Monday, February 7, 2011

Dalhousie Report for Feb 2011

The board of the Dalhousie Community Association met on February 2 for their monthly meeting. The west side of the downtown continues to abound in interesting developments.

Somerset/ Booth Condo: presentation by developer

Board members met in December with the proponents of a six floor condo for the now-vacant lot at the corner of Somerset and Booth. In response to our concerns about shading, their 12 month study shows shadow impacts on properties to the north for only about two hours at midday, for about 2 weeks in winter solstice, ie it is a fairly minimal impact.

The developer has also changed the two-lane garage entrance to a one-lane, two-way ramp, which reduces the impact on Somerset Street and the sidewalk. They have also pushed back the main floor by one foot to allow room for a green edge along the sidewalk. As per our suggestion, the western balconies were re-arranged to break up the flat planes of the building and improve the western end. For the exterior, the developers have chosen a light brown brick with red brick accents. The bright red window and balcony trims will remain.

As an alternative to the wing on the back of the building, which the Board previously considered too intrusive on adjacent properties, the proponent developed an alternative plan that removed the back wing and put the space on the top of the building, as a seventh floor. This option proved unpopular with most of the DCA board. There will be about 39 residential and 3 commercial units in either configuration.

The Chinatown BIA is excited the project is going ahead. The DCA is also pleased that the site will be developed. Somerset needs the injection of new development. Nonetheless, we would prefer if the building respected the five floor zoning and had a setback at the fourth floor, per the zoning. Other property developers are watching this project closely as they design their own projects in the area.

Segregated bike lane approved on Laurier all the way to Bronson

Eric Darwin and Charles Akben-Marchand of our Association made presentations to the Transportation Committee on February 2nd’s marathon session, regarding the proposed segregated bike lanes on Laurier. Both supported the lanes, and lobbied for them to extend all the way west to Bronson. There was a lot of opposition from adjacent condo owners to the lanes extending west of Bay, but we pointed out that Queen Elizabeth towers in particular is sitting on a lot of under-utilized parking spaces and that some adjustments can be made to make these available to selected guests. Transportation Committee unanimously agreed with our position.

Soho Italia

Board President Eric Darwin met with the Soho Italia architect and the developer’s lobbyist who are very excited about their 35 storey super condo, which they pitch as being in the Vancouver style. The sales office set up on Preston is now selling their development at 125 Hickory (“Soho Champagne”) but also promotes Soho Italia. The Soho Italia developer is not ready to talk to the DCA board or the public yet, but he will be available later in February. The project is w-a-a-a-y out of line with the current zoning, which was revised just a few years ago as part of the Community Development Plan, which is still ongoing. Rather than approve the first building that flouts the zoning, which will lead to other land owners wanting to do the same, we think that the Soho Italia promoters should seek an amendment to the Official Plan so that the area can be planned rationally and as a whole, rather than on a lot-by-lot basis.

A motion was passed for the DCA to write a letter with strong opposition, copying the mayor and the chair of the planning committee. We support intensification, but it doesn't have to be this way. The Preston BIA is also preparing a statement in opposition.

Section 37 meeting in Toronto

Two board members went with Councilor Holmes and one of her staff to meet with Toronto City staff responsible for implementing Section 37 of the Planning Act. This section of the act allows municipalities to receive benefits in return to permitting additional height or density when rezoning a site. Developers in Ottawa are already making deals re Sec 37. For example, Starwood Mastercraft offered funds to partially pay for a pedestrian overpass over the O-Train corridor in return for additional height on their 125 Hickory project. Our interest in Sec 37 has also been sparked in relation to updating the Centretown secondary plan. Toronto has been using this section since 1998, and has completed 356 agreements leading to 195 million dollars in cash benefits. Ottawa has invoked the clause nary once. The ‘case law’ regarding Sec 37 is still evolving, so it is by no means a well known or guaranteed approach.

University bus passes

The university bus pass program means that every student must buy a discounted bus pass. Over fifty thousand passes were sent out, leading to significant drop in car traffic at the universities and increased ridership between the two main universities. It is considerable success, and includes numerous side benefits. OC Transpo claims the deals costs them 3 million a year. Edmonton, on the other hand, found $3.4 million per year of benefits from their own program introduced in 2006. With the proposed increase in bus pass prices there is a threat that the program might be killed if the price goes up (no chance to run an approving referendum at the colleges) .The DCA agreed to send a letter of support to transit committee.

Somerset underpass

The City agreed last year to a list of top priority cycling projects, and asked the NCC to cost-share (some of these paths use NCC land or connect to NCC paths). We were excited that the O-Train corridor path was on the top priority list, and since then a contract was issued to Delcan to plan the Bayview-Station-to-Somerset segment, including an underpass under Somerset to be built in conjunction with the road reconstruction in 2011. However, the City has not (yet) funded the path nor the underpass, even though the road reconstruction is going to tender. Eric made a presentation to transportation budget committee asking for funding for the underpass this year as it will look extravagant to tear up the freshly-rebuilt road one year later to build the underpass. The effort dissolved in confusion at the committee, with unhelpful comments from staff. The committee has tabled the effort, so we might yet get some left over funds from the budget, but it is all very murky. It strikes us as incredible that the city can rebuild Somerset in 2011 and then just a year or so later come back to dig it up again to put in the underpass. This is scarcely the frugal and effective spending promised by our Mayor.

In other buget news, the reconstruction of Somerset from the O-Train up to Booth was approved. Bronson reconstruction is delayed, to around 2014. Carling Avenue is not funded for 2011 but there is a public meeting later in February to review the reconstruction plans. It is important that we continue to influence the planning for these roads so that one day, when the plans are dusted off and implemented, we get some of what we want

Planning for the reconstruction of Albert Street (between Bronson and City Centre Avenue) is going ahead in 2011 as they are pressed by the DOTT timeline. The work needs to be finished before the new LRT line starts construction, as Scott-Albert will handle thousands of buses of day currently on the transitway (prior plans to have many buses avoid Scott have fallen through). We fell the community must influence the terms of reference for the study to avoid the mistakes we are struggling now with Bronson. This is not to say we want Albert on a road diet – Albert will be getting wider, not narrower. But we want to avoid leaving the whole project in the hands of the traffic engineers. A motion was passed, to send a note to this effect to the Councilor, insisting on a comprehensive plan involving cars, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians, landscaping, and adjacent properties. The intersections at Booth and Bronson are particular problems – and also offer significant opportunities to improve the current situation.

The City has a study team examining pedestrian and cyclist access to the new Bayview LRT Station. The station has been downsized from the fancy two-levels of platforms on a new bridge version that has been around for several years. The new station will be a single level station at the current bus stop location, with provision for additional parallel tracks later. However, no drawings or sketches are being made available. This makes it even more difficult to design the pedestrian access. Board President Eric Darwin is on the public advisory committee for this, and is most unhappy with the limited understanding they have for walk in traffic. The planners insist this is a transfer station with minimal walk-in traffic, but they continue to rebuff our suggestions – made consistently for the last seven years – to actually do a pedestrian count at the site. The DCA agreed to write Councilor Holmes & Hobbs suggesting a joint meeting of Dalhousie and Hintonburg residents with the planning team to educate them about walk in traffic.

The DCA board is considering April 6th as their Annual General Meeting date. We haven’t decided on a theme for the session. Perhaps it might be Section 37 of the Planning Act (mentioned above), or on the planning and economic considerations for high-rises, smart intensification/infill for the future.

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