Downtown Bureau

Strathcona Rezoning Plan Threatens More Demolitions

Planning staff want to rezone the south side of York Blvd to allow developers to assemble and demolish healthy century homes for new condos.

By Jason Leach
Published September 18, 2013

City planning staff aren't backing down after a year-long pushback by the Strathcona community regarding their plans to rezone several blocks of century-old family homes south of York from Dundurn to Queen as 'high density' and allow future developers to assemble and demolish these homes to make way for ten-storey towers along the entire strip.

We met again last night with Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie and the planners and they want to bring this plan to the committee meeting on Oct 1. So, our neighbourhood is quickly looking to mobilize and prevent this from being approved. We're looking at quick petitions, letters to council and hopefully a presentation on Oct 1.

Needless to say, two weeks isn't nearly enough time to allow a community to plan its response, but we'll do what we have to do.

This is not some NIMBY opposition to intensification. In fact, Strathcona Community Council supports much of the plan, including new high density all along Queen, the north side of York (where large lots were already assembled), King West, Main West and the Dundurn Plaza area.

We are pro-density and want to see new investment in the neighbourhood. Our only contention is this plan along the south side of York, yet staff refuse to remove this aspect of the new plan.

What is at Stake

It's important to understand what is at stake here. We're talking about beautiful, intact, occupied century houses in a real neighbourhood. Here is Devenport Street, a short street south of York and east of Dundurn, as seen from York:

Devenport Street from York
Devenport Street from York

All the homes shown in the following photos are slated to be zoned "high density", making them candidates for assembly, demolition and replacement with buildings up to ten stories.

Locke Street North
Locke Street North

Ray Street North
Ray Street North

Inchbury Street
Inchbury Street

Inchbury Street
Inchbury Street

Inchbury Street
Inchbury Street

Inchbury Street
Inchbury Street

Inchbury Street
Inchbury Street

Just think: this entire scene, from where I'm standing as I take these photos, could be wiped out.

Strathcona Avenue North
Strathcona Avenue North

Strathcona Avenue North
Strathcona Avenue North

Strathcona Avenue North
Strathcona Avenue North

Devenport Street
Devenport Street

Devenport Street
Devenport Street

York Boulevard
York Boulevard

York Boulevard
York Boulevard

Dundurn Street North
Dundurn Street North

Dundurn Street North
Dundurn Street North

Dundurn Street North
Dundurn Street North

Century homes and century trees would be replaced with high rises
Century homes and century trees would be replaced with high rises

Nurture and Enhance, Not Demolish

Here's an anecdote: my wife and I held out for a few years and lost a couple of bidding wars for homes in Strathcona when looking to move a few years ago. We wondered if it was just us, but after chatting with several neighbours and real estate agents we learned that there were dozens of families who had instructed their agents to not show them a house anywhere but Strathcona.

This neighborhood seems to have developed a devoted following of residents who love living in a quiet, tree-lined lower-city neighbourhood. We could have purchased a larger home for the same money elsewhere, but we believed staying in Strathcona was worth the extra investment.

Many of these streets look almost exactly as they did when Dundurn Castle was still occupied and the Crystal Palace was hosting events at Victoria Park. Why on earth would we now, in 2013, decide that it's time to start demolishing them to make way for a corridor of high-rises?

When will Hamilton learn how to nurture and enhance our historic, urban neighbourhoods instead of parading in every few decades with another mass-demolition plan that only harms stable neighbourhoods? This neighbourhood worked just fine in 1870 and still works beautifully today.

Serious Damage

Not only do I see no benefit to demolishing these fine homes, but I'm worried that we will do serious damage to the neighbourhood and surrounding streets. Imagine living near Florence and Locke or Tom and Devenport, which currently have a continuous row of century homes and huge trees as the streetscape. That could suddenly be replaced with rear parking lots of ten-storey buildings.

Instead of kids walking along safe sidewalks of homes and gardens, they would be walking next to parking lot driveways and large buildings on every street north of Florence and Tom.

The effect on remaining homes would be huge and start to negatively affect an area that is currently a very desirable mixed neighbourhood with increasing home prices and filled with young families.

The total is 39 homes directly at risk, but damage would also be done to the surrounding homes that are left staring at a wall of condos instead of the typical leafy streets currently treasured by Strathcona residents.

Again, we support new high density development where it makes sense, i.e. where it doesn't require assembling and demolishing blocks of occupied, functioning century homes. Hasn't Hamilton suffered enough block-busting over the years? There are better ways to intensify that don't do damage to existing neighbourhoods.

Please contact your councillor and encourage them to learn from our past and assist in the continued preservation and beautification of this neighborhood instead of destroying a huge swath of it.

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

36 Comments

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted September 18, 2013 at 19:25:20

Surely to goodness this madness can be stopped. You'd swear the same people planning this have been "helping" the HWDSB make its planning decisions. It's a beautiful and very desirable neighbourhood. Thanks Jason for making me aware of this.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted September 18, 2013 at 21:10:31

It's a lovely neighbourhood with a mixture of homes, all of which look like they are well cared for to the best of their occupants capabilities.

It's ridiculous, I think, to rezone this area high density when it is so lovely and functioning fine the way it is.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 18, 2013 at 21:54:46

we are perplexed to be honest. It's been over a year of dialogue with the city and they won't budge. Please send a quick email to council with the link above. Even if you don't live here, these sorts of schemes affect the city in a major way. York is what it is, and at least it's becoming a beautiful green entrance to the city with all the new trees planted in recent years. There's no logic in demolishing homes in one of our most historic neighbourhoods AND against the wishes of residents.

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By tziporah robin zee (anonymous) | Posted September 18, 2013 at 22:04:10

i think this is absolutely insane, i know of no one in this community that wants to see this happen and yet from what i understand our voices are not being heard, not being acknowledged and leaving me feeling extremely angered. I cannot see how this can happen without it getting ugly, we are tax payers, i choice this neighbourhood and certainly would not have if it was the way they are proposing. this has to be stopped.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 18, 2013 at 22:21:22 in reply to Comment 92303

I agree. Glad to hear from another Strathcona resident. I'll have to post a follow-up blog, but the only way anyone can join an appeals process later (assuming we don't get city staff to scrap this plan) is to submit a written comment or make a presentation to the committee on Oct 1. Anyone who does neither of those things can be added to an OMB hearing or appeal later on.

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By Tim (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 08:10:58

Once again, I am disappointed by Mr. McHattie's apparent support for development at all cost regardless of it's impact on stable neighbourhoods. (Consider the atrocious development on the corner of Aberdeen and Dundurn, or the proposed changes to 220 Dundurn which include changing a one-story structure to a four story only 8 feet from Charlton Ave. residents backyards.) And now this? Apparently this guy wants to be the next mayor, he certainly is positioning himself as the "friend of the developers".

High density development is a logical next step for Hamilton. Disrupting and destroying the nature of existing neighbourhoods to achieve that end is insane.

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By w00t! (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 09:04:31

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead

This city council seems to lack any imagination and even worse seems content with that. There are ways to organize quite quickly to make the difference you want. I am new to Hamilton as I have just moved here to be with my girlfriend who has lived here her whole life. City council must be MADE to check their motive(s) for this decision. In the short term it may benefit PURELY from an economical standpoint but what are the implications long term.

A neighbourhood like the ones shown that are even close to affordable are so few and far between, is the risk worth it RIGHT NOW!!

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By Tecumseh (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 09:53:14

I agree with your sentiments Jason. But I do think there should be a way to encourage a more appropriate use of the empty space along York. I'm not sure if leaving those large patches of grass is a good use of prime urban space. The demolitions of the 70's created this problem, and large-scale demolition won't fix it, but surely there's a better use for the space than just lawn. Maybe that means an actual park rather than some nebulous "green-space". But maybe if it only takes one or two lots south of York to fit some low-rise apartments (image the Greek apartments at Strathcona and Head) that wouldn't be so bad. I live right by Florence and Locke and some intensification along York doesn't scare me. But whole blocks of rezoning is not the right way to go.

I'd love to hear some other ideas about what to do with the empty places on York besides just opposition to what's proposed. Is there an alternative vision, besides the status quo?

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 10:27:39 in reply to Comment 92313

We have shared ideas for over a year with city that would involve some smaller 3 or 4 storey condos along York, which won't require buying up and demolishing homes in the neighbourhood. Even at the meeting Tuesday night, this was offered up again by our members as a suggestion. City staff won't hear of it.

We also asked on Tuesday night that the corner of York and Queen be designated high-density. But staff want it to be medium-density. We have been more than cooperative and offered up many other solutions, but haven't made any progress yet.

At this point, our only option is to oppose this piece of the plan.

Make no mistake, there are some home demolitions planned in the new planning document, over along Dundurn between King and Main, and even New St and Main etc.... we have repeatedly told the planners that we are fine with losing those homes because we understand the nodes and corridors plan, and hopeful LRT along King in the future. The ONLY part of the secondary plan we are opposing is the York demolition plan.
We were told from the outset a few years ago that this was a neighbourhood-driven plan, not a city-driven plan, and that we would be the ones shaping the future of our neighbourhood. Clearly that's not the case.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 10:30:30

If you wish to submit comments for inclusion in the Agenda for the Meeting, please contact Vanessa Robicheau (contact information below). Anyone interested in making a presentation is asked to pre-register as a delegation by no later than 12:00 noon on September 30, 2013 by contacting:

Vanessa Robicheau City Clerks Office, 1st Floor, 71 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario L8P 4Y5 Phone: 905-546-2424 Ext. 2729 Email: Vanessa.Robicheau@hamilton.ca

Presentations are limited to 5 minutes.

Also, submitting either a written or in-person delegation before the deadline is required for anyone wanting to be eligible for future OMB hearings.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-09-19 10:31:42

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 10:51:24 in reply to Comment 92310

and missed opportunity to put in street retail

This city does not lack for street level retail. What is still lacking for many of the vacant retail spaces on almost every one of our major streets is the ability attract and retain tenants.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 11:24:37 in reply to Comment 92316

Yeah, that actually has more to do with the fact that our major streets are not very attractive for retail tenants. Saying that we don't need retail space because there are vacant spots on King/Main is nonsensical, because who in their right minds would invest all their time and money to start a business on a highway?

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:19:41 in reply to Comment 92314

This post makes complete sense. However, to play devil's advocate, I see where city staff planners are coming from and the rationale for taking their position. On the City's Rapid Transit website, the first thing you see is economic benefits. The first item is this: "Increasing land value by - 8 to 14 percent within 800m of the line and particularly within close proximity to station areas."

This item is immediately followed by, "Increasing assessment value – high value, high density, mixed use land parcels can produce higher assessment which help to pay for the capital and operating costs of the system." I would assume they are still talking about the 800 metres when talking about assessment value increases.

The Rapid Transit websites goes into a whole bunch of other goodies for Hamilton like Jobs, Growth, urban investment, less pollution etc... However, if you look at fact #1, it is all predicated on being within this 800 metres of the corridor.

South of York to King and from Dundurn to Queen is right smack within that 800 metres. BTW, it hasn't been clear if the City means 400 m on either side of the right of way or 800 m on either side but that's beside the point. The point is, the City has overriding strategies in mind, they have a larger framework they are working with and they won't be changing their course, providing exemptions to the rule at this stage.

I'm sorry Strathcona, with LRT comes amazing opportunities but also potential changes to the character, and cost, of your neighbourhood the City has already put into place.

Ironically, because of LRT, property assessment will significantly increase and those lovely, well kept century homes will quickly become unaffordable for those on fixed or modest incomes to maintain their property tax. Many will be forced to sell and developers will be more than happy to purchase. It's like Muskoka but in your own backyard.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 12:53:29 in reply to Comment 92304

Im from ward 3 in the south Sherman hob and i will send this to Bernie i whould never whant to hear that kind of thing in my nayborhood also

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 13:34:31 in reply to Comment 92321

Just as an FYI, our home values in Strathcona have increased 89% in the past 10 years.

LRT will help even more, but we certainly don't need demolitions in the north part of the neighbourhood. We are willing to accept some demolitions on King and Main, and have told the planners that repeatedly.

It makes no sense to demolish wonderful homes that are occupied and increasing in value in one of the most historic portions of our neighbourhood (and city).

On top of all that, I reminded the planners the other night of what city we are in. If there's any city that knows the damage that can be done via mass demolitions it's us. No excuse to pull off this 70's stunt again.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-09-19 13:36:12

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By conrad664 (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 13:38:49 in reply to Comment 92316

And it all comes down to the ONEWAYS streets

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 13:45:48 in reply to Comment 92323

agreed. Thx!

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By NortheastWind (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 13:51:21

Personally I have never liked to see the side of houses on York as an entrance to the city.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 14:07:09 in reply to Comment 92328

it may not be ideal, but no different than Upper Wentworth beyond Stonechurch, Upper Gage, Garth etc....

Zoom in and look at the land available on York. Other than the small parking lot at Devenport and York, the other parking lots are part of associated complexes - real estate board, albanese branding, law office, stonewalls etc.....

http://goo.gl/maps/1GKBy

The other couple small areas should be sitting parkete's with trees and small gardens along this corridor.

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By BillCurran (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 16:07:32

Jason,

With all due respect this surely smacks of NIMBYism. You’ve made it clear before that you want a small parkette at the end of your street, but that is not what is best for the community. You seem against any change in your ‘hood, or the loss of any houses. You are concerned about the quality of your street but you are missing the critical issue of fixing York Boulevard.

You also are quite incorrect to say that this neighbourhood is unchanged since 1867. York Boulevard was created and significantly altered from Dundurn to James Streets in the 1970’s. Large apartment buildings were built on both sides of York Boulevard and by Victoria Park in the 1970’s and much along and east of Queen Street has changed. And within the last five years the Greek community have built a large housing project west of Victoria Park and we built Good Shepherd Square, replacing an empty lot of 30 years duration. This is far from a static neighbourhood, and this is not a neighbourhood of landmark homes, many are worker cottages and simple working class homes. I’m not saying all the changes have been great, I just want to be clear that this is not Cross/Melville or Chedoke/South Street.

York Boulevard is a critical major street in our City, a major entrance to the City and a poor, flawed ‘urban renewal’ mess from the 1970’s. At the time it was approved Council erred and did not allow redevelopment along York Boulevard deep enough from York to allow for proper lots for apartment buildings with underground parking garages. Without proper lot sizes along York, they will NEVER be redeveloped appropriately, as the lack of development in the last 30 years has borne out. Council also balked at enforcing the key design elements needed: buildings that extend across most of their frontage as any good urban building does, no surface parking lots and they caved on the concept of a covered continuous pedestrian passage along York Boulevard. All of which lead to the mess we have today: single storey buildings, surface parking lots, some colonnades and the former Simcoe-Erie Insurance Company office cuboid ‘tree’ canopy elements. The vision was a Boulevard worthy of the famed Rue de Rivoli in Paris, which has a similar continuous covered walkway along it. Oops.

Cities should be generally 6-8 stories, the average height of most of the best and most loved cities in the world – Paris, London, Barcelona, etc.. This is a mid-rise height of sufficient density to support transit, retail, etc.. Main streets and boulevards need to be at least this height, but are best higher.

If we do not set the zoning to allow the right building form we will not get them, and a hundred years from now we will continue to have too small, unappealing buildings and surface parking lots on a major boulevard, and it will continue to be a bleak, forlorn, pedestrian unfriendly street. It is essential for our community that we fix the blight of York Boulevard. Fixing one side is not a solution.

By zoning deeper south and north along York Boulevard we will allow larger land parcels to be assembled to allow higher density development. The intended depth is modest and appropriate to achieve this, it is a very good plan prepared by a very capable urban design firm. This is not ‘neighbourhood busting’ as you describe it. It is part of the natural transition of urban neighbourhoods from farms to taller, denser buildings. This is good city building. City planning staff and Councillor McHattie (a trained Planner, fyi) get it and they are right, and any good architect or urban designer will back this plan.

Yes a few small, nice, but non-descript houses may be lost. But the net benefit to the community more than warrants this loss. We will trade a few houses on the absolute edge of an evolving urban neighbourhood (not in the centre, which is important). This is tweaking the neighbourhood, and most of the neighbourhood will remain unchanged and protected. Neighbourhoods are not static, they evolve, usually with increasing density, the healthy, normal growth of a city.

This is a good plan and we need to get this approved and implemented ASAP to make Hamilton better.

PS: Ironically, City planning staff and Council have balked with dealing with the exact same issue along the LRT corridors, and it likely will be the same with the implementation of the Setting Sail plan on Pier 8. This means that the much needed intensification along the LRT corridors will likely never happen, or certainly will be diminished.

Since the 1950’s our Zoning Bylaw has set King and Main Street as-of-right to be fronted with 8 storey buildings (as we built at Good Shepherd Square). The new Bylaw reduces that to 6 storeys, making redevelopment less cost effective, reducing street vitality and making it far less likely to happen.

If you do not plan to allow for suitable, economically viable buildings and parking garages, it just simply will not happen. The rules of what works are fairly simple and real. York Boulevard is a testimony to what happens when you ignore reality. Buildings only get built when they work and are economically viable. Dreams are not enough; you need good, strong, practical rules in place and allow viable things to happen.

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By JackBNimble (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 16:18:21

It's a good thing Sir John A high school is nearby to accommodate the kids living in all this new, high density residential development.... oh... right...

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 17:06:11 in reply to Comment 92333

Thx for the feedback Bill.

There's too much here to counter, so I'll just make a handful of points:

  1. Clearly you read the headline, but not much else by the sounds of it. First off, I don't live on any of these streets so there will be no 'parkette' at the end of my street. Secondly, the community is anything but NIMBY. We supported the Greek apartments, the student boarding house near Head/Strathcona and are currently working with Shoppers Drug Mart on new condos at King/Dundurn. Furthermore, as stated in the article and comments more than once - we are more than happy to sign off on the new secondary plan, including the planned demolition of homes near King and Dundurn, Main and Dundurn, Dundurn and New streets, Main and Locke and adjacent to a few side streets along King and Main. We see neighbourhood change coming and are totally fine with that.

  2. This may come as a shock, but not all of us live with such dismissive attitudes towards neighbourhoods that aren't "Cross-Melville" or "Chedoke South". If you can honestly look all the photos in this piece and call them 'non-descript' houses, you probably need to just go hang out with Hamilton's elite and leave us to plan the future for our mixed-income neighbourhood, thx.

  3. York is pedestrian unfriendly, not because it doesn't contain a wall of 10 storey buildings, but because it has 2 lanes more than it needs and no street trees, benches or patios on the sidewalks. The wide sidewalks mean there is ample space for trees to be planted close to the road on both sides. The street only needs 2 lanes each way for cars, which can free up the curb lanes for protected bike lanes or a combo of curb-side parking and bike lanes. The few restaurants and cafes which exist on the street would actually be more inclined to spill onto the wide sidewalks with slower traffic, trees and the buffer of parking/bikes between the sidewalk and live traffic lanes. Planning a complete street is not rocket science.

  4. I agree that many of the 2 storey slab buildings could have an extra couple stories added onto them, with small side/rear parking areas. In fact, we have made that exact suggestion to the planners over and over. For some reason they are fixed on block-busting many of these streets to make space for 10 storey buildings. But whether a building is 2 stories or 4, the street itself along with the sidewalks are what make it pedestrian friendly or not. Democracy Coffee on Locke is in a 1-storey building. And it's pedestrian-friendly as all get out. Should we demolish it for 10 stories??

  5. The demolition of York was a horrendous mistake. Making more mistakes isn't the way to fix it. It's done and now we have a corridor with a great tree canopy after the decades of growth. And despite the York demolitions, many of the homes I'm picturing and talking about DID exist when Dundurn was being occupied and the Crystal Palace was hosting events at Vic Park. Your logic is baffling - because we demolished buildings on York, that means the homes that are remaining actually don't have any historic value anymore. Why don't we bring this identical model of development to Bay/Guise and James in your neighbourhood. Let's demolish all homes 4-6 homes deep on Macauley, Wood and MacNab from the Bay St and James St sides. We now have space for a corridor of 10 storey buildings overlooking the harbour right around the bend on Guise from Macauley and Bay to Macauley and James. Sound good??

  6. Since you clearly skipped most of the article and comments, I feel the need to repeat that we asked the planners at the meeting the other night to increase York and Queen corner to high density. They said no. They want it medium. We want these homes on the few blocks of the south side of York to be low density instead of high. They continue to say no. We even discussed an exchange idea - these blocks in place of leaving the largest parcel (between Ray and Pearl) as green space, but they want to leave the one block as open green space on York. To start your comment with a 'NIMBY' accusation is simply not accurate at all. York can be fixed without wiping out stable, century homes. If we don't learn from history, we don't ever learn.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 18:56:30 in reply to Comment 92322

The 400m zone is is the measurement for standard local bus service. For high order rapid transit, the walk "value" would be in the 600-800m range. Since we're only looking at a Level B LRT line, it'd be more in the 600m range which would encompass much of Strathcona within the TOD redevelopment and intensification area.

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By JohnA (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 19:23:05

It's a good thing Sir John A high school is nearby to accommodate the kids living in all this new, high density residential development.... oh... right?

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By Tecumseh (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 21:55:28 in reply to Comment 92325

Jason, what happened in the 70's was expropriation and demolition. Rezoning is a different thing. Equating a rezoning to allow increased density if desired by the owners is an altogether different thing than planned demolition. There are lots of areas around downtown where zoning allows higher heights than presently exist, but it doesn't mean automatic demolition. There are a lot of people freaking out right now having read this article thinking that demolitions will start as soon as the plan is approved. So really, this talk of imminent "mass demolitions" is hyperbolic and misleading.

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By Tecumseh (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 22:05:54 in reply to Comment 92333

Thank you for your thoughtful reply Bill.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 23:05:19 in reply to Comment 92342

I'm pretty sure the article is clear on this. There is no talk of 'imminent mass demolitions'. The plan, as presented by the city is to do a mass rezoning, so builders can buy up homes, demolish them, and replace them with buildings up to 10 stories. If people are freaking out upon learning that news, they would be wise to contact their councillor to share their disapproval.

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By Tecumseh (registered) | Posted September 20, 2013 at 01:24:44

Based on my detailed reading of the proposed zoning map and the text of the proposed plan I would like to attempt to describe what is actually in the plan for each of the pictures shown in the article above:

  • Devenport Street from York: all of these homes would remain zoned as low density residential
  • Locke Street North: the two houses depicted could potentially be assembled into a high density residential development fronting onto York incorporating the existing parking lot and one storey law office
  • Ray Street North: the two houses depicted could potentially be assembled into a medium density mixed use development fronting onto York, likely incorporating the adjacent Stonewalls parking lot or building
  • All of the pictures of homes on Inchbury: maximum 2.5 storey townhouses or apartments would be permitted
  • Strathcona Avenue North (1st image): homes on the right hand side would allow maximum 2.5 storey townhomes or apartments; the two last homes on the left hand side could be assembled into a mixed use medium density development fronting onto York (presently a parking lot and the Realtors Association building); the first two homes on the left hand side would remain as presently zoned
  • Strathcona Avenue North (2nd image): maximum 2.5 storey townhouses or apartments would be permitted
  • Strathcona Avenue North (3rd image): two homes could be assembled into a mixed use medium density development fronting onto York (presently lawn)
  • Devenport Street (two images), York Boulevard (two images), Dundurn Street North (three images, note that only the two homes on the left are being rezoned): These two homes on Devenport, five homes on York and two homes on Dundurn could potentially be assembled with the existing parking lot at Devenport and York into a mixed use medium density development fronting onto York

(Some definitions: in the plan medium density is 2-6 stories, with up to 10 if studies indicate it's compatible; and high density is 2-10, with more permitted if studies indicate it's compatible. Read the plan for further details).

So how could this all potentially look if developers actually came and purchased up homes and built new buildings? The following scenario seems like an entirely plausible outcome:

  • A six storey apartment building is built at York and Dundurn (replacing 7 existing homes and a parking lot), with ground level retail, perhaps looking something like the Hellenic Apartments on Strathcona and Head
  • A nine storey residential apartment building is built at the corner of Locke and York (replacing two homes, a one storey office, and a parking lot), perhaps looking similar to the existing building at Pearl and York but with a larger rear setback from existing homes
  • A five storey apartment building is built (replacing the Albanese Branding building, parking lot and the two homes to the south of it), perhaps looking similar to the Hellenic Apartments but with larger setbacks from the homes behind it
  • An eight storey apartment building is built (to replace the IMHO awful Realtors Association building along York, and the existing parking lot and two homes), with ground level retail and offices, with residential above, perhaps looking something like the Good Shepherd building, with gradual stepdowns to the homes behind
  • Probably nothing happens with the small patches of grass at the north end of Inchbury because the amount of space actually zoned high density is tiny
  • And possibly some of the homes between Strathcona Gardens and York boulevard get replaced with townhomes, or perhaps a 2.5 storey apartment, perhaps looking like the home on the SE corner of Head and Dundurn, or perhaps like the student rentals on Strathcona just north of King.

In all honesty, having read the proposed plan in detail, it really doesn't seem too bad to me at all. Frankly, I think it looks pretty good. (And just to be clear, I live right near Locke and Florence). I'd appreciate any corrections to my above assessment if there are errors.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 20, 2013 at 10:08:16 in reply to Comment 92349

So good to see other local residents engaged and poring over these planning maps. You sound like me. Lol.
Just for clarity's sake, allow me to make a few corrections based on our many meetings with the planners. Sadly, these maps aren't always as straight-forward as they appear.

I'll try to respond to each point below if I can format this properly.

  1. Devenport Street from York: all of these homes would remain zoned as low density residential.
  • this is incorrect. The two homes shown in my piece would be rezoned into the medium/mixed-use you've pointed out. Just to clarify, the only real difference between the pink and red zone is that ground floor commercial/retail is allowed in the pink zone. Red is just straight residential. Both zones allow up to 10 stories, even though the mixed-use zone states 6 as the preferred height. This is why I was sure to use the phrase "up to 10 stories" in my piece. Also, a bit of inside info to help shed more light on this - we were told by the planners that developers regularly call looking to assemble land here for 20-25 storey towers. So, most everyone involved in this process so far understands that there is some serious pent-up demand for height on these blocks. I can't see a developer wanting 20 stories and settling for 6 when they can easily bump it to 10.
  1. Locke Street North: the two houses depicted could potentially be assembled into a high density residential development fronting onto York incorporating the existing parking lot and one storey law office.
  • this is correct, except it's 3 homes on Locke, not 2. Again, I assure you that every single home pictured in my piece is part of the rezoning/land assembly plan.
  1. Ray Street North: the two houses depicted could potentially be assembled into a medium density mixed use development fronting onto York, likely incorporating the adjacent Stonewalls parking lot or building.
  • this is correct.
  1. All of the pictures of homes on Inchbury: maximum 2.5 storey townhouses or apartments would be permitted Strathcona Avenue North (1st image): homes on the right hand side would allow maximum 2.5 storey townhomes or apartments; the two last homes on the left hand side could be assembled into a mixed use medium density development fronting onto York (presently a parking lot and the Realtors Association building); the first two homes on the left hand side would remain as presently zoned.
  • this is where the largest change is proposed, despite the strange shaded area on the map. The ENTIRE block of Inchbury's west side and Strathcona's east side would be allowed to be assembled and demolished for construction of new buildings that would basically create a wall of apartments from Victoria Park to York. And even though the plans state 10 stories as a maximum, rest assured that it would be tough to win that battle when the current building is 13 stories AND the land slopes down towards York. If there is anywhere in this entire plan that should alarm local residents, it's this entire block. In fact, this block has been the subject of most of our conversations with the city. My best advice is for residents to walk these streets and envision the beautiful homes on Inchbury, and solid red brick Victorians on Strathcona gone and replaced with buildings similar in size to the current seniors building there. The simplest way to look at these two blocks on the map is to imagine the dotted shaded area as solid red on Strathcona and both sides of Inchbury. Please note, I forgot to take a photo of the 2 homes on the west side of Locke that would be incorporated to create a huge parcel of land with the pictured homes on the east side of Inchbury. The potential exists for many high-rise buildings to be built at the end of Locke, Inchbury and Strathcona with this plan.
  1. Strathcona Avenue North (2nd image): maximum 2.5 storey townhouses or apartments would be permitted
  • same as above: this block is where the tallest buildings would likely go.
  1. Strathcona Avenue North (3rd image): two homes could be assembled into a mixed use medium density development fronting onto York (presently lawn).
  • this is correct, but the pressure for extra height would be tremendous here given the entire block across the street being rebuilt as 10 or more stories.
  1. Devenport Street (two images), York Boulevard (two images), Dundurn Street North (three images, note that only the two homes on the left are being rezoned): These two homes on Devenport, five homes on York and two homes on Dundurn could potentially be assembled with the existing parking lot at Devenport and York into a mixed use medium density development fronting onto York.
  • this is also correct

Hope this helps clear up any confusion. Again, the Inchbury/Locke/Strathcona blocks are the areas we are most concerned about. The potential exists for a ton of high-rise development along that entire stretch. The special policy area that is shaded out in the map will allow for the maximum height and land assembly with the surrounding blocks shaded in red.

I don't expect that everyone will agree with me or the Strathcona Community Council on this issue, but I've yet to hear any response as to how wiping out those 3 streets for new highrises would be good for our community. The ugliest buildings in our neighbourhood are the 'modern' ones built in the 70's when the last round of demolitions and land assembly was attempted. Today's shiny modern condo towers will be viewed the same way in 30 years. One thing we all know to be true though - the brick century homes that define our neighbourhood will be just as treasured and loved in 30 years as they are today, 100+ years after their construction.

Cheers

Edit: for some reason all my numbers show up as 1, 1, 1 here, yet when I edit them, they are correctly listed as 1,2,3 etc....

Comment edited by jason on 2013-09-20 10:10:22

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By NortheastWind (registered) | Posted September 20, 2013 at 14:53:33 in reply to Comment 92329

Yes but Upper Wentworth is in the suburbs. It's not a main entrance into our Core, which is where we want to welcome tourists and visitors the most.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 20, 2013 at 15:10:35 in reply to Comment 92359

Markdown looks at your numbers and assumes you're writing a numerical list and converts it into the appropriate HTML. Breaking up the list with bullets means the numerical list keeps getting broken and starts counting at "1" again.

See http://raisethehammer.org/comment_format...

  1. this number is actually four
    1. I've intended this with 4 spaces. It's a 3.
  2. This number is actually 1. Not indented.
    • Hey, what happens if I put a bullet here? Again, 4 spaces
  3. Oh, that. Hey, what happens if I put a blank line?

  4. Ping. There's a blank line above this.

    1. more indenting
      1. even more

On investigation, indent your bullets with 4 spaces first. Otherwise you get this:

  1. 1
  2. this is actually a bullet and not a number.
  3. 3

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2013-09-20 15:14:20

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By BillCurran (registered) | Posted September 20, 2013 at 16:31:44

Jason,

We have to get past what is perceived as best by the Strathcona Community Council just for Strathcona 'needs' and remember that planning and urban design decisions have broader implications for all of us.

If you look to Setting Sail, Vision 2010, Places to Grow and other foundation planning tools we all long ago adopted, we need to make our communities more sustainable by increasing density, and doing it well.

Transit is simply not viable nor sustainable in a neighbourhood of houses with a few 4 storey apartment bldgs. on one edge, but one example. Four storey apartments are not appropriate on a major Boulevard, and are not likely economically viable so they won't happen. York Boulevard 2067 will likely look much as it does today, which is a sad prospect, if the plan changes as you would prefer.

We all have an obligation to look past our personal interests/beliefs/fears to ensure that the overall city community's needs are addressed. For Strathcona residents this means accepting that York Boulevard must be drastically improved, for the good of the entire City. I believe that this will also benefit Strathcona by making a better key street in your neighbourhood, by adding vitality, pedestrian safety and walkability, add retail and commercial uses, etc.. You really should be the ones demanding this !!!!! (Not fighting it and seeking almost status quo). York Boulevard sucks. And that diminishes Strathcona.

I think that York BOULEVARD needs to have Boulevard density, as should all main streets, it is a no-brainer from an urban design and planning perspective. Main streets and boulevards should be densest and highest, decreasing as you move further into residential neighbourhoods.

Please think past the present and please think about what York Boulevard could and should be for all Hamiltonians. Adding a bike lane will not be transformative.

PS: I'm very cool with getting increased density on the James Street North corridor; I'm desperate to see a plan to build a high density, high building node around the new GO Station at Macnab/Strachan; I'm very supportive of a high density replacement for the City housing at James/Simcoe; I've very supportive of high density development on Pier 8; I'm definitely supportive of an intense medium density redevelopment at Bay/Strachan replacing the weedlot (and tomorrow please); and we donated a lot of our time and sweat equity to develop a plan for the West Harbour that balances public/private needs and builds positive density and height. All within blocks of my home, bring it on tomorrow. But we are saddled with a sadly NIMBY North End Neighbourhood Association that is very backward, riddled with self-interest and against change. Seems to be a common theme with Neighbourhood Associations, no ??

Let's organize a series of workshops/discussions about density, height and good urban design principles for neighbourhoods, I'd gladly volunteer to hold them in our studio on James North if you like. Let's get out some drawings and maps and talk urbanity. Let's look at some good examples from elsewhere. I can bring in planners and urban designers of note to talk about what is being done in progressive communities elsewhere. We need to embrace density and height, and get past the fear and find out how to do it well.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 20, 2013 at 16:41:41 in reply to Comment 92393

Hey Bill, I'm 100% with you on all of that. But look at the examples you cite: empty waterfront land, weed lots, Pier 8 etc.... that is a vastly different story than demolishing century homes that have been here almost as long as the city itself. The new Strathcona plan adds considerable density to our neighbourhood, and we have supported that premise all along. In fact, we still support it on York, but in the 3-6 storey range as that lower height will minimize demolitions compared to the size lot needed for 10+ stories. If 4 stories isn't enough density to create a vibrant, pedestrian corridor then please explain Locke South, Ottawa St, Queen West in TO, Queen East through the Beaches, King St in Westdale etc.....
York can become a dynamite street without 10+ storey buildings. Look at Brooklyn, NY. Their most bustling streets are barely over 3-5 stories.

We are even fine with some taller towers at certain locations in Strathcona. We offered up York/Queen corner lots for highest density to the city and they said no. They want medium density there.
The only reason we are opposing this plan is due to the complete unwillingness of the city to work with us on more appropriate infill options that won't negatively affect the homes. We were told this in our meetings, but you know as well as I do, considering your a Hamilton architect, that the city wants these large lots assembled to provide large surface parking lots behind the new buildings. Parking lots are a horrendous use of urban land, and an even more horrendous use in place of beautiful, century homes. I'm with you on looking at what progressive cities are doing. They certainly aren't demolishing their most historic homes for parking lots. Hamilton is trying to apply it's usual 1970's planning guidelines onto a plan that is supposed to look towards the future. The past is our best teacher - demolishing perfectly functioning building stock NEVER works, and adding more surface parking to the city also NEVER works. Find me an urban expert anywhere in the world who can disprove either of these points.

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By GoGo (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2013 at 18:56:07

Shit, I wish someone take an interest in our neighbourhood other then the prostitutes and the HWDSB when the ripped down Sanford and replaced it with less trees and a 20 foot fence! Looks amazing by the way(sarcasm)

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 20, 2013 at 22:58:12

Some great news tonight for Hamilton, and this exact neighbourhood we have been writing about in this post:

http://mustardseed.coop/2013/09/20/460yo...

It's interesting to hear the Coop talk about how difficult it was to find a suitable heritage building that could meet all the needs of a modern grocery store. Virtually all of us would probably agree that the 'modern' buildings on York from the 70's are pretty boring and ugly. Yet, the rendering above shows how a quick renovation can bring some life and great design to such a building. Now, imagine a larger renovation including adding 3 stories of residential space above the store? Would anyone say that a mixed-use, 4 storey building on a main street isn't suitable or dense enough?? Hamilton and Toronto were built on the backs of main streets with this exact design. Look at King Street in Hamilton or Queen in Toronto. A solid streetwall of 2-4 stories along their length. One of the things that allows such streets to be vibrant and full of shoppers is a stable residential neighbourhood immediately adjacent to the retail street. Look at Locke South in Hamilton. 1-3 stories along it's entire length, yet booming with people and vibrancy. King St in Westdale or downtown Dundas is another great example.

Narrow 4-storey mixed use buildings would be ideal for York Boulevard, and not require homes to be demolished in order to create huge parking lots needed for 10+ storey buildings:

http://www.sharpdiamond.com/wp-content/u...

York CAN become a vibrant retail street again, but not by demolishing the stable residential element that exists immediately adjacent to the strip. In fact, doing so will create a 'buffer' of parking lots between the stable neighbourhood and retail street and as we've seen downtown on King Street, people aren't as keen on walking past long parking lots to get to a 'main street'. Residents just off Locke, Ottawa or Queen in TO routinely walk around the corner to the various shops and services. This should be our aim for York. One of the main keys to making it happen is to calm the actual street itself. York should look like this:

http://www.rochestersubway.com/images/ph...

or this:

http://streetmix.net/jason77leach/3/york...

with bike lanes protected by parking like this:

http://downtownpasadena.files.wordpress....

This is the true test of how serious we are about creating vibrancy along York - changing the lane configuration, adding trees and protected bike lanes. This is one of the few major streets in the downtown area with a wide design, allowing for plenty of room to create a balanced, interesting street.

Demolishing century homes for 10 storey buildings is NOT the answer to York, just as it is not the answer for Locke, Queen East in the Beaches or King St in Westdale. York faces a golden opportunity to be revitalized, in large part due to the strong, stable residential community living there right on the doorstep of this street. We'd be crazy to damage that strong neighbourhood fabric in the hopes that it will somehow help the street.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-09-20 23:00:20

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By Goin'Downtown (registered) | Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:32:55

Jason, thank you so much for pouring over these maps, et al! And some great insights from commenters, thank you. I don't think we can add anything to the argument (for lack of a better word) but we will be there on Oct 1 and we will write to McHattie, and Council as a whole. I would really like to see a pro's & con's table, from both sides. To us the biggest problem thus far is the complete lack of willingness (and borderline arrogance) to work with ideas and options presented; that is so uncivilized, unproductive and certainly not conducive to successful progress. That, combined with a quick historical list of City planning strikes & misses, will be the crux of our message to Council.

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