Urbanist’s diary: unexpected benefits

kids on the street

This is the fourth of a multi-part series that will follow environmentalists Chris Henschel and Allegra Newman as they share their first-hand experiences dealing with an intensification project directly affecting their own residence near Island Park Drive.

The development dance began in earnest this week. The developer filed an application for variance earlier in the week and this afternoon a group of concerned neighbourhood residents met for the first time to plan their strategy.

We haven’t seen the application yet but we believe it seeks at least two variances: allowing seven rather than six stories and allowing a smaller set-back off of Rockhurst Avenue, which would make the building both taller and wider than would otherwise be allowed. The Committee of Adjustment will decide whether the developer is granted these variances, at a hearing that will probably be in February.

Our group is concerned about both of these requests. But we are also concerned about traffic, access, privacy and noise/air/light pollution from the building and its proposed above-ground parking. A planner friend told me today that only the issues subject to the variance are ultimately open to appeal if we don’t like the decisions made by the City and the developer. That means it makes most sense to negotiate with the developer on all of our issues as a package.

The meeting with our neighbours was an unexpected benefit of a common challenge. The scene was a group of caring, thoughtful people rallying together to work for their neighbourhood and, I think it’s fair to say, prevent it from changing too much. It was interesting to see how deep interests run, in some of our neighbours. Whereas we are new to the neighbourhood and have mostly practical concerns, long-timers are motivated by a strong sense of community, sentimentality and even identity. The site of the proposed parking access is the place where their kids grew up skateboarding, or playing road hockey and basketball.

Good public policy decisions – and a pedestrian-friendly Wellington Street – are important. But the process will lack a human dimension if it fails to consider the value of road hockey games, and a bit of claimed public space.

photo by John Tompkins