and, unfortunately, there is no direct access to the retail shops from the street.

It is designed like a mini mall with access via an interior hallway only. I think this is one of the DNA's criticisms: that the facade is not permeable. Good urban design is that shops should be accessible directly from the street.
Steve Robichaud directly referred to the escarpment as being relevant ... and he is the head of the planning department! He did not pull this out of thin air. It is an important factor identified in the recent tall buildings study that you neglected to reference in your article.

One of the main conclusions of the study is:

Based on the consultative process, to confirm that there is strong identification with the Niagara Escarpment as a primary topographical and natural asset; therefore, to establish that new tall building’s should be no greater in height than the Escarpment;

This is not about preserving views, it is about recognizing the escarpment as a defining characteristic of the lower city. And note that it refers to new buildings!

https://d3fpllf1m7bbt3.cloudfront.net/si...

Could you please directly address the design principles this study identifies in the context of the current project? The criticisms of the design review panel are based directly on this study.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2018-03-26 09:02:40

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted March 26, 2018 at 09:25:25

It's been a while since I recall a single building meriting so many different articles in such short sequence, so in the interest of clarity, who is the "we" you refer to in the second paragraph, Jason?

And again, for clarity, anyone who authors (or even ghost-writes a piece with you) on this issue would declare a conflict if they were also an investor in the project, right?

Good catch on the interior-only retail, Nicholas. Was visiting the SPRC offices recently in the mausoleum-mall-space within First Place and it reminded me how awful those spaces can be.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 26, 2018 at 12:24:10

I should clarify, that the plans do not actually indicate where the doors are. Maybe there are going to be doors directly to the sidewalk, but the plans don't indicate where the access will be although they do indicate residential accesses. I also couldn't see any retail acces on the street view rendering.

Are there more detailed plans available?

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2018-03-26 12:27:29

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 26, 2018 at 15:14:20 in reply to Comment 122717

This project isn't held to the proposed escarpment height limit. This has been in the works for a few years, while the new limit hasn't even been passed into law yet. I can't keep up with all the reasonings given for the height limit. One day it's views of the water, next day it's views of the escarpment from downtown, next day it's the 'defining characteristic' point. The public meetings for that study were crowded with neighbourhood association folks looking to keep heights low in direct response to this project. The same civic administration that happily approved 3 new buildings taller than the escarpment in the last couple years is still in place. Whether all future downtown planning in a major city should be dictated by a handful of people focused on their own hood is a discussion for another day, but regardless, I don't agree with the conclusion that we should cap building heights.

If allowing any building taller than the escarpment will result in it NOT being the defining characteristic of the lower city, than that ship sailed 45 years ago. IF the escarpment still is the defining characteristic even after having buildings taller than it for 45 years, it will remain the defining characteristic 45 years from now with a few more buildings taller than it.

Regarding retail, my personal preference would probably be to have some street entrances, but I've also come to really enjoy the new modern mini-retail complexes at the base of new developments in cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, Singapore and others. Hamilton's experience with such spaces generally involves older spots like Terminal Towers, Right House etc. Even without street entrances, these large, bright units will animate the street and be far more interesting than what we see at the base of virtually every other tower in Durand.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 26, 2018 at 15:16:19 in reply to Comment 122718

'We' must have been the voices in my head. Lol. No investment here, although I absolutely would if I could.
I live downtown and want to see it grow again and become a dense, walkable, bustling city centre like so many wonderful cities in North America....Montreal, Portland, Seattle, Ottawa etc....

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 26, 2018 at 18:42:07 in reply to Comment 122721

But you don't need 40 storeys to have bustling walkable cities.

Hamilton was bustling and walkable downtown 60 years ago with no residential high rises and there are many, many cities that are bustling and walkable with primarily low and mid-rise (6 to 10 storey) buildings.

As the urban planners have told us, good urban density and lively cities do not require high rises.

There is nothing forcing us to build high-rises except that they have been popular with developers in cities like Toronto and Vancouver. In fact, one of the main reasons for high rises in places like Manhattan and Vancouver is the high price of land ... and that is not an issue in Hamilton (Santaguida bought the James St Baptist site, a quarter of a city block right downtown, for just $600k ... clearly the cost of land was not a factor in his plans to build a high rise).

I understand that individually one can prefer high rises aesthetically, or like the idea of living high up. But that doesn't mean any self-respecting city needs to have lots of high rises. Or that cities without high rises are boring and dead.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2018-03-26 18:45:55

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 26, 2018 at 19:04:22 in reply to Comment 122722

agree on all counts..... I'd say that in our N American context, we need to take advantage of our one tiny area where we can go tall. Not that 30 storeys is tall, but you get the point. This central downtown zone is VERY small when you compare it to the entire region of Hamilton.
The lower city is 25,000 less people than it was in the 1970's. I'd suggest that Hamilton has more single family homes in it's downtown core than any other big city in the country.
And don't forget, those cities that are booming and full of pedestrians with a max height of 10/12 stories have those 10-12 storey street walls throughout their entire urban central districts. If we want to raze Westdale to Red Hill and replace all streets with 6-12 storeys, we too could achieve the same results.
But that option isn't an option.

I would have preferred a height restriction south of Young/Robinson, with relaxed heights in the immediate core. But at the end of the day, I understand what the city is trying to do. I just happen to think it's too punitive to development, business and investment.

As the urban planners have told us, good urban density and lively cities do not require high rises.

Don't forget, the two most dense cities in the US and Canada (Vancouver and NYC) are extremely lively, walkable and transit-friendly and are loaded with high-rises. When the street-level is done right, high-rises can make for an amazing urban environment to live in. Vancouver is always ranked near the top of the world's livable cities lists. Toronto has been rocketing up the charts in the last 15 years too. Based on real life experience in well-planned Western cities, I'd say high-rises offer far more good than bad.

Comment edited by JasonL on 2018-03-26 19:39:23

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 26, 2018 at 19:40:31 in reply to Comment 122719

yea, I can't quite figure out the entrance situation from the street either. I see two doorways from Hunter into the ground floor of the building. One to the east of the parking entrance, the other to the west. Perhaps they lead to a central lobby which accesses all retail units?

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted April 13, 2018 at 12:48:09

Just think of how much better the redevelopment of this site could have proceeded with a developer who cared about the community. It's such a nice day dream. We could have had a really spectacular building there, with ground-floor retail/commercial to animate the street, if only he and his cronies read the Policies and Guidelines put in place by Hamilton's hard-working planning staff and DIDN'T decide to completely ignore those policies and guidelines. Instead here we are, going to the OMB because of a stubborn mindset that says only one vision counts -- and that is Mr. Lamb's. The defense of his complete disregard for this community is a little hard to read.

But please do not repeat the developer's propoganda about Pinehurst Mansion. The house is designated. They had absolutely no choice but to incorporate it into the site plan. This is their big "favour" to the neighbourhood: "Look, we're not tearing down this house! (even though it's in our way) Aren't we fantastic?"

The good aspects of the design: 300 bike parking spaces and the parkette in front of the mansion.

As the Design Review Panel stated -- one tower is sufficient for that space. We can't try to attain all of our density targets with one plot in the lower city.

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