Proposed Trinity Development: Smallish Box Hell?

By Ted Mitchell
Published January 11, 2008

My head is still spinning from tonight's (Jan. 10) meeting about Trinity Development Group's proposal for the West Hamilton Innovation District, meaning the area between Frid and Chatham Streets and Aberdeen Ave, immediately west of the CPR train tracks.

Check out Google Maps for a better look at the area.

Guest performers were representatives from Trinity Group, the City of Hamilton, and the McMaster Innovation Park, all moderated by Ward 1 councilor Brian McHattie.

An important thing to note is that the development plan on Trinity's website is not what was presented. The current version on the website looks like big box hell.

This may be misleading. Depending on who you listen to, the new proposal is either smallish-big-box hell, or a fantastic opportunity for economic development in West Hamilton.

Seeing as Trinity's option to buy is conditional on a return to "K zoning" which permits everything but residential, the fine details of the site plan have not been ironed out.

They paint the preliminary proposal as a number of mixed commercial stores, all fronting on the proposed Frid St. extension to Longwood, with pedestrian and cycling friendly street parking and wide (by Hamilton standards) sidewalks.

They insist, however, on two "small" big box anchor stores (40,000 sq. ft. each, to put that number in perspective it is half the area of the Canadian Tire on Upper James, or two of the Dundas Canadian Tire stores), the rationale being the area would be dead after 5:00 PM without them.

About 1,300 parking spaces are proposed, not all on ground level.

Next we had the City's take on this, which was significantly supportive of the development concept, but not willing to change the zoning as it wishes only to promote uses that complement the McMaster Innovation Park.

Audience members turned out in force with standing room only. My observation was that at least three quarters of those present felt Trinity's was not a good idea as presented, voicing concerns about too much traffic and wasting an opportunity to expand MIP compatible uses.

The Kirkendall Neighbourhood Association, Westdale and Locke BIA's, and Ainslie-Wood Westdale Community Association voiced opposition to the proposal. A few audience members were vocal in supporting the project, one arguing that people shop at big boxes anyway, so why not build them closer to the neighbourhood, which would save car trips.

What happens next with this conflict is an appeal to that Kremlin of democracy, the Ontario Municipal Board. It was made clear that individuals embarking on political approaches such as petitions will be ignored by the process.

Parties have to register and trudge through the process, which I can imagine is a good dose of torture in itself. The KNA and Westdale BIA reps both announced they would register to oppose the zoning revision.

Then came a kind of sheepish admission from the MIP representative, and a gasp from the audience, that MIP would be opting out of the OMB process, as there was some kind of tit-for-tat deal between MIP and Trinity that was conditional on MIP withholding any objections against Trinity's plan. An audience member tried to explain this, but I didn't get the gist of it.

I can't comment on all the points made, but here are my impressions.

Trinity played the card of benefit accruing to Hamilton from economic development, new taxes, fully funded development charges and remediation of a contaminated Brownfield. On that last point I have to take issue, since what they didn't mention is the increase in vehicle trip generation and the consequent traffic congestion and air pollution that necessarily follow big box commercial areas. Forget about numbers of parking spaces for a second and think of how those spaces are used. People working at the MIP or some other light industry will park for the day. People shopping at big boxes park for half an hour and then are replaced by someone else doing the same, all day long.

The latter use is an order of magnitude more demanding on road congestion and pollution. No mention whatsoever was made of these consequences by Trinity. That tactic is dishonest and I made this clear to the representative after the meeting. A traffic engineering analysis needs to be done before any quantitative conclusions can be made about whether Aberdeen and Longwood can handle this extra demand, over and above that already forecast from MIP. Not having a clue about these numbers, it is more than bold to market the project while ignoring these critical consequences.

Moreover, my understanding of toxicological research is that the main environmental risk to human health is air pollution, not soil contamination. Every year, the relative contribution to poor air quality from industry falls, while the contribution from traffic rises.

In this area of West Hamilton, the toxic risk is all about your proximity to a major road like the 403. Still, Trinity's rep told me privately that they would love to put mixed residential in with the commercial, but federal regulations prohibit this use entirely unless the site is cleaned to a pristine state.

That's too bad, since there is a massive difference between a detached residential house and an apartment above a store in terms of possible exposure to contaminated soil.

Now there is a positive side to this proposal. Trinity says it wants to make the development bicycle and pedestrian friendly. With their current plan, I am skeptical that this is possible, but it is critical to the success of the WHID / MIP revitalization project.

This is because the 403 divided the natural connection between Kirkendall and Westdale / Ainslie, to the detriment of potential cyclists and pedestrians ever since, not to mention community health.

Anyone who thinks that traveling on Aberdeen and Longwood in rush hours in anything other than a car is acceptably safe and comfortable is seriously delusional. Fixing this severed connection is a major quality of life issue that must be addressed before the MIP and WHID can provide all that they promise to our city.

We have growing evidence that walkable communities are healthier than those that are car-dependent. That is statistically true. I would add the personal observation that my quality of life is impaired by car-centric design and enhanced by human-scale areas.

Trinity's land is exactly in the area that can repair or further sever these critical human scale connections, and all the consequences to the economic and social health of McMaster University, MIP, and the Kirkendall and Westdale communities. I'd like nothing more than to bike to work at the MIP someday, crossing the tracks at Herkimer and Macdonald and stopping for coffee at one of Trinity's lessee establishments, and pick up some grub from another one on the way home. This scenario is entirely compatible with robust economic activity in the WHID, if the zoning and built environment is done properly.

Screw this opportunity up, and I for one will be looking for another research park in another city. My career and family are too important to waste on a City that trades short term economic sure bets for community health and quality of life. Those things cannot be bought at any price.

Ted Mitchell is a Hamilton resident, emergency physician and sometimes agitator who recently completed a BEng at McMaster University. He is fascinated by aspects of our culture that are harmful, but avoid serious public discussion.


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By Same Old Crap (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2008 at 08:07:34

Yeah because nothing says urban and walkable like 1,300 parking spaces! :P

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By towngown guy (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2008 at 10:07:32

My take on the meeting is similar to Dr Mitchell's. To me, the big box stores proposed by the Trinity group seem a real deal killer. I have been trying to think of an area that has
a community feel and scale as shown by the Trinity presentation next to a big box development,and so far have come up empty.The parking spaces and car volumes to support big box would seem a major design challenge.

The relatively small size of the MIP land ( 1/4 of Waterloo's park) also seems a significant barrier to the vision of MIP as a "world class development". Lets hope that Trinity and the city can come up with a plan that supports the WHID zoning.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 11, 2008 at 10:36:06

Let's hope that Trinity and the city come up with no such cozy 'plan' at all! I'm already sickened by Mac's little quid pro quo. Thanks for nothing Mac. The city should stick to it's plans to fight for the WHID zoning and send Trinity and their boxes packing. I hope my neighbourhood association, the AWWCA, and the Locke St. BIA will join the KNA and Westdale BIA in opposing the zoning change.

I was unable to make the meeting at the last minute, but your descriptive article made me feel like I was there. I could practically smell the crowd! Thanks.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 11, 2008 at 10:47:49

yup, this area is supposed to be a big part of Hamilton's future. Good career jobs, research, scientists etc.... it's land-locked, so we can't afford to waste any of the small land available. If we take half of the disctrict for one-storey retail buildings we'll kill any chance of developing a bustling technology/research park. We've spent enough of Hamilton's future on sprawl and $8.00 an hour Walmart jobs. Let's at least save one of the few zones we've prepared for real wealth creation in this city.

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By ventrems (registered) | Posted January 11, 2008 at 11:16:54

I think it is important to recognize Trinity's claim that there is demand for the type of retail being proposed for this area (essentially, like Meadlowlands-type stores but in a more compact environment). It would be nice to have a large shopping area closer to home, as the bus trip to Meadowlands is not fun, nor is getting around once you're up there.

However, the KEY issue here is that these lands are special. They are fairly large and in close proximity to McMaster and the MIP, and are ripe for development. It would be a shame to waste this type of land on retail space that can arguably be placed anywhere (there are numerous buildings downtown that would love new tenants). We cannot waste an opportunity to take full advantage of the potential for a site such as this, because future government, academic, or biotech labs will not arbitrarily decide to take up residence in the middle of downtown.

To address the claim that Trinity's development will be pedestrian friendly, I truly beg to differ. Last I checked, Main St is one way West->East, so potential shoppers (if coming from downtown) would have to grab a bus from King Street, or use the 6-Aberdeen (which runs hourly after 6pm). Neither of these transit options are ideal, so unless shoppers would be willing to walk to the shopping centre, most trips will be by car.

Finally, I'll echo the numerous people who brought this up last night. This area is unique in its potential to create high-paying, long-term job opportunities; jobs Hamilton's future depends on. We must realize that potential.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 11, 2008 at 13:11:29

I agree that there is a demand for new retail services in the downtown area. They should look at the old federal building, Jackson Sq, Lister project, Connaught project etc.... plenty of space in the area to house new stores - big and small.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 11, 2008 at 13:13:42

this is why we need to protect these lands:

you never know...Hamilton could be home to Canada's next RIM in this new research park. Let's at least give ourselves the chance.

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By Dave (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2008 at 13:08:40

The Ontario "Places to Grow" Initiative (check their website if you are unfamiliar with it) has as a main objective to reduce automobile dependency. If the OMB supported an application to allow a development such as this, it would be hypocrisy of the first order.
I am not opposed to zoning adjustments to allow other activities other than what is permitted, but a healthy mix of residential, retail and commercial (and oher uses) should be required. In addition, the provinces goal of a density of 200 PEOPLE + JOBS per hectare should be the goal.

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By SHemphill (registered) | Posted January 16, 2008 at 21:29:25

I attended the meeting and found it quite interesting. (I asked the question about whether they couldn't find another location in the downtown for Trinity to develop.)

The proposal wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected, and the idea of having shopping in walking distance is a real benefit. I really don't see this as competition for Locke and Westdale. It will be an alternative to for our neighbourhood and stop them from driving to Ancaster and Limeridge - that is good.It's very long-term planning to think that this will be R&D land in 20-30years. I'm not crazy about the toxic dirt pile sitting there for that long a period. Frankly - I don't see why the city can't give them a 30 or 40 year lease & then bull doze the shops when the R&D space is needed. It's likely that the design is not as nice as the photo's that were used in the presentation.

On the other hand, I am very opposed to the un-elected OMB over-riding my democratically elected City council's wishes on this matter & would support McHattie and the City on their position. I'd hope that they could offer the space occupied by the condo/sold school board building opposite the beer and liquor stores on Dundurn & use some of the Main-Beer Store area for development. They could also pass a law that cut the parking space available & force this to be a high density urban design. Or they could offer some of the other brownfield sites in West/North Hamilton maybe around Bayfront Park?


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2008 at 09:25:14

If their case is successful at the OMB, and zoning reverts to K, don't expect trinity to follow through with the plan they showed at that meeting because there will be NOTHING stopping them from building this plan:

Also, they are not in the business of doing favours for the community. Their words about a NEED for big box development at that site are only an attempt at justifying their DESIRE for putting one there.

That land has been sitting there for years, waiting to be developed. Where were they with their "brownfield cleanup" and "fulfilling community needs" 5 years ago? Nowhere. Because they want to leech off of the MIP.

The MIP master plan calls for ground floor retail and storefronts. Local retail needs can and will be filled by smaller businesses as long as we keep the zoning intact. As soon as we let the big boxes drop, we can expect close to zero in independent or human scale retail development for the next 20 years or more, possibly forever.

If you think they are putting up a fight now.. how do you think they will react if the city comes in and says "We are bulldozing these stores to make way for more innovation lands"? How many tech companies are even going to consider land that already has retail on it?

Once these lands are used for retail, they will remain retail forever. If the OMB rules in Trinity's favour, we can say goodbye to that innovation land forever.

For those men to stand in front of us and claim to be doing the best for the community and the best for Hamilton is sad, and I really wonder how they can sleep at night.

Maybe somehow they actually believe it??

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 17, 2008 at 22:32:41

Sean, have you ever seen The Apprentice? Your answer is in the theme song - money, money, money....

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By (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2008 at 09:56:38

Revitalizing downtown is a key part of bring Hamilton back to where it should be, many midsize cities like Hamilton have concepts like this in sections of their downtown but rather then focusing own big box stores having smaller boutique like stores anchored with nice quality restaurants allows people to have a night out, eating and shopping. This is what the focus should be having them come out at going downtown to enjoy a whole night out within walking distance.

Justin Doyle

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