Design Charrette and Public Meeting for City Motor Hotel Site

The City is hosting a design charrette and public meeting to present and discuss the preliminary redevelopment plans for the site.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 26, 2014

Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla is hosting a design charrette and public information centre for the old City Motor Hotel site today to share and discuss the preliminary plans for the site. The design charrette will be held from 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM and the public information centre from 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM. Both events will be held at St. Columba Presbyterian Church, 1540 Main Street East. Interested residents are encouraged to attend.

The design calls for an eight-storey north tower with townhouses at street level, a six-storey south tower with retail at street level, and an interior parking lot.

Context plan
Context plan

Site plan
Site plan

The preliminary site plan, developed by architecture firm Toms + McNally Design, is based on six "key concepts":

  1. Provide continuous street wall and connect the ground floor to the street by putting active uses on the ground floor.

  2. Step buildings back to reduce shadowing of adjacent properties.

  3. Respond to prominant locations on, and axis of the site.

  4. Create a minimum two storey street wall, stepping back the facade above the base podium.

  5. Provide for vehicular and pedestrian circulation.

  6. Provide parking in the centre of the block.

The six key concepts are labeled on the following aerial views:

Aerial view of 55 Queenston Road looking northeast
Aerial view of 55 Queenston Road looking northeast

Aerial view of 55 Queenston Road looking southwest
Aerial view of 55 Queenston Road looking southwest

In addition, the design approach is based on the assumption that the city's light rail transit (LRT) plan for the east-west B-Line route will happen "and will increase pedestrian traffic around the site".

Another constraint the architects had to work around was the City's requirement for a large building setback from the street, based on the City's position that the site needs to accommodate possible future road widening. Their report states:

It is our opinion the additional required setback is detrimental to the City's stated goals in the various policy documents. The additional setback is detrimental in the creation of an urban street wall and disconnects the facade of the building from the street. In addition, the required setback removes approximately 4,500 sq. ft. of developable area from the site. We encourage the City to re-examine this requirement.

This is similar to the City's position when Harry Stinson tried to develop the Hamilton Grand at Main and John a few years ago. He had investors lined up and was working with the City on a site plan when the Public Works Department announced that Main street, already five lanes wide at that point, might need to be further widened and the building would have to be set back to accommodate it.

The architects also chafed against the low building height for the site. Noting that it sits "at the end of a long stretch of Main Street," they argue that good urban design principles indicate this prominent location in the "view corridor" warrants a tall, impressive building.

The City's Nodes and Corridors study, which was undertaken to develop a land use plan to support transit-oriented development around the LRT line, indicated that the site warrants a 12-storey building. However, the Official Plan limits the height to eight storeys.

Another challenge is the city's parking requirement. According to the City's current requirements, the plan would require 156 parking spots: 104 underground and another 52 in a surface lot. Again, the architects recommend adjusting those requirements based on the assumption that LRT will reduce the need to accommodate vehicles.

First, the future LRT system will attract residents that want to live close to public transit and may not have, or choose to have, a vehicle. Second, vehicle use is declining, especially in younger generations. For example, in the United States, drivers aged 16 to 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than in 2001.

The old City Motor Hotel was a 1960s-era motor hotel that was notorious for crime, violence, prostitution and drug use before the City expropriated it in 2012 and demolished it last summer.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 26, 2014 at 08:05:28

Am I interpreting this correctly - the traffic circle would be removed? That would be great!

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 26, 2014 at 09:45:21

was involved in a convo yesterday about the Barton-Tiffany plans that were just released. The general feeling was that the plans look great, BUT once staff and our 1950's suburban design bylaws come into play we will simply see more of the same lousy development that has plagued Hamilton for years.

I personally would prefer if we didn't move an inch on any of these substantial and potentially game-changing initiatives until our zoning and urban design criteria are updated.

I'm not sure if there's any precedent for this, but couldn't Hamilton simply ask to copy the zoning/design bylaws from a city like Vancouver, Toronto, Portland etc.... and throw out our antiquated bylaws?

Developments like Barton-Tiffany, Pier 8, City Motor Hotel, PanAm stadium district are far too valuable to be wasting on surface parking and horrid design. These developments collectively can literally inject new life and higher standards into Hamilton's urban fabric, but not with the current bylaws that mandate set-backs, road widenings, gobs of parking and virtually no standards on design materials/architecture which is how we end up with this:

Great quote from Jen Keesmaat last night on twitter:

Hamilton gets what we get also due to our policies. Stop everything until we can do a major overhaul of them.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 26, 2014 at 19:45:29 in reply to Comment 102873

I'm not sure that i understand what you mean by zoning and urban design criteria. Barton-Tiffany is already covered by the West Harbour Secondary Plan (i.e. bylaw). The Design Study was done with reference to it. What bylaws would we be throwing out as antiquated?

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By brinntache (registered) | Posted June 26, 2014 at 20:00:07 in reply to Comment 102884

The Hamilton zoning bylaw dates back to the 1950's. There is a sloooow revision taking place, and it only covers a small portion of the types of uses. The Secondary Plan is a higher order policy, and zoning is supposed to be compliant to it, but...

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 26, 2014 at 21:57:18 in reply to Comment 102885

Yes, my mistake. The technical side of planning is hard to keep straight. The problem is urban design is partly determined by rules set out in the zoning bylaw, while other aspects (the details of an development application) are addressed by Site Plan Control. Really what we could use is an urban design panel. Vancouver and Toronto have one. The big question for me is why the gap between Secondary Plans like Setting Sail and the implied tendencies of City staff (Are we talking about the usual tension between Planners, other members of the City bureaucracy, and (often) members of council?)

Comment edited by RobF on 2014-06-26 22:03:37

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 26, 2014 at 22:15:54 in reply to Comment 102888

These urban design plans are great and look good on paper. But we never end up with a final result even close to the urban design concepts due to our antiquated bylaws. City staff will take these plans and start asking for giant setbacks, tons of parking, and we usually end up wimping out on the public realm, landscaping, pedestrian realm etc..... if we followed all of our plans over the years Hamilton would be dynamite.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 26, 2014 at 22:52:58 in reply to Comment 102889

I'm aware. Very few plans are followed to the letter ... sometimes for good reason. I don't agree that if we followed all of our plans over the years Hamilton would be dynamite ... i'd have a 4-6 lane perimeter road running a bloack from my house in the North End if some of the plans I've seen were implemented. I realize this is not what you're getting at ...

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 08:18:50 in reply to Comment 102891

haha....very true. That's one plan we should be thankful they shelved. And frankly, it's shocking they shelved it considering it would have damaged a great neighbourhood for the sake of cars.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 08:46:42 in reply to Comment 102897

Easy there DowntownInHamilton. You sound a little jaded yourself. Pretty sure Jason is working to make Hamilton a better place.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 07:04:45 in reply to Comment 102891

Just remember that jason is a jaded individual who likes to bash the city for all the perceived mistakes it's made, rather than actually helping to make it better. See, it's easier to just point to other cities that have "done it right" rather than being that instrument of change here. Tune it out and things will get better.

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By DissenterOfThings (registered) | Posted June 28, 2014 at 07:32:31 in reply to Comment 102895

DowtownInHamilton, our resident moron

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By DownerInDowntownHamilton (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 08:12:42 in reply to Comment 102895

That's hilarious, the most negative and insulting commenter on RTH calls someone else "jaded" because they get frustrated with the slow pace of change. Jason participates in lots of community projects as well as writing lots of articles here that show easy, doable solutions to ridiculous problems. What exactly do you do, aside from crap all over anyone who tries to make their community a better place.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted June 26, 2014 at 12:28:36 in reply to Comment 102873

Articles over the past few days describing the new Delta hotel going up on Burlington waterfront ... A good example from your neighbors right beside you ... When I was reading about it, I found the smartest thing I read for a long time :

No parking is required for the retail/commercial component. Instead property owners within certain geographic boundaries in the downtown pay annually into a parking levy based on their property values to build a future parking structure.

I think that's brilliant.

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By Nice (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2014 at 02:33:48 in reply to Comment 102877

Do any Hamilton Councilours have "news" pages that approach this? Simple blog template layout with a succinct explanation of the issues, a clear "my take" that states the representative's opinion, and room to comment publicly. I feel like I learned something. Nice.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted June 26, 2014 at 13:00:42 in reply to Comment 102877

Thanks Mike! I agree, that is a great concept for equitably sharing the burden of parking provision without making unreasonable demands of each and every property owner.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted June 26, 2014 at 10:21:55

Also by Toms + McNally:

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 26, 2014 at 12:42:30

Once again, when Hamilton succeeds it happens in spite of city hall, not because of it.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 26, 2014 at 19:40:25

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world...

We have places like Potterstraat in Utrech where the city converted a hostile car-clogged street into a place for people, not cars. And where buildings had been demolished in the past to widen the street, they narrowed the street by re-building those buildings!

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2014-06-26 19:40:47

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