Wednesday, April 15, 2009

DCA Report for April, 2009

 The Dalhousie Community Association met on April 1st to discuss items of interest to those living on the west side of centretown. Next meeting May 6th.

The parole office proposed for 1010 Somerset Street was a key item. Everyone was discontented by the way the events unfolded. The events either galvanized the community, bringing it together to fight off disaster from those who view our neighborhood as a social dumping ground; or it polarized the community unnecessarily, with the result that residents were unfairly castigated for being intolerant. The association decided to write a letter to Correctional Services and the Minister stating that we supported having a parole office Somerset Ward, and that we felt the best location would be on the transitway in the least residential area possible, ie the downtown core. The passport office and other government agencies operate public access services in the core from shopping-mall-like environments at 240 Sparks and L’Esplanade Laurier. We feel a similar setup at those locations, or 90 Sparks, would be ideal.

The proposed apartment building on Rochester at Balsam Street has been withdrawn. Recall that the association criticized the proposal, fearing it would open the door to the widespread rezoning of the residential area between Somerset and Gladstone. We felt the tight juxtaposition of seven storey apartment buildings to two and three story houses was too much. We also feared that existing low rise housing stock would be allowed to deteriorate as landlords bided their time till they sold out to redevelopers. In any event, the city turned down the rezoning application, agreeing that it was too high. The developers are now reconsidering what to do with the site. Apparently without the seven story height, concrete construction is uneconomic, so they are examining the business case for stacked townhouses or low-rise wood frame construction. This is much more likely to receive warmer neighborhood reception.

Ironically, while developers on Rochester want to tear down existing housing stock to build new ones, no one is coming forward on Somerset Street to fill in the growing number of vacant lots. In the last decade there have been some attractive new infills: the ones beside Kelly’s Funeral Home and the Phoenix development at Rochester/Somerset come to mind as appropriate developments having residential above commercial storefronts. Another is proposed for the vacant corner of Somerset and Preston. But with the demolition of the burned-out Mekong building, and near it the huge vacant lot at the corner of Somerset and Booth, another huge vacant lot behind the Yangtze, the number of gaps in the streetscape is now alarming. Careful renovation and preservation of our commercial stock is rare, the Somerset/Arthur Korean restaurant building being a happy exception. The DCA and the Chinatown BIA are talking to Councilor Holmes about measures to clean up the vacant lots, greening them, and eventually developing them. Of note, the city itself owns the largest ‘vacant’ lot, at the corner of Somerset and Cambridge, the site of the Grad’s Hotel until it burned down.

Spring Cleaning is well underway in our neighborhood. Generally the neighborhood survived the winter well, with less tree damage and garbage than some previous years. The city street cleaning has been early this year, and everyone has noted it is much more thorough and rigorous than previously. We don’t know why we are getting all this attention, but we certainly like and appreciate it! Over a dozen association members met on Saturday April 4th for a cleaning blitz for the area around the Dalhousie Community centre on Somerset/Empress. Cleanup included under and around the Empress St staircase, Lorne, Empress, and Arthur streets north of Somerset, and the parkette at Lorne/Primrose. The Brownies are cleaning up Plouffe Park on April 14; the Chinatown BIA will have cleanup days around May 1, probably for two days. I certainly subscribe to the “broken windows” theory that unkempt properties and litter encourage neighborhood deterioration.

More trees in our neighborhood is seen by all of us as a key to keeping the neighborhood attractive. The association is sending the city as list of possible tree planting locations, and we welcome suggestions. Some of our ‘top’ choices are likely to run into opposition: we want the tree planting that was done along the Albert St path from Bronson to Empress carried on westward to Bayview, but face opposition from city bureaucrats who object to ‘temporary’ landscaping efforts, even though no development is proposed along this part of Albert for the next twenty to thirty years and the lands have already been vacant for five decades! Similarly, the high-visibility vacant lots at Cambridge and at Booth have minimal or no city right of way for planting and both lots are potential development sites (but when?). Generally we feel that while the city talks about planting trees, their actions are much more naturally aligned with excuses why trees cannot be planted.

The 4th Preston Street reconstruction open house was held on March 31. There will be no new turn lane from Carling going east onto Rochester as it was deemed unsafe by transport engineers. The hope is that Booth will be the preferred option for those crossing to Hull, and Rochester Street for those looking for businesses on Preston. There is a real risk that some customers will give up on the neighborhood given the years of construction. Both the Somerset and Preston BIA’s are getting more aggressive in promoting their streets. The BIA's new mascot is Luigi. He will appear on signs directing customers to Preston. Joe Cotrino, of Pub Italia, is encouraging business owners to keep their patios open as long as possible during the season. This community association, supported by the Preston BIA, objected to some missing elements in the latest landscaping plan for the street. They agreed that Primrose to Spruce and Poplar to Willow should receive uniform retaining walls which are now missing from the plans. The DCA noted with displeasure that the dangerous intersection of Preston at Albert is not being improved for pedestrian crossings. The turn radii remain too generous, apparently for the benefit of 53’ tractor trailers, which makes the pedestrian crossing long and encourages motorists to speed around the corners without stopping or looking for pedestrians. You may not get run over by a tractor trailer; the odds are much higher that you will get hit by a speeding commuter.

The Somerset/Chinatown BIA is launching a new art festival on May 2, 2-5pm, kicking off a whole month of art exhibits in restaurants and on the street, with a vernisage at 29 venues, featuring 34 artists.

The Plant Pool Recreation Association is hosting their ever-popular desert party also on May 2nd, from 2 til 4pm. It will be a joint effort with Cambridge Street School that is fundraising for a new play structure.

Blogs are becoming a new form of community opinion sharing, from the grass roots up. Go to www.WestSideAction.blogspot.com for a new blog that focuses primarily on the west side of Somerset Ward. The DCA is not the sponsor of the blog. There are links to other blogs that focus on transit and planning issues in the City.

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