I’m still secretly on a writing holiday. (Shhhhh. Don’t tell Steve.* He thinks I’m tirelessly working away on something or other. I told him it had to do with kittens and he said, “Awwwwww! Keep up the good work, soldier.”) But there’s a thing brewing on Hamilton Street that’s pissing me off so I’m sneaking back to the blog.**
Apparently, there is a “proposal” — of sorts — for a new building on the site of the leveled remains of 1755 Hamilton Street. Greg reported on this last week when the sign went up. And now, intrepid reporter Patrick Book at CJME has done interviews and stuff and has more details. (It’s a great piece. You should read it.)
For those of you just joining us, this empty lot on Hamilton was once the site of the Black Building (aka the Black Block, aka the Western Furs Building). And that building contained 46 units of low income rental.
Late last year, the owners of the building, Westland Ventures, applied to tear it down. And despite the fact that we’re mired in a years-long housing crisis, city administration handed over a demolition permit. City council did nothing to intervene claiming “the law” said there was nothing they could do.
As for this new proposal for 1755 Hamilton, it is so many different shades of bullshit, I hardly know where to begin. So I’ll begin here…
It isn’t actually a proposal for shit! It’s a fantasy!
Based on quotes from Westland Ventures’ Shawn Farrow in the CJME piece, this site proposal is nothing more than a drawing of a building. In reality, what Westland claims it is doing right now is starting to look for an anchor retail tenant for the ground floor (because ground floor retail is kinda/sorta a requirement under the Downtown Plan). And no real work on a new building will begin until a tenant is found.
But gosh, to paraphrase Farrow, he sure does like that drawing of an imaginary building. It may be completely beyond their budget to build and it may never happen if they don’t find a suitable tenant, but gosh, it sure is pretty. Look at the drawing. Don’t you think it’s pretty? Look at that drawing. Look at it! LOOO-O-O-OK AT IT!!!!!
Yeah. Sure. It’s not a bad drawing of a building… as these things go.‡ But as far as I’m concerned, this is all a ruse.
As we learned recently, what Westland really wants to build — as in, what they’ve actually applied to city hall to build on that site (and keeping in mind that “build” in this case is a very strong word) — is a surface parking lot.
But strangely, unlike the permit to demolish 46 units of affordable housing, city admin aren’t caving quite so easily this time. As we reported before, they’re going through a whole review of the site and don’t even expect to have anything before planning commission until December.
And let’s say they’re serious about putting up that temporary parking lot they’ve applied to put up. I wonder what would help them get approval for it?
Why, a “site plan,” of course. What a coincidence! Because here we are, a mere six months — a half year — after they put 46 households out on the street and they’ve put up a sign on their lot that sorta/kinda has a site plan on it!
So I guess what we’re going to find out in December is just how notional a site plan you need to have in hand if you want to violate one of the fundamental principles of the Downtown Plan.
Do you need to have an actual timeline, an engineering report and architectural drawings? Do you need to have a plan for neighbourhood consultation and a clearly laid out rationale for how your proposal will fit with the neighbourhood?
Or can you show up at city hall with some pretty illustrations you had an intern whip up in Photoshop?
Will something you scratched out on cocktail napkin at Crave suffice?
Or maybe all you need to do is say you’re very committed to build something. Which is pretty much all Westland has done at this point.
Of course, this site plan — however fanciful and/or implausible — is something that arguably could have been required before Westland was allowed to raze people’s homes to make way for a temporary home for some temporary car homes.
But staff didn’t think of that. Instead they were all like***, “You want to tear down a building and compound our housing crisis by 46 units? Fill your boots.”
[Okay. I hear you Dash.]
I’m going to end my rant here even though I should probably add another 500 words about how none of this would have ever happened if lo so many years ago, between the draft version and final copy of the Downtown Plan, city admin hadn’t caved to developer pressure and removed a provision in the DNP to increase the property tax rates on empty lots and surface parking. But LEGO’s magic spell is starting to wane and those 500 words will have to wait.
So I’ll just wrap this up by saying, well played, Westland. And I guess we’ll see in a month or so if your fancy drawing will be enough to hose city hall and win you that “temporary” surface parking lot.
Personally, consider me less than hosed.
* He’s not even in Regina today and probably won’t be looking at the site until tomorrow afternoon sometime.
** These few moments of blogging have been brought to you today by LEGO, the greatest toy ever invented. If you need to distract your child for half an hour so you can get some “work” done and are feeling guilty about how much Blue’s Clues you’ve let him watch lately, try LEGO. It’s like heroin for little kid fingers.
Keeping in mind that pretty much all architecture after about 1946 is corrupt, inhuman and junky as hell. I love all buildings. Especially the ones shaped like rectangles, built of concrete, and held together with epoxy. In fact, ignore everything I write except for this footnote. I love everything and everybody. Kisses!
*** And by “like” I mean they didn’t actually “say” this. But in my angriest moments — like this moment here — this is how I imagine that meeting went down. I also imagine that everyone involved in that meeting had lizard tongues and were sprouting little horns. And they were eating live kittens while bathing in toddler blood. Because making people homeless so you can build a parking lot is EVIL. And that’s doubly true when you know that the vacancy rate is basically zero.