Downtown Bureau

Demolish Demolitions from Strathcona Secondary Plan

Nearly all of the Strathcona Secondary Plan is a great blueprint for future development, but it's a mistake to demolish the remaining high-quality homes along Devenport, Strathcona, Inchbury and Locke.

By Jason Leach
Published March 05, 2013

On Tuesday, March 5, the City will hold its final public meeting on the new zoning/development plan for the Strathcona Neighbourhood.

This secondary plan, as it's called, has been developed by the community over the past couple of years. Nearly all of it is a great blueprint for future development and urban intensification in Strathcona.

Strathcona Neighbourhood Secondary Plan Area (Image Credit: City of Hamilton)
Strathcona Neighbourhood Secondary Plan Area (Image Credit: City of Hamilton)

This neighbourhood has developed a rare reputation in Hamilton as a neighbourhood that is open and welcoming to new development. Folks here understand the need for more people living in the urban core, and as a result, NIMBYism doesn't rule the day here like it does in many other neighbourhoods.

However, one aspect of the new secondary plan has raised plenty of eyebrows. It is the suggestion that the single family blocks just south of York along Devenport, Strathcona, Inchbury and Locke North being rezoned to high-density residential.

The concept plans [PDF] show those tree-lined streets of solid, century homes being replaced with mid- to high-rise apartment blocks. You can see computer images showing what Strathcona and Inchbury would look like with the homes demolished and replaced with apartment blocks.

Currently, these streets look like this:

Devenport

Strathcona

Inchbury

Locke

As a ten-year resident of the Strathcona neighbourhood, including eight years on this very block of Strathcona North, I can confirm what many local residents will echo - our safe, walkable residential streets are what make this neighbourhood so great. These homes are filled with families, university students and professionals.

I'm personally aware of a teacher, scientist and McMaster professor who live on these exact blocks in question. It seems as though almost every home has a family with young children.

Anyone who has followed the revitalization of city centres, including our own, will state the importance of bringing families to live downtown. The added mix of students, professionals and seniors make this a truly great urban neighbourhood to live and raise a family.

I completely agree with the goal of adding residential density to York Boulevard. Two issues are important to consider while aiming for this goal.

First, we already tried neighbourhood demolition along this very stretch. History has not been kind to Hamilton's demolition craze in the 1950s through '70s. We demolished this:

York Boulevard when the world was still black-and-white (Image Credit: Metro Perspectives)
York Boulevard when the world was still black-and-white (Image Credit: Metro Perspectives)

To create this:

If we've learned anything in Hamilton over the years, it is that destroying perfectly good buildings, homes and businesses for modern development purposes generally harms an area as opposed to helping it.

Second, there are 14 development sites along York currently from Dundurn to Queen that are perfect candidates for urban intensification without impacting neighbouring homes. I count eight on the south side and six on the north side.

These range in size from mammoth sites like the Real Estate Board, Grace Food Market, Midas and the Southern Ontario College building to smaller sites like the small law office at Locke and York and small marketing firm at Queen and York.

I would also recommend that the green space between Pearl and Ray be added to the development list, instead of being left in its current, unused state.

I can see small corner parkette development with trees, gardens, benches and perhaps some community vegetable plots on the small green spaces that exist at the southeast corner of Dundurn and York and on both sides of Inchbury on the north side of York.

Here's an example of what I mean in Chicago:

Chicago street garden (Image Credit: Local Ecology)
Chicago street garden (Image Credit: Local Ecology)

Urban street 'pocket plaza garden':

Melior Street Garden Pocket Plaza 14 (Image Credit: Flickr)
Melior Street Garden Pocket Plaza 14 (Image Credit: Flickr)

Melior Street Garden Pocket Plaza 17 (Image Credit: Flickr)
Melior Street Garden Pocket Plaza 17 (Image Credit: Flickr)

Street garden (Image Credit: Thunderbird Design)
Street garden (Image Credit: Thunderbird Design)

Given the 14 available sites for more intense development, along with sites further east on York past Queen, I would suggest that any demolition of homes be removed from the plan, and some further garden/seating development of the aforementioned small green spaces proceed as a means of animating York further with wonderful little parkettes or pocket plazas.

Hamilton's urban neighbourhoods have come a long way in recent years. There is now great interest in the development industry of locating high quality, urban housing along some of these main streets that have seen very little investment in many years.

Destabilizing a successful, growing residential neighbourhood through needless demolition would be a step backward.

I'm convinced that we can still accomplish our goals of adding density to York without repeating the mistakes of the past.

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

31 Comments

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 13:44:34

It's a shame what we did to York St so many years ago. There's still a chance, as you said, to rectify past mistakes and return some of the glory to that street; there's no need to go blasting into Strathcona with so much space along York.

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By gary buttrum (anonymous) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 16:08:00

i strongly disagree. i believe that if york is ever to become a real community street again, the buildings that were destroyed need to be replaced. of course that means mixed residential commercial development facing york, 3 to 5 storeys high, with a complete street wall. throwing apartment buildings into the mess that is york would be another disaster. but proper street wall would be worth sacrificing, and it would truly be a sacrifice, the first few single family houses on each block. the resulting developments would result in the strengthening of the community on both sides of york with new ground level businesses and more residential density in a livable walkable setting.

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By gary buttrum (anonymous) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 16:18:28

but i should add that i can understand the concern the community has about this plan as there is potential that developers interested in maintaining the status quo on york could really screw this up and we could end up with more of the same crap that fills york today.

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By NIMBY HUNTER (anonymous) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 17:48:05

This article is pretty rich. Does Strathcona actually have a " a rare reputation in Hamilton as a neighbourhood that is open and welcoming to new development", or would Jason simply like to imagine everyone in his neighbourhood shares his opinions? Strange how Jason starts out by throwing other neighbourhoods under the bus (without naming them) for being NIMBY's, but now there's an ill-advised development idea in his own neck of the woods, and he finds himself in opposition. How about that?

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 18:01:44

Some poeples forget that they live in a City witch is known to biuls towers of any hight and boste in tax revenew , suberbs is in the outskirts of the city

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 18:57:42

just to clarify here, I am totally supportive of the new 4-8 storey, mixed use buildings creating a new streetwall on York. There are 14 development sites available from the original 'renewal' in the 70's that are perfect candidates for new development and won't impact family homes. Demolishing the entire blocks shown above in Google Streetview should not be considered acceptable in any neighbourhood. New buildings should be built on York, not on side streets.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 19:04:53 in reply to Comment 87044

Ryan wrote about this a few years ago. No intent to 'throw neighbourhoods under the bus'. Simply stating something that has become obviously to folks who have been involved here:

http://raisethehammer.org/blog/1544/stra...

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 19:06:49 in reply to Comment 87042

I think we're on the same page here.... I want to see all those development sites from the 70's re-built as you've described. My suggestion to avoid the demolitions on these residential streets will only affect a few building lots remaining smaller in size and not taking up entire blocks of side-streets. Streetwall on York is 100% supported in this neighbourhood.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 19:12:04 in reply to Comment 87045

Oh and one more thing i don`t mean to demolishing i mean co-exis with eachother an grow together

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By NIMBY HUNTER (anonymous) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 19:54:37 in reply to Comment 87047

That's a nice anecdote, but the example is of a bar that the neighbourhood supported continuing to be a bar- hardly a major development. What's the second example? And I'm interested to know which specific neighbourhoods you feel NIMBYism "rules the day"? In most cases people have valid concerns about developments in their community, much like the concerns you've outlined in your article. It's frustrating to see people play a double standard when it comes to that definition, especially the people who seem to derisively bandy it about the most.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 20:00:23 in reply to Comment 87052

  • the Staircase Cafe/Theatre
  • new Shoppers on King
  • 5 storey apartment on Strathcona N
  • new cafe in Vic Park
  • Stonewalls
  • expansion of Albanese Branding etc....

Again, no double standard here, but if you've attended meetings in other neighbourhoods, quite often the predominant attitude is one of rejecting ideas, many times without adequate info. I've been active in this community for years and can only think of 1 meeting that went that way. There's a reason Ryan thought it was refreshing in his example above....it is.

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By NIMBY HUNTER (anonymous) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 20:31:23 in reply to Comment 87053

Interesting list- all pretty minor developments, certainly not things any neighbourhood would oppose- all but one of them are developments using existing structures and modifying uses. Do you have examples of similar developments in other neighbourhoods that have been opposed? Just curious where the tone of superiority comes from.

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By Megan (registered) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 21:06:54 in reply to Comment 87053

  • Good Shepherd Square

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 23:03:24 in reply to Comment 87053

"expansion of Albanese Branding"

Any community willing to embrace a building as aesthetically challenged as this cannot be that NIMBY.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 23:29:41 in reply to Comment 87055

yes, there were some ugly moments in this debate. Much of the fuel came from the fact that the city had just established the no infamous radial separation bylaw and this project fell within the boundary of 3 other care facilities.

Once it became apparent that this project was happening whether folks liked it or not, the neighbourhood got working with the Good Shepherd and the end result is a fantastic addition to our neighbourhood...where tonight's meeting will be held, in fact. The treed courtyard and public walkways were concessions the Good Shepherd were willing to make at the request of the neighbourhood.

One can't help but wonder if more cooperation would have taken place right from the start if not for the city's radial separation rules which promised to keep another care facility out, and fuelled much of the neighbourhood anger as folks felt the city was breaking their own rules.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 23:31:44 in reply to Comment 87054

no tone of superiority here at all. Not sure why you keep suggesting this. I have no interest in looking for NIMBY examples from other neighbourhoods, as the purpose of this piece wasn't to pile on Hamilton's wonderful neighbourhoods. It was simply to show that our neighbourhood is open for development, including 99% of the development proposed in this new plan. We just want to see our most valuable asset - our tree lined streets with century homes - retained.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 05, 2013 at 23:32:30 in reply to Comment 87057

haha...you're not the first one to say this.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 01:47:25 in reply to Comment 87060

Bonus points for the irony of it being a branding company.

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By Bill Curran (anonymous) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 01:52:20

Jason,

With all due respect, as the architect on Good Shepherd Square from its inception in 2001 to completion, the vision that I crafted always included the central trees being retained as a parkette and the publically accessible walkways, and the many other features of the design that you speak so positively added.
None were added as a result of public consultation, I was there and crafted the design.

And sorry, but some of the neighbours in your 'hood showed a particularly virulent form of NIMBYISM including the worst personal attacks, the dumbest most ill-informed comments and breathtaking discriminatory things about living next to 'those people'. It was shameful.
Your neighbours took the project to the OMB delaying it and wasting vast sums of taxpayer dollars and offering only platitudes that the OMB wholly rejected.
This was NIMBY at its worst.

The OMB Decision is available on line and speaks to neighbour issues, a fine read and a
balanced analysis of infill issues.
Some neighbours would simply would not accept it in any way, the radial separation rule being but one thing they clung to as justification.

You see the same thing today playing in the equally shameful NIMBY driven Charlton Hall saga
in the Corktown neighbourhood, worth watching since the Human Rights Commission is not involved. I hope you are watching this one and you should be weighing in to support this project.

The great news is that GS Square is built and we've had so many fabulous comments and some apologies from those involved. Many good people supported it and were shouted down by those
driven by ignorance, hate and fear. The OMB did its job, weighing fact over feelings. The impacts have been proven as very positive. All in all, it is a benchmark for low impact infill and intensification. FYI, a further 3 storey apartment building is allowed on the NE surface parking lot but remains unfunded, but it needs to be built to complete the project and replace the missing tooth of urban fabric.

Similarly we need to fix York Boulevard, which has remained a total disaster for some 40 years.
Gary Buttrum is exactly right.
We do not need vegetable plots, we need built fabric buildings.
The neighbourhood, as with most of our urban neighbourhoods, has plenty of greenspace now.
We need more intensification and the investment of the injection of capital that comes with
this, bringing new people to invigorate the 'hood and support flagging neighbourhood commercial uses.
Same problem with Sanford School, we don't need a new park, we need investment and development that will be appropriate and improve the neighbourhood. Like GS Square we can have it all if it is designed properly.

The flaw with the 1970's redev of York Boulevard was that the lots rezoned to medium density were too small and extended too shallow along York, and need to extend further into the neighbourhoods north and south. A few more houses need to go, and I agree this is unfortunate.
This dumb rezoning to save a few houses is why we have the silly small commercial buildings with surface parking that have been built since.
This is essential to fix York Boulevard which is a major entrance to our city, an important element of our community's image and an embarrassment.

If you do not create large enough lots based on sensible underground parking garage sizes and economical, efficient apartment/condo floorplates this area simply will not change.
Especially since living on York Boulevard is not exactly a prime location due to excessive traffic volume and speed, which also makes the quality of streescape less enjoyable for walking. Few people walk on York Boulevard.

The loss of some houses near York Boulevard, although long overdue, will net their owners a significant financial windfall (150% value is normal) as compensation for the displacement.
And of course they don't have to move or sell, but an incentive will be there.

This zoning proposal just allows York Boulvard to be fixed. We desperately need that.
So please get behind it.

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 02:53:49

^I'd rather see York narrowed than to see homes removed from the side streets but, as you said, something desperately needs to be done with it one way or another.

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By J (registered) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 03:02:18

I'm confused. I just went through those concept plans and saw nothing about a rezoning at that scale or on those side streets. The major changes were for Queen, Dundurn, York, and King. Am I missing something?

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 03:21:26 in reply to Comment 87062

I agree with all of this. We have 14 development sites available on York right now without impacting any homes. The couple sites that result in demolishing entire blocks of wonderful homes is simply not necessary to accomplish your (and my) goals for York. The only area I'm suggesting greenspace to be enhanced is the tiny plots at Inchbury. Those aren't development potential lots anyhow, so let's spruce them up. The larger parcel of land east of Pearl is where we can see new development happen, along with the 14 other development sites.

As for Good Shepherd, I was unaware that you proposed the retention of trees and the central courtyard through that site.
Job well done. I've consistently praised that project in recent years and agree that it fits nicely in the neighbourhood.

Cheers

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 03:50:19 in reply to Comment 87064

agreed completely. It will never function as a pedestrian-friendly, walkable, retail street with a 6 lane freeway roaring by. Funny now how people want to demolish century homes in order to attempt to recreate what we already had before we destroyed it in the 70's. Short of putting the street down to 2-lanes each way max with curb parking, more stoplights and pedestrian crossings, it will never be successful as a retail strip.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 04:43:51

I have to say, I favour any plan which involves creating development greater then five stories and structures large enough to require underground parking. I will agree though, if there are large parcels and empty lots which could be developed first, expropriate them from speculators before demolishing houses.

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By Megan (registered) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 16:22:50 in reply to Comment 87058

No, I was using it as a positive example.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 16:32:31 in reply to Comment 87073

I don't think it was a positive moment for this neighbourhood. Especially early on in the debate back in the late 90's. I didn't live here then, but have heard some pretty harsh things. You'll see a comment below from the architect with his memories of the process. But over the past number of years, absolutely the tone became one of cooperation and I'm pleased to hear the architect say that apologies were given by those who reacted early on.

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By acreage (anonymous) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 16:47:07 in reply to Comment 87042

This is entirely possible without demolishing existing homes. It requires making York narrower again and building infill. York, as most of our e/w through streets, is horribly overbuilt as-is. 3 lanes each way with a huge median? Totally not necessary.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 21:38:10 in reply to Comment 87076

I think I "get" the desire to have a grand boulevard entry to the city, even if it didn't turn out so grand for the business and residential functions of the street.

But I have NEVER been held up by traffic on York. Not during a rush hour, and not during a busy Saturday shopping day.

Most of the traffic to and from downtown from the north-west and Burlington side of the bay probably uses King/Main via the 403 (which was built after York was altered? or was it before?)

But the need for that many lanes just doesn't seem to be there any more, if it ever was. So there's probably a lot of merit in your suggestion.

Comment edited by ScreamingViking on 2013-03-06 21:40:45

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 23:31:23 in reply to Comment 87085

also look at the design of York in it's entirety. It is 2 lane each way from the 403 to Dundurn. Then 3 lanes from Dundurn to Queen. East of Queen the left lane becomes a turning lane and it is 2 lanes eastbound through the entire downtown core. Unless thousands of cars are falling out of the sky and then disappearing between Dundurn and Queen, there is no need for the extra lane. I would propose curb parking on both sides if we ever hope to see businesses arrive here, and then bike lanes in between the parking and 2 live lanes. Creates more of a complete street without impacting traffic in the slightest.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted March 06, 2013 at 23:42:31 in reply to Comment 87087

It is an odd configuration. Though the westbound lanes come off of the 4-lanes of Cannon (which widen to 5 before 2 of them become left-turn lanes for Queen). But there's usually no congestion on Cannon either, so...

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 07, 2013 at 01:02:45 in reply to Comment 87088

Ya Cannon is twice as wide as it needs to be based on it's traffic volume. Which is why it's always a freeway.

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