Monday, October 29, 2012

Development – a city's lifeline

No city in the world can grow without developing its available lands, whether to attract new residents or entice new businesses. It is true that in today's enlightened world we have many considerations that were not part of the planning stage of early development. In the past most city managers were pleased to entertain any planned levelling of trees and emptying of fields to make way for industrial or commercial construction. A subdivision of neat new homes standing in a row, meant more residents to fill the streets and spend their money.

Today we have come to understand that there is a price to pay for uncontrolled spread, no less than that of one's waistline. After all we are not solitary worker ants, we have a tendency to drag our family along for the ride. Now city managers need to provide schools for their education, parks and recreational facilities to keep them off the streets, and efficient public transport for those not able to jump into their own vehicles. The headaches tend to grow in size gradually, economics and affordability become serious considerations for all city managers. Now the shining new development has become a magnet for the frustrated graffiti artist and the new industrial site a run-down eyesore.

There isn't a city in the world that is not facing the consequences of uncontrolled urban sprawl. Redevelopment of land has provided a potential solution. Yet we are now well aware of what 'Brownfields' are, former industrial sites that have issues with lingering chemicals and other contaminates left behind long after the last employee has gone.

So a developer today must face a great deal more than simply “can it be built.” As city managers face many more considerations before approving new plans, the developer must accommodate many more issues. It is no longer simply appeasing city plans or the logistics of the development. Environmental and community concerns play an integral role in any decisions made by the developer. Special interest groups can become obstacles in the approval process requiring concessions or worse, stalling the procedures completely.

True there are developers who will cut corners to increase the profit margins. Environmental requirements can be ignored, site preparation conducted without concern or appropriate approvals, and much more. It is the special interest groups that bring public attention and help enforce the premise of good development, or better still, responsible development. No one expects that any new building will stand for a short time. Therefore its impact on the surrounding environment, cohesion within the community and overall purpose are important considerations. Yet what can be said when a developer accommodates all the expected requirements and even more, yet still faces opposition from only a select few.

Supplied Photo - view from the lake 

In St. Catharines, Ontario such a situation is unfolding at this time. A planned development in Port Dalhousie, 'The Beaches at Port', has come face to face with the select few who strongly object to the plan, and have made it clear that they intend to take their objection to the Ontario Municipal Board.

The Port Dalhousie area of the greater City of St. Catharines is a picturesque and idyllic location. It is home to Lakeside Park and the shores of Lake Ontario, with a lovely public beach. A marina filled with private boats of all sizes adds to the postcard image. Lakeside Park is also the home of one of the very few operational outdoor carousels in North America. Overall this is truly a picturesque part of the City of St. Catharines. Yet St. Catharines as a whole has suffered badly through the economic downturn and its city managers face serious issues to find a solution.

Scenic views of Port Dalhousie.

The Beaches at Port is a planned development at the very west boundary of Lakeside Park. Its developer Norm Rockwell, highly experienced in Heritage issues, and a meticulous planner has presented a proposal to build a 16-unit residential condominium complex. Mr. Rockwell and his partners, Steven Massis and Perry Nitsopoulos have brought together a soil expert, archaeologists and shore plan engineer - nothing has been left to chance, nothing left to question.

A City of St. Catharines 'Notice of Decision to Approve Official Plan Amendment' issued on June 28th 2012 states, “For over 30 years the City of St. Catharines has recognized and re-enforced the importance of protecting agricultural lands beyond the Urban Boundary from expansions beyond that boundary. Since the mid 2000's the Province has reinforced the principles surrounding more efficiently using existing infrastructure and not allowing growth to expand into the Greenbelt. The challenge has been and continues to be accommodating intensification in existing neighbourhoods in a sensitive manner. The purpose of the lower density designation applicable to these lands and surrounding neighbourhood is intended to preserve the identity of the neighbourhood. Staff believes that the proposed medium density development supports local and provincial plans and policies.”

Supplied Photo - view from Lakeside Park

In an interview with developer Norm Rockwell it was clear that his passion for heritage and preservation issues surfaced throughout the proposed development project. He spoke of the restoration of the historic Wiley/Hutchinson home, only the dilapidated garage will be removed. “The ravine between the Wiley Home and the proposed condominium will not be placed under control of the Body Corporate of the condominium complex, {which oversees all maintenance and future needs of the property}, so as to ensure the future preservation of the mature trees.”

Supplied Photo - Architectural rendering of the planned restoration of The Wiley/Hutchinson Home 

City Planner, Mr. Kevin Blozowski had confirmed that Norm Rockwell provided extensive reports and documentation on the proposed project, and had the full support and approval of the city. Rockwell himself had said, “the start date of the development was approximately December 2010. There were many various plans submitted before that date, but that is what I would call the starting date of working with the city staff.”

Mr. Blozowski of the City's Planning and Development Services said that if he was to describe the efforts made by Norm Rockwell regarding this project, he would say Rockwell was “an enlightened developer.” Blozowski said he found it somewhat difficult to understand the objections raised against this proposed development. Responding to claims of environmental protection area lost in the development, Rockwell said, “The loss of EPA lands is approximately 1000 square feet, however the new break-wall to be constructed is in excess of 1000 square feet and will be donated to the city as park lands.”

Still objections against the proposed development have been formally raised and have to be dealt with. City of St. Catharines Councillor Bruce Williamson was the only one to vote against the proposal put before the city, and when asked for comment he provided a prepared statement which Councillor Williamson also wrote for 'The Garden City's Current'. “While the building itself features nice architecture, placing the sheer vertical wall of this six story structure a few feet from the boundary of the park near the children's playground behind the carousel is not in the least complimentary to the area. Once gone, the feeling of openness and natural beauty that is this corner of Lakeside Beach will be missed.”

Perhaps it should be noted that the proposed development will not be replacing open space but two sadly dilapidated buildings currently used as rentals. Though it is not Councillor Williamson who is the leading voice in opposition to this development. Mr. Jeff Loucks, who had previously presented his objections to the Ontario Municipal Board in relation to another development in the Port Dalhousie area, has stated he will do so again in opposition to the Norm Rockwell proposed development.

Mr. Loucks had been contacted on several occasions in an attempt to hear what his objections are regarding this project. He has refused to respond. Attempts were made to contact Mr. Carlos Garcia, previously associated with PROUD and one of the opponents to another Port Dalhousie development, and the Port Dalhousie Conservancy (which replaced PROUD), all have remained unresponsive and silent.

Jeff Loucks had been put on record by Niagara this Week in an interview saying that his main reason for filing his appeal was the size of the proposed development. “The development will result in the loss of large swath of trees, and when it is built, park goers will lose a place to get away from the city.” (Mike Zettel NTW July 26 2012).

Norm Rockwell's proposed development site is the home to some six to eight trees at this time, and not all are in a healthy state. These trees are behind a chain link fence that stands as a protection surrounding the two dilapidated buildings that accommodate several rental apartments. It is not a public area and signs warn against trespassers. No park goers may get away from the city or anything else in this far corner of Lakeside Park.

The existing dilapidated rentals to be replaced by the proposed development.  

A chain link fence surrounds these buildings with a 'No Trespassing' sign, keeping all beach goers, including little children, away from the property line.

Mr. Kevin Blozowski was clear that it is hard to understand what real objections Jeff Loucks had in relation to the proposed development by Norm Rockwell. According to Mr. Blozowski, Planner for the City of St. Catharines, Mr. Loucks will not be presenting any expert reports, or experts for that matter, to present his case. A preliminary hearing set for November 2nd 2012, with a justice of the Ontario Municipal Board will hear an application for dismissal by lawyers representing developer Norm Rockwell. Mr. Loucks in turn will have his opportunity to present his case to justify the need for the Ontario Municipal Board to conduct a full hearing on the matter early in 2013. Jeff Loucks has inferred that he plans to present his case to the OMB on his own, without any supporting expert assistance. PROUD, known as Port Dalhousie Conservancy has stated that they will not be supporting Mr. Loucks this time at an OMB hearing. Though the president of Port Dalhousie Conservancy, Mr. Hank Beekhuis had made public objections regarding Norm Rockwell's 'Beaches at Port' development.

In a democratic society no voice has a right to be silenced, whether it stands in support or in opposition. After all that is the true basis of democracy and the freedom we enjoy in Canada. Yet should common sense be disregarded in the name of democracy? A list of objections had been presented to City Planner Kevin Blozowski by the Port Dalhousie Conservancy, which are as follows...

The Port Dalhousie area of St. Catharines has charm and beauty, and Lakeside Park is a public space that all can enjoy. Its protection is provided by city by-laws under both environmental and heritage basis, and this protection is of great value for the future of this area. Still no city can grow without development and when the development keeps in mind and compliments the local community, it is hard to understand the basis for objection. In St. Catharines Pearson Park was decimated to accommodate a pool and library even against the wishes and objections of local residents. A great “swath” of trees were destroyed and the notion that “park goers lost a place to get away from the city,” is evident today not only due to the complex that was built but also the large asphalt car park. Yet Mr. Loucks made no objections regarding this development.

Cities all around the world deal with issues of preservation and conservation in relation to development of shorelines. Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines is not pretending to become a mini South Beach Florida. Parks in cities large and small face development upon their boundaries. One has to only think of New York's Central Park or London's Hyde Park. Norm Rockwell has proposed a development that is tasteful at the very edge of the west boundary of Lakeside Park. This development does not infringe on park users in any way as it replaces two sad and unsightly smaller dwellings guarded by a chain-link fence. No park goer wanting to get away from the city will lose their place. No child in the play area will find an obstruction. Area residents along both Lock Street and Dalhousie Street do not find any objections with either the proposed new building nor the restoration of the Wiley House.

The City's final words in their Notice of Decision are, Measures have been taken to mitigate related to height, parking views, shadows, and cultural heritage aspects in a manner that provides a balance between heritage conservation and intensification. Considering the proposal as a site specific exemption to the low density designations of the existing Official Plan and GCP recognizes the merits of this proposal without setting a precedent for future similar requests.” Norm Rockwell has said, “I am heritage conscious and I have put together a team of experts to cover every angle of this project. We are ready for any outcome.”

An extensive list of studies had been submitted in support of this development which include:

Planning Report prepared by Urban and Environmental Management (UEM) Inc.
Geotechnical Investigation prepared by Petro MacCallum Ltd.
Stable Top of Bank Assessment prepared by Petro MacCallum Ltd.
Coastal Hazard Report prepared by Shoreplan
Archaeological Assessment prepared by J.K. Jouppien Heritage Resource Consultant Inc.
Tree Inventory and Preservation Plan Report prepared by Kuntz Forestry Consulting Inc.
Heritage Impact Assessment prepared by Philip H. Carter and Paul Oberst

Our freedom of speech and the right to object on grounds that affect our community's future are never to be considered as wasteful. Still those freedoms and rights when guided by ulterior motives can become weapons to obstruct and delay. City of St. Catharines Councillor Len Stack provided this statement in relation to the proposed development to Mayorgate: “After having spent a great deal of time discussing the proposal with the developer and thoroughly examining the plans and the architectural design, I was most impressed with every aspect of this residential condo plan. It includes heritage preservation and exquisite architectural design that will enhance the entire beach area. Another positive and interesting aspect of this project is that many of the surrounding neighbours came out to speak in favour of the project.”

Supplied Photo - view from Gary Road

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1 comment:

  1. One must wonder at Jeff Louck's agenda since it appears his concerns have been addressed and are now seemingly groundless. His refusal to discuss his issues with those who could make a difference leads one to become suspicious of the man's hidden agenda. The entire project headed by Mr. Norm Rockwell is an example of someone who is not only community minded, but one who has a social conscience as seen in his far sightedness. Having democratic freedom which encompasses freedom of speech (and opinion) it is refreshing to entertain discussions which are based on research and fact and not on mere conjecture and personal speculation.
    Bert D'Amico