Comment 84713

By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted January 04, 2013 at 15:09:01

Why are 'old buildings' in Hamilton recurring victims of Institutionalized Vandalism - 101

In 2006, the Planning & Economic Development Dept, of the City of Hamilton, developed a brilliant plan of action to guide and shape the heritage character of the downtown core in Gore Park and along the James and King Street axis:

Downtown Heritage Character Zone Design Guidelines:

In 2006, in concert with the new Downtown Zoning By-law, the Downtown Heritage Character Zone Design Guidelines was approved by Council as a city building tool to protect built heritage resources and character in the Downtown.

Objectives of the Downtown Heritage Character Zone Guidelines:

  • To protect the existing character of areas within the Downtown Heritage Character Zone;
  • To ensure that infill development and/or re-development within these areas will be sympathetic and complementary to the existing Heritage Character Zone character;
  • To avoid replicating historic architectural styles

The Heritage Character Zone comprises portions of King Streets East and West, James and John Streets North and South, and portions of King William Street where the most in tact and consistent built heritage urban fabric are found.

For alterations and/or additions to existing buildings, infill development, and large-scale redevelopment within this zone, the Downtown Heritage Character Zone Design Guidelines shall apply.


Based on existing building characteristics in the Heritage Character Zone, the Guidelines’ principle design objective is to achieve “compatibility” in building form, and thereby protecting and enhancing the existing character of the streets. In addition to the Zoning By-law requirements, the Guidelines provide design advice on how new developments can best ‘fit’ with the core’s existing and traditional urban fabric.

By identifying building features such as façade demarcations and proportions in a traditional street setting, the guidelines illustrate how compatibility between new and existing buildings can be achieved by appropriate use of material and sensitive application of architectural elements on building facades.

The Guidelines should be consulted by developers, consulting architects, planners, and City planning staff during the early phases of the development applications such as:

  • Preliminary site plan review
  • Re-zoning applications
  • Site plan applications; and
  • Applications for all city incentives and loan programs for properties located within the Heritage Character Zone.

Council Approved Heritage Character Zone Urban Design Guideline (2006)

Downtown Heritage Character Zone Design Guidelines Presentation to Council (2006)

Via City of Hamilton By-Law Number 05-200 our city's Planning & Economic Development Dept also set new Heights of buildings across the downtown core -- as well as within the "Heritage Character Zone" (see schedule F).

Unless otherwise noted, Sections 1 to 6 inclusive, and those Schedules A, B, C, D, E and F which incorporate boundaries for Downtown Hamilton were passed by the Council of the City of Hamilton and became effective on May 25, 2005.

These maximum building heights were set to an average of 22 meters, which is around 72 feet resulting in buildings around seven floor high. With special site plan control in the central part of the core, which could result in much larger heights subject to negotiations.

This was the stated disclaimer for the Heritage Character Zone:

The Heritage Character Zone Design Guidelines apply only to specific areas in the Hamilton Downtown as illustrated in Figure 1. These areas, identified as the Heritage Character Zone in the Zoning By-law, contain Downtown Hamilton’s most intact traditional building fabric and streetscapes.

Existing buildings within these areas are generally consistent in shape, size, material, and character - and these qualities form the basis of the Heritage Character Zone Design Guidelines.

The objective of these design guidelines, in conjunction with the Zoning By-law, is to protect the area’s traditional character by ensuring that new development either as alteration, infill, or new construction, enhances the existing built environment.

It is important to note that the Heritage Character Zone Design Guidelines only provide a minimum level of design appropriateness for development within the zone. Rather than being seen as obstacles to excellent building design, the guidelines should be treated as a design framework within which skilled design professional can respond creatively.

These guidelines have been developed based on two principles:

  • that the existing character of areas within the Downtown Heritage Character Zone should be conserved and appropriately managed; and,

  • that infill development and/or redevelopment within these areas will be sympathetic and complementary to the existing Heritage Character Zone character without replicating historic architectural styles.

With the new heights and the stated disclaimer, what the Planning & Economic Development Dept, effectively did was to nullify the intent and purpose of the "Heritage Character Zone".

Most buildings in the Heritage Character Zone are around 6, 9 or 12 meters high. Most of these building are not designated Heritage buildings, but are in very good condition.

Most of the owners are now enabled to build at least upto 22 meters high,(seven floors) or more, based on negotiations.

David Blanchard's testing of the "Heritage Balloon" if effective will open up the flood gates to a markedly different architectural fabric of the downtown core than what is now existing.

The BIG QUESTION is are we even aware of this, let alone, are we even ready for this.

In the absence of a real condo market in the core, we are setting ourselves for rampant destruction of many more of our old buildings in our downtown. All awaiting the upswing in the market -- which may or may not come.

We are indeed a city of speculators, with pretensions of culture and heritage. The lure of the gleaming slim tower, daintily set back from a well groomed almost 'heritage like' street wall, beckons us all, equally.

David Blanchard is hardly to blame for our culture. He is just an enabler of what we all seek.

Could we have approached this differently?

Surely. We could have easily designated the core axis as the Heritage district in 2005 (as has been done in many cities, as well as on Beach Blvd. in Ward 5).

We could have visualized our downtown as "Old Hamilton" much like "Old Montreal".

We could have opened up the North-South Axis to combat the scourge of the East-West axis which has plagued the development growth of our city for fifty years. We could have created a sea of high-rise towers that we crave, in a multi-Billion dollar development zone, on the lands surrounding the Old Siemens Plant - which could have been our new "Grand Central Terminal" in what could have been our new Development District, unfettered by the imperative to keep our heritage safe -- all while, keeping the architectural integrity of our core intact.

The old city of Hamilton, then had a fighting chance to turn into a tourist destination, much like Old Quebec city, or old Montreal.

But instead, what is driving our Urban Planning are individuals who do have planning degrees, but are not planners or designers by nature or calling.

Our Urban Planning is done by our uninspired high performance public servants who do not live in downtown, or our city. They commute here from outlying communities where they raise their children, to primarily service the interest of our suburban developers -- who see our downtown core not as a "living city", but as a decrepit ruin with fallow lands, where they will move their labour force for gainful employment, once they are done with the greenfields.

In the end we get the kind of city we get, because we hire the kind of people we choose to hire to guide our destiny.

God Bless Hamilton - both its old guard and its new guard.

Mahesh P. Butani

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2013-01-04 15:23:39

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