Increased density, walkability and vibrant infill are exactly what they're asking for from new developments. Why not consistently model that priority in the City's own projects and speed up the process for compliant applicants citywide?
By Toby Yull
Published June 17, 2015
The old suburban model is slowly reversing itself all over the continent. 'Densification' is the new wave. We need smart, beautiful infill buildings on existing services. Every piece of land is a one-time chance to get it right.
Hamilton's crop of cute multi-family buildings, built in the 1920s, is a signature style in our city. Sweet little walk-ups, usually four storeys tall with 16-24 units, are found all around Gage Park, through the north/east end, the Durand, and Westdale.
Sometimes in pairs around central courtyards, many with internal balconies, their small footprint fits snugly along the edges of single-family neighbourhoods.
No elevator, no big shadow cast over the neighbours, no massive parking lot. There'd be less opposition, and fewer trips to the OMB if we were to start building this style again.
Of course, there's more profit for developers in going taller. A small apartment block can't match the financial potential of a high-rise.
But where high-rise is incompatible with the surrounding form or not permitted in our Official Plan, the city could give preference - and a quick trip through the permit process - to structures that contribute to the valued character of existing neighbourhoods.
Sixteen households on land that had one (or none) is indeed intensification.
What's the low-impact version of densification? In downtown Dundas, buildings the size of Amica or the DVSA, with commercial at grade and residential above, would be a beautiful fit on properties needing redevelopment.
Look along Plains Road in Burlington for examples of great-looking buildings that are redefining Aldershot village into a new urbanized entity.
Midrise development at Plains Road and Waterdown Road (RTH file photo)
A tired old secondary highway with dated motels, car lots and strip parlours has become a real neighbourhood that's walkable and inviting. The enhanced residential/commercial mix has re-energized the area into a lively and viable all-ages community.
Quality builders are now pitching classy, innovative projects to an area that was on the decline.
In Dundas, we seem to get a lot of development applications seeking higher density up to nine storeys (the Official Plan says six is the max) in neighbourhoods where the existing form is largely single-family.
Naturally, they get caught up in heated objections and are stalled, sometimes for years. Huge amounts of staff time is spent on processing applications with little chance of approval.
When the city itself is the applicant on a development, we should expect leadership in increasing density and adding value to the community.
In 2016 our town library is about to get a $1.8M internal renovation. But when all is said and done, it'll still be the same single-storey building, containing only a library, right in the heart of Dundas's downtown.
Why not demo it - it's no architectural prize - and build a beautiful new four-storey on the site? The condo directly opposite is five storeys.
Give it a vintage brick look that connects with what everyone already loves about Dundas - our beautifully-intact 19th century streetscape.
Old Dundas Post Office (RTH file photo)
Put the library into the basement and first floor, then add three or even five floors of residential on top. Density would be increased, taxes would flow in, and community would be served.
Speaking of served, Dundas Community Services is just around the corner on King Street, facing onto sad and lonely Grafton Square, the place that fun forgot.
Why not consolidate services, reduce duplication and give DCS a larger space inside the library building? Add a community kitchen or a Seniors' drop-in, and maybe even the local policing office, for a logical and user-friendly grouping.
Then encourage cafés and restaurants into the now vacant space on Grafton square, with trees, patio tables and umbrellas, bringing added value and enterprise to the downtown streetscape. The current bleak state of the square doesn't begin to justify the public money spent to build it.
When I think of 'town planning', this is the level of integrated exercise I'm talking about.
The redo of the Westdale Library a few years ago followed the same pattern as the Dundas Library: an internal reno with no housing component.
They could have added three storeys, gained tax revenue, and been perfectly in keeping with the village aesthetic along King Street. Instead, it's the same so-so building, revamped inside.
The Starbucks/Shoppers Drug Mart opposite Mac on Main West coulda/shoulda been a taller building with student residential above. Right opposite the university, on the B-line, close to everything - how could it lose? And with no damage to the area's ambiance.
Starbucks/Shoppers across from McMaster (RTH file photo)
Instead, the McMaster Sports block has just erected a false front to create the illusion of height. Huh?
The City should lead on initiatives like this. Increased density, walkability and vibrant infill are exactly what they're asking for from new developments. Why not consistently model that priority in the City's own projects and speed up the process for compliant applicants citywide?
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