Strange Priorities in Downtown Bylaw Enforcement

By Jason Leach
Published September 04, 2009

A couple of articles in the Spectator this week discussed the upcoming opening and subsequent construction halt of a new restaurant on Bay Street called Cottage Life. A huge renovation is turning this crummy looking corner at King into a bar and restaurant with a nice long patio on Bay Street as well as a nice rooftop patio.

I've mused previously on RTH about the lack of patios on the revamped Bay Street. Druxy's in Jackson Square should have installed one ages ago, but instead they chose to complain when a new cafe opened near them in the mall.

Personally I wouldn't list cedar siding as one of my top choices for a building material downtown, but anyone who has passed the corner during the recent work can see that the craftsmanship appears to be of high quality and the adjoining patio railings and metal lamps add a nice charm to this once-drab spot.

I'd like to see more windows facing Bay, but I can certainly live with the product being presented.

As you know, I'm a firm believer in the need for an architectural review board in Hamilton that will review each and every project submitted to the city. Don't ask me to start listing recent developments to prove my point. Just walk around yourself and take a look.

Where I find myself somewhat perplexed is when I read that the city temporarily halted work due to the massive wall of cedar on Cottage Life, yet a few blocks down King we are gradually seeing a mediocre corner property turn into a disgusting eyesore.

I am referring, of course, to the Bingo Hall building at King and Hughson. Recently, while driving down King Street at night, I almost had to pull over due to temporary blindness after making the mistake of looking to my right when passing the aforementioned building.

Hamilton has a sign bylaw and regularly I'll see folks ripping down the small paper signs that get taped or stapled to street poles downtown, even though I find out far more about local events, arts, music and cultural happenings by reading these wonderful posters that are mounted on poles through the downtown than any other source.

But I'm stunned by the fact that our sign bylaw still allows massive billboards and their mega-lights that can shine through residential neighbourhoods for blocks, or a sign like this mini DofascoVision that was just installed at the Bingo Hall.

I was at a friends house recently and noticed bright lights shining into his kitchen window. I thought it was a movie shoot so I went to have a look and it was from a billboard two blocks away.

To make matters worse, now I see a bunch of panels that look like cheap plywood have been poorly installed on the exterior of the Bingo Hall. This is a handsome, though neglected, Art-Deco building in our downtown that once housed the wonderful Kresge's department store.

The Spec headline earlier this week said that the cedar look at Cottage Life caused the project to be halted.

Perhaps one of these days we'll also take the same approach with buildings that are butchered with cheap, short-sighted renos that actually move downtown's appearance in the wrong direction.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2009 at 11:39:15

"As you know, I'm a firm believer in the need for an architectural review board in Hamilton that will review each and every project submitted to the city."

Jason, if something like this ever gets implemented then there will not be any projects submitted to the city. Too much red-tape for business as it is.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted September 04, 2009 at 11:54:37

I went downtown a couple of weekends ago to see my nephew's band play at Absinthe and what I noticed was that the restaurants and bars going down King Street to be pretty empty, yet when walking back, the crowd that came from Hess Village was overwhelming.

What up with that? Anyways, it was fun to see the local bands playing, good music and good people, too bad so many are in one area only and fail to see the rest of downtown establishments.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 04, 2009 at 12:08:47

capitalist, you almost have it right.

If something like this ever gets implemented there won't be any more GARBAGE projects submitted to the city.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2009 at 15:09:36

Jason, please define what is meant by "garbage"? Who decids what garbage is? If potential investors had to go through scurtiny such as this they would take their business elsewhere.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 04, 2009 at 15:33:18

The Cottage Life folks made the same mistake that the Pearl Company made: they actually tried to work with the city above board, thus putting themselves on the city's radar and bringing 'to-the-letter' enforcement down on themselves. Building owners who practise demolition by neglect, do shoddy renos, or thumb their noses at the sign bylaw are going about their business without the benefit of permits, and since there is no proactive enforcement they get away with it. These kind of double standards do far more to dampen investment than any architectural review board would.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 04, 2009 at 15:34:22

yes, they would take it elsewhere. But not Vancouver (which has an ARB) or Toronto or Ottawa or Calgary or Montreal or Quebec City or Halifax etc.....

They might be able to take their lackluster project to Brantford or Timmins or North Bay though. It's time for Hamilton to start acting like a big league city again and quit acting like any old half-baked project is better than nothing. Half-baked, lackluster projects pave the way for more of the same. Just like in Toronto, high design and unique ideas pave the way for more of the same.

I realize much of Hamilton's population is satisfied with blobs of stucco dominating the landscape and looking disgusting after 2 winters in this part of the world, but I've got a dream of Hamilton becoming a model city once again. It'll take decades to get to the level of Vancouver or Portland, but we need to start trying. Now.

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By Dave Kuruc (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2009 at 17:44:46

Downtown is going in a few different directions and its interesting seeing the many different projects happening right now. I personally would never hang out in a place like the one being proposed in the old Regal Hotel location. Not my vibe - but it will appeal to a segment of the population - but aren't there already a handful of those kinds of places all over the city right now? What was wrong with utilizing some aspects of the heritage that was still apparent in that building?

Everything looks so "temporary" there. They just covered over perfectly fine window openings that would've helped with the very apparent lack of interesting streetwall on that stretch. I wish some of our very eager business owners and developers would go and visit other cities close by like Guelph and even Brantford to see how heritage can be incorporated into new and modern ideas.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2009 at 21:27:13

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By Really? (registered) | Posted September 05, 2009 at 17:02:18

*Bingo Hall *HMP Lot *220 Dundurn *Countless Houses/Apt Buildings *The List can go on for Pages

The fact that the City allows these people to get away with what they do shows other wannabe 'developers' that Hamilton is Open For Speculation!

It's no wonder why the NHL and other Big Name Retailers don't take Hamilton seriously... perhaps they're afraid of having their shops torn down and illegally converted into Parking Lots.

Re: HMP Lot; I find it incredibly frustrating/insulting that when emailed, my Councilor continues to defend the current owner (I will not use the word 'developer' in his case until he actually DEVELOPES something)!?

Re: Delta Bingo, email your Councilor about it. I bet they'll defend it's defacing with the usual "it's creating jobs and bringing people downtown" excuse. If these are the types of jobs/people we are trying to bring Downtown, then why did I even more down here in the first place!?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 05, 2009 at 17:35:47

Really?, if people with money wanted to live downtown Hamilton, do you think that these property owners would pass up the opportunity to make profits by developing their land?

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By Woody Harrelson (anonymous) | Posted September 09, 2009 at 19:16:13

It really would look retarded to cover the King side with wood and have the Bay side as the entrance.

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By buildadam2 (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2009 at 09:12:31

Grassroots posted "I went downtown a couple of weekends ago to see my nephew's band play at Absinthe and what I noticed was that the restaurants and bars going down King Street to be pretty empty, yet when walking back, the crowd that came from Hess Village was overwhelming. "

I think its the out-of-scale one-way street they would have to traverse to get there. Out-of-scale meaning a 5-lane highway with tiny sidewalks bordering a nice set of buildings scares people off. Students find Downtown Hamilton "scary". Its not the buildings with nice street entrances, its not the poverty - Toronto has just as much poverty. What keeps the people with disposable income away from downtown is the scary one-way streets that are out of proportion to the sidewalks and buildings.

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