Preamble: Infill and intensification are widely-used buzz words these days. Places to Grow and the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan (GGHGP) will put pressure on municipalities like Guelph to grow smarter. Terms like “mixed-use” and “walkable communities” are being used by planners and the development industry to describe desirable forms of growth. But it remains unclear — in Guelph at least — what that means on the ground. What does it look like and what impact will it have in established neighbourhoods? Like everything in life, there is good and bad in everything. There is good development and bad development. Such is the case with infill and intensification projects.
In the case of the proposed development of 108 Forest (former site of St. Pauls School), it is really important that we get this right. It is one of the first infill development proposals to come to Council since the GGHGP came to light.
The site developers (Dr. Doug Friars and Thomasfield Homes) have come forward with a plan that includes six medical offices, nine loft apartments and 12 stacked townhouses on a 1 hectare site.
On the surface, it sounds great. It has the “mixed use” component, and provides a medium-density form of housing that adds diverse housing forms to the neighbourhood and helps to achieve intensification goals. What’s so wrong with that? Nothing really. Guelph needs more office space for medical doctors and more housing within walking distance to shopping, schools and ammenities.
So what’s the problem?
Each site is unique, and this proposal is specific to the 108 Forest property. So the question is whether or not this specific proposal fits on this specific property?
To be honest, the proposal has some good points.
1. Both developers are local reputable chaps. Dr. Friars has been involved in developing medical offices in the past (Dawson Road). Thomasfield Homes (Tom Kriszan) is a quality builder with an excellent reputation.
2. They’ve assembled a good team – architect Lloyd Grinham, planning consultant Nancy Shoemaker and engineer Chris Sims are all tops in their field and have done many quality infill projects in Guelph in the past.
3. The site has two mature elms that have been spared in the plan.
4. Medium density housing adds a new mix to the neighbourhood – which is mostly single family detached and large apartment building complexes.
So What’s the Bad News?
1. The school additions are overdone – a parking garage and two floors on top. Technically, the top level is one-and-a-half story lofts, but the visual effect will be three stories from ground level. The apartment entrances and another second parking garage will be on the eastern property line where the neighbouring home owner will be negatively impacted. The windows of the proposed apartments will look into the backyard, which contains a pool.
2. The term “medium density” does not equal affordable housing. Each unit will be more than 2000 sq ft with a projected selling price in the $450K range. This is not the type of infill and intensification that the GGHGP encourages. Granted, there is a market for retirement housing within the community as the population ages and that’s fine – but let’s just not pretend this proposal contains affordable housing for seniors.
3. Second and third floor balconies on the townhouse units will overlook existing private backyards.
4. The site needs severe grading. Retaining walls will not be small landscape features – there will be extreme grade changes and 8 ft high walls in some places.
5. Office uses within a residential street is precedent setting. The city’s official plan prescribes mixed-use commercial and office uses on arterial and collector roads. Forest Street is neither. The fact that it’s only five houses away from an arterial road is not a valid argument. There is a complete mixed-use node less than a block away that is ripe for intensification. The Edinburgh-Municipal node should be intensified in order to accommodate additional needed office space.
6. The neighbourhood is already mixed-use. Within a 5-10 minute walk: beer store, convenience store, hair salon, gas station, vet clinic, doctors office, optometrists, restaurants, fitness centre, and much more.
7. Streetscape. There is none. The view from the street is a parking garage. The development turns its back on the community and does not integrate with existing streetscape or complement the park across the street. This is an urban design issue.
Is there a solution?
I think so. Let’s avoid going to the OMB. In my opinion, we can do better with some compromise from both sides….
* How about 21-24 smaller medium density units?
* How about the one-story school building retrofitted as apartments, with medium density townhouses all around?
* How about live-work studios or loft apartments in the school building?
* How about senior’s flats in the school building and smaller retirement townhouse blocks?
* How about removing the parking garage from the front of the building and making a streetscape entrance?
* Other ideas?
As with all issues, I am interested in hearing what others are thinking? Can we do better on this site? Share you ideas…