Interviews

Better Urban Development By Design: An Interview with Mayor Fred Eisenberger (Part 3)

Mayor Eisenberger talks about urban design, architectural review, making zoning rules more flexible, and the role box stores play in Hamilton's retail landscape.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 27, 2007

Interview with Fred Eisenberger

In part 1 of this email interview, Mayor Fred Eisenberger addressed the importance of transportation in Hamilton. In part 2, he addressed the need for smart growth and intensification.

In part 3, the Mayor shares his ideas about urban design, zoning rules, and big box developments.

The Mayor continues his practice of being cautious and careful rather than bold in his statements.

Instead of opposing big box stores, for example, he advocates studying their impact on "the retailing landscape" to "determine how the negative impacts can be minimized."

On the one hand, it's nice to see a mayor who didn't wake up in the morning with his mind already made up. On the other, it would be nice to see stronger leadership on the kinds of no-brainer issues that continue to dog Hamilton's political affairs.

The Interview

Ryan McGreal, Raise the Hammer: When will we get a city-wide architectural review board to ensure that new buildings actually improve the fabric of the public realm?

Mayor Fred Eisenberger: One of the lesser known gems in Hamilton municipal government is our Urban Design team. Under their initiative, we have created state-of-the-art policies to guide future development and create a better public sphere.

Ultimately, I would like to see us move in the direction of an architectural or urban design review board made up of professionals to help provide advice on how development applications could be improved.

In November 2003, City Council adopted Site Plan Guidelines with the aim of encouraging a high quality of building and design across the City. Ultimately, I would like to see us move in the direction of an architectural or urban design review board made up of professionals to help provide advice on how development applications could be improved.

As an intermediate step, a Development Review Committee made up of staff meets weekly to review Site Plan applications for approval - as part of this review process our Community Planning & Design Section provides regular input on the design aspects of projects.

The Design Section has three Urban Designers who have made a positive contribution to the quality of new development.

Under Bill 51, Section 41 of the Planning Act respecting Site Plan Control was recently amended to provide municipalities with authority to review Architectural/Exterior Design.

This will include the "character, scale, appearance and design features of buildings and their sustainable design", provided the requirements for same are included in the Official Plan and the Site Plan Control By-law.

In this regard, we will have to prepare appropriate amendments to the Official Plan and update our guidelines.

However, it should be noted that the City has recently undertaken a number of initiatives that will provide a foundation for implementation of this authority, including the New Downtown Zoning By-law, Heritage Character Zone Design Guidelines (passes by Council on March 22, 2006), and the previously referanced Site Plan Guidelines.

In addition, the City held the first bi-annual Urban Design & Architecture Awards in 2005, which was a very successful event and celebration of design and architecure.

These awards will again be presented on November 8, 2007, which coincidentally is World Planning Day.

I invite you to check out the website.

RTH: Do you support changing zoning rules to allow mixed-use adaptive reuse and development throughout the city?

FE: In general, we are going to have to become more flexible in our zoning rules to allow for methods to increase density in order for Hamilton to achieve Provincially mandated intensification targets.

Along those lines, allowing more mixed-use will help Hamilton become a more vibrant and sustainable community.

Having said that, like many zoning applications, we need to observe the merits on a case-by-case basis to ensure the type and design of mixed-use development enhances the community in which it is proposed. This can be aided by better urban design.

RTH: Do you support Councillor Brian McHattie's motion to declare a moratorium on "big box" developments pending further study of their impacts on the community?

FE: We have a commercial development study underway that will help determine the capacity of various areas within our city to sustain additional commercial activities.

First and foremost, we have to ensure that the addition of more commercial in one area of the city is not coming at the expense of existing commercial in an established area.

The design and properties of Big Box development, and its relative impact on the retailing landscape, needs to be studied to determine how the negative impacts can be minimized.

Also, during the consideration for any proposed new big-box on lands currently designated for employment growth, extensive study on impacts are required under new Provincial rules. This will help ensure that any new development will be in the overall community interest.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 28, 2007 at 10:18:55

Seems wishy washy. We should be aiming for mixed use and higher density neighborhoods because of their clear advantages, not because of provincial mandates.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted June 28, 2007 at 10:49:06

Nothing earth shattering here. If you recall Mayor Larry DiIanni made many of the 'right' noises when faced with similar questions but nothing much changed.

I've heard, from folks who worked with Mayor Eisenberger when he was a councilor, that he is a guy who likes to avoid conflict and shirk the issues. He's done little so far to refute this description.

Ben

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted June 29, 2007 at 18:19:04

Absolutely. He's a baby kisser.

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