Our leaders have the power to stand up to the property speculators threatening to sack our city, if only they will have the courage to exercise it.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published December 09, 2013
Last week, Wilson-Blanchard opened up a new surface parking lot at 20 Jackson Street West on the site where the company just demolished an occupied three-storey office building.
Cars parked on the footprint of the demolished building at 20 Jackson Street West (RTH file photo)
Company co-owner David Blanchard is quoted in a recent Spectator article saying he doesn't think the parking lot violates the by-law against demolishing a downtown building and putting parking in its place - a by-law that Council passed back when Blanchard demolished the Canada Permanent building across from the Pigott.
Blanchard said there is a provision in the bylaw that a former building site can be used for parking as long as the owner has other buildings within 300 metres of the lot.
It seems he is trying to rely on a section of the Zoning By-Law [PDF] that specifies where required parking for a building may be located:
Where the provision of parking on the same lot as the use requiring such parking is not possible, or not practical, such parking facilities may be located on another lot within 300.0 metres of the lot containing the use requiring the parking. Such alternate parking shall only be situated in a Commercial, Industrial or Downtown Zone or within the same zone as the use requiring such parking...
However, the following section is crystal clear and there are no exceptions in the text:
Within any Downtown Zone, no new surface parking lots shall be permitted except where the parking is accessory to the main use on the same lot.
Blanchard just demolished the "main use" of the 20 Jackson Street West lot, so there is nothing to which the new surface parking lot can be an accessory! As for his other buildings within 300 m, they have been in operation for years and do not suddenly have new parking requirements they need to meet.
This lot is illegal, end of story.
Aside from the audacity of demolishing a working three-storey building to make a surface lot in 2013, these proceedings give us a good idea of what Blanchard has in store for the heritage buildings at 18-28 King Street East, which sit under a demolition order with their facades stripped off.
Exposed fronts of Gore Park buildings under threat of demolition (RTH file photo)
Who doubts that they will simply serve as more surface parking until the company finds financing for their dream development?
The other night we were watching a documentary about the history of Paris, which recounted the devastating Viking raids down the Seine in the Ninth Century.
The Vikings demanded tribute - Danegeld - from the residents of Paris to save the city from being attacked and sacked (the same thing happened many times in England).
The citizens had fought valiantly against the Vikings, but King Charles the Fat paid them 700 pounds to go away and fight the Burgundians instead.
The citizens were appalled that the King did not support them in their fight against the Viking invaders.
Fast-forward to today. Blanchard is essentially demanding tribute from the City in order to stop him destroying more of it. His escapade on Jackson Street shows us what is in store for Gore Park if we don't cough up enough taxpayer gold.
Our leaders are desperately offering him money: first access to grants, and now up to $1 million in a desperate attempt to save the city core from being sacked.
Blanchard's response, like the vikings, is to threaten devastation and ask for more:
Buildings co-owner David Blanchard said he's "exploring the opportunities" associated with the grants, which would require provincial designation to access the full amount.
But he added it will cost at least $2 million to preserve the front of each of the five buildings. Removing historic façade elements and adding them to a new building would cost less, but likely would not qualify for heritage designation.
"If we preserve the façades, we would like it to be revenue neutral," Blanchard said. "If we spend an extra million dollars on that alone, I don't see how we'd ever get it back."
At least the Viking raiders left after sacking your city, and allowed you to rebuild. Blanchard has been sacking downtown Hamilton one building at a time, but he continues to occupy it and stop other citizens from ever rebuilding.
The Viking raids hold another lesson for us. Eventually, the leaders decided to support their citizens. They stopped paying the Danegeld and stood up to the invaders. Our leaders have the power to stand up to the property speculators threatening to sack our city, if only they will have the courage to exercise it.