We encourage the redevelopment of vacant lots and surface parking, but any proposed tall buildings should be designed and massed to make a positive contribution to the public realm and fit harmoniously with the surrounding context and skyline.
By Allison Chewter
Published March 30, 2015
The re-development of the Tivoli Theatre site on James North has received significant attention as the first condo project in Hamilton's artistic hub. The Beasley Neighbourhood Association (BNA), which takes an active role in reviewing new developments and promoting good planning and development within the Beasley Neighbourhood, presents their Official Position regarding this project.
Tivoli redevelopment rendering
In January of this year, developer Diamante Investments Inc. submitted an application for a zoning by-law amendment to the City of Hamilton's planning department with the purpose of developing a 22 storey mixed use building at 108 James Street North and 111 and 115 Hughson Street North in Hamilton, more commonly known as the site of the Tivoli Theatre.
This project is proposed to include commercial and residential uses with a maximum of 106 units and a total of 69 parking spaces provided through combination of surface (17 spaces) and stacked (52 spaces) parking. The current zoning of the property allows for a maximum of six storeys on the site.
Site of the proposed Tivoli redevelopment (RTH file photo)
Under the guidance of Jason Thorne, the new General Manager of Planning and Economic Development, City staff have recommended that Planning Committee and Council deny the applicant's requested by-law amendments on the basis that the proposed changes are inconsistent with relevant municipal and provincial policy and the proposed development "would fail to preserve and enhance the character of the existing area, would represent an over-intensification of a mid-block site and set an unsuitable precedent for the design of tall buildings within Downtown Hamilton" (See Staff Report PED15029a).
The BNA, in reviewing City Staff's report to Planning Committee and the various reports and plans submitted in conjunction with the application (this includes a Planning Justification Report, Urban Design Brief, Heritage Impact Assessment and more), has identified the following concerns regarding this proposal:
"Tall Buildings", which are loosely defined as buildings with a height greater than the width of the street on which they are located, have a greater civic responsibility than mid- or low-rise buildings due to their increased impacts and potential for disruption. We believe that all new development in our neighbourhood should enhance and complement our streets and any established community character.
The proposed 22 storey structure would be incompatible with the existing character and design of James Street North, north of Wilson Street/York Boulevard, as this area is composed predominately of 3-4 storey historical buildings.
The requested zoning changes would allow the development of a structure that would detract from the pedestrian experience, neighbourhood character, and public realm on James Street North due to the visual and physical impacts of a 22 storey structure with very minimal step backs.
While the building has been designed to include a three-storey podium, in partial uniformity with the surrounding structures, the very minimal step back from the 6th through 22nd storeys (~1.92m from the streetwall) negates any benefits of the podium design, especially as the proposed balconies occupy what small step back does exist.
Had the developer acquired more of the surrounding lands, including possibly the Centre Point strip mall on Wilson Street, there would be sufficient space to design a structure that could include a 3-4 storey podium with a tower that is appropriately stepped back from the lot lines, lessening the impacts of the structure's height. This would also allow the base of the building to stand out as the primary defining element of the site.
Strip plaza on James North and Wilson, next to the Tivoli site (RTH file photo)
Every development is precedent setting. We are confident that this development, if approved, would set a poor precedent for the future development of Beasley's commercial and cultural core.
Many of the other developable properties along James Street North and other thoroughfares in Beasley are of a similar, if not smaller, footprint to the subject lands. If this development were to be built as proposed, it would become increasingly difficult to deny future developments in this area that are too tall at the street and seriously out of character with the existing neighbourhood.
The proponents of this project argue that because there is no other heritage/cultural facility similar to the Tivoli Theatre along James North, this project is the one exception and opportunity for a tall building in this area.
However, while this project is unique, the precedent that will be set will be based on the height and massing of the development, not the unique features that it offers.
We also have some concerns regarding this proposal as it relates to the restoration and future operations and governance of the Tivoli Theatre.
The Heritage Impact Assessment submitted by the applicant seeks to address concerns related to the current state and redevelopment of the Tivoli Theatre, including a 2010 report by Janice A. Barlow & Associates detailing possible restoration tactics for the theatre auditorium.
These documents fail to provide sufficient information regarding the ownership and operation of the theatre, and therefore it remains uncertain as to what the predominant use of the theatre will be and who will be in charge of maintenance and care of the theatre structure.
Furthermore, we feel that this zoning amendment process will not provide an enforceable guarantee that the remainder of the Tivoli building will be saved and restored.
The BNA has a clear stance on not supporting the creation or expansion of any surface parking lots within the Beasley Neighbourhood. In conjunction, we are highly supportive of reduced parking requirementse in developments that provide clear Transportation Demand Management (TDM) initiatives.
The proposed development includes the creation of a 17 space surface parking lot on Hughson Street North, as well as 52 parking spaces provided through parking stackers located within the ground floor of the proposed building.
We expressed our discontent regarding the surface parking lot to the applicants and were informed that should the BNA and the City support the further reduction in the parking ratio, the developer would be happy to remove all surface parking from the development.
However, we have additional concerns regarding the design of the overall development as it relates to parking. It appears that the design of the tower and the lack of step backs is directly related to the provision of parking in parking stackers on the ground floor, and therefore is part of the reason that the development would negatively impact the public realm.
Had the developer purchased additional lands for parking purposes, which could include any of the many surface parking lots in the vicinity of the development, the tower could be better stepped back to lessen the visual and physical impacts of its height.
We would be willing to consider a building of similar overall density but lower height at the streetwall, using the deeper part of the lot (immediately in front of the existing theatre building) for the condominium tower rather than for parking. We do not as a matter of policy insist on any on-site parking for new construction in our neighbourhood.
North and south elevations of the proposed building show how the location of the proposed parking stackers has pushed the tower towards the property's James St North frontage
In conclusion, the BNA feels that the proposed by-law amendments are premature, as the developer has not acquired sufficient land, or considered more creative solutions, in order to responsibly and feasibly redevelop the Tivoli Theater and property.
While we want to encourage the redevelopment of vacant lots and surface parking in the Beasley Neighbourhood, we feel strongly that any proposed tall buildings should be designed and massed in such a way that they make a positive contribution to the public realm and fit harmoniously with the surrounding context and skyline.
Based on the concerns outlined above, the BNA does not support the proposed development and will continue to support the position of City of Hamilton Planning Staff regarding Zoning Bylaw Amendment Application ZAR-15-001.
We urge any Hamilton residents or business owners with concerns regarding this project to get in contact with Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr (Jason.Farr@hamilton.ca) or submit comments to Legislative Co-ordinator Ida Bedioui (Ida.Beidoui@hamilton.ca) prior to the Planning Committee meeting this Tuesday, March 31st.
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