This Week At City Hall: Housing Has Me Seething With Passive-Aggressive Fury; Also, More Safeway Bother

Only three items of real note this week and the biggest of them will be tonight’s discussion of the demolition of the Black Building (1755 Hamilton). As I mentioned six posts back, it’s an apartment building downtown that has up until now provided affordable rental housing to 46 households. And the owner, a Calgary company run by Jack Sharp, Westgate Ventures, applied back in the summer to tear it down. City staff issued him a permit to do so in December.

Vanda wrote a really great piece about this, by the way.

Since news of its imminent destruction broke, people — the ones who give a crap about their fellow humans having a place to live — have been rather steamed about that decision and on November 28, Councillor Clipsham requested staff look into what the city can do to block the building’s demolition. And staff will be showing up tonight to say, “Bugger all.”

It’ll be a nice bit of fucking theatre. You should come out and watch.

Unless there’s a big honking miracle, the Black Building won’t be saved tonight. But nine people are coming out to speak against the demolition and to urge council to do something — anything — to protect the building and to do something — anything — proactive to deal with the housing crisis. (Although some might argue the time to do something proactive was five or six years ago.*)

They have good things to say and worthy suggestions. I expect they’ll be sent packing after several councillors rise to express how they’re also very concerned about this housing crisis but their hands are tied in this case. But, oh, did you look at the grants we offer for affordable housing construction and, oooh, damn that province.

It’s interesting to note that the whole catalyst for this demolition was a city-initiated inspection of the building — you know, just to make sure it was safe for human habitation — at which they concluded the building needed some repairs. And according to staff’s report, those repairs included broken windows, repair of window sills, painting and repainting of bricks.

And because of all that, Jack Sharp decided the building had to come down. Those must have been load-bearing windows that were busted.

So, now that the Black Building is a goner, you must be wondering what’s going to be going up on that prime piece of downtown real estate. Well, my guess is a parking garage. But as far as I know, nothing has been proposed for the site. (Which doesn’t mean the planning department doesn’t already have a development application in hand.)

And part of the reason I suspect parking is in the offing is because of something that came up in an interview with Ward 3 councillor Fred Clipsham back in October. On the subject of 1755 Hamilton and what could be going in there, he said…

Again I don’t know what’s proposed there. I had a conversation with Jack Sharp in Calgary, a couple years ago now, telling him about the downtown plan, telling him about the kinds of things we’d sure welcome is some sort of active grade commercial with parking above, there’s a desperate need for parking downtown that isn’t at grade.

Golly, do we ever need above-grade parking downtown. It’s the number one complaint that I hear from people. I guess having 40 percent of the surface area of downtown devoted to parking just isn’t quite enough. 42 will look much more impressive from space.

And as for affordable housing, it can go frig itself.

Also on tonight’s council agenda is the proposed condominium conversion policy.

Now, I don’t think it would be arrogant of me to say that I know a staggering amount about condo conversions and the saga thereof. I’ve maybe put a tenth of what I’ve seen and heard in print so far.

Why, I could write a short but very boring book on the subject.

Or a very long, very boring blog post.

But I’m going to do neither right now. Instead I’ll just mention that several delegations will be coming out tonight to speak against the policy. They’d like to see the cut off point at which conversions are not allowed be a three per cent vacancy rate instead of the two per cent in there now.

Personally, I think this new policy could have been much worse. (And the draft policy that was put out last year was worse. So this is an improvement.) And seeing as the vacancy rate hasn’t been above one per cent in years, there essentially will be conversion moratorium in effect for the foreseeable future.

Plus, the new policy allows for conversion of heritage properties even under perilously low vacancy rates — a provision that might have saved the Black Building (and the Crescent Apartments, for that matter) if it had been in effect a year ago. Sure, neither building would have remained as affordable rental, but converted to condos they’d at least still have been housing instead of what they’ll become now: bulldozed.

Anyway, with the new condo policy likely to pass tonight, that’ll pretty much render all the knowledge I’ve been gathering on the subject over the last four years useless. Yay! Can’t wait to expunge that from my brain to make way for… crap… I don’t know what. Maybe I could start remembering the names of my kids’ friends?

Beyond all that, there’s other stuff on the council agenda tonight, but I’ve ignored it. If anything pops out as really important, I’ll report on it tonight after the meeting is over.

(But of course, you’re going to be showing up at council, right? So you won’t need me reporting back.)

As for tomorrow, there is a special meeting of planning commission to consider the application to expand the 13th Ave Safeway. I think we’ve said all that needs to be said on that for now. Here’s a link to our latest bit of coverage. My guess is there will be a lot of people who come out to oppose the proposal but I really don’t see planning commission saying no to it.

Either way, it gets passed on to a February council meeting to be debated once again.

And that’s it for this week at city hall. You can review meeting agendas and reports on the city’s website. And hopefully we’ll see lots of Dog Blog readers at tonight’s council meeting. And if not tonight, maybe tomorrow at RPC.

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NOTE
* You know, in the years I’ve been covering city council, about the only thing I can think of that might count as a proactive move would be the project announced this year to get all council members tablet computers. Recycling programs are decades old and we’re just considering them now. Tablets have been around a few years and we’re jumping on that bandwagon with glee. Early adopters is we. Go team iPod.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

6 thoughts on “This Week At City Hall: Housing Has Me Seething With Passive-Aggressive Fury; Also, More Safeway Bother”

  1. In either case, presenting a number that’s beyond the reach of most household incomes seems to be the surest way of downing a building in the Queen City. Cue the Darth Vader slo-motion overdub: “You wouldn’t spend this much money on your home…what makes you think Westgate Ventures should spend $150-$290K on this home…and then drive?”

  2. By the way, it sounds like city council is making Paul Dechene think he has squandered a good part of his later youth on pretending they give every heritage an equal shot in this citay. Money doesn’t talk, it swears. Susan B. Anthony said that.

  3. Collette: My understanding was that it was $150,000 to fix up the Black Building and $140,000 for the Crescent.

    Neither seems like all that much when you think they’re to cover the renos for two entire apartment buildings.

    Talbot: I squandered all my youth before even moving here. On whisky!

  4. So ya tear down a housing facilty at 17 block Hamilton St. to make commercial space & a parkade…

    I’m thinking Lorne and 11 Ave.

    Isn’t there about an acre of SaskTel ,property that Coulda bin, a Parking garage,many years ago?

    In-between 11 & Sk.Dr. Across from SGIO
    Tear out a Resto/bar( semi-Historical), and no parkade there 6/7 yrs later.

    thanx mpark & CoR, well thought out.

    Voting public chess IS Hard.

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