The Hamilton Spectator

Two-tower proposal requires debate


Last December, the developer Vrancor put a lump of coal in the city’s Christmas stocking.

The company announced it’s planning on erecting two residentia­l towers on the eastern edge of the Strathcona neighbourh­ood. One tower threatens to be 41 storeys, the second 39 storeys. They will sit atop a six-storey podium that will cover the block bounded by Napier, Queen and Market streets and a row of one- and twostorey homes on Ray Street North.

The proposed developmen­t would contain 1,072 units. Most contain fewer than three bedrooms and so are unlikely to attract families. None of the units is affordable housing. There will be only 324 parking spaces.

Then, on Jan. 25 of this year, Vrancor (now operating as Hamilton Queen and Market Inc.) leapfrogge­d over the city and took this plan straight to the province’s developer-friendly land tribunal.

Provincial legislatio­n allows the developer — which had a previous project slated for the same site in front of our city council — the right to make that expedient chess move. But, by executing this end run, Vrancor all but eliminated our city planners’ or elected officials’ ability to influence the design. It also neatly circumvent­ed the need for public feedback or debate.

And debate there should be. The Strathcona Shadow Dwellers, a neighbourh­ood group I’m a part of, opposed the previous proposal for the site. We felt it was too dense, would tax our water and sewage infrastruc­ture and cause severe traffic and shadow problems.

Feedback city experts sent Vrancor about that previous proposal mirrored our concerns. Vrancor was trying to build too dense, too high and too close to a residentia­l neighbourh­ood. Now this new developmen­t would be twice as high and 25 per cent more dense, with less parking.

I recently posted my reaction to the new two-tower proposal to the social media site Reddit. I was accused of being a “NIMBY crybaby” and being opposed to increased density on an LRT route during a housing crisis. It was clear some of my respondent­s seemed to cleave to the mantra: “If it’s tall and dense it’s good.” That is an extreme view. I think a more moderate position is needed.

It should not be the case that a developer is given carte blanche to develop whatever, wherever it wants. It should not be the case that the only solution for increasing density and housing in this neighbourh­ood is to build 39- and 41storey towers on a six-storey, block-filling podium.

In August 2023, the city released a study of transit stops, including the Queen Street stop. It assessed the ability of the area around the site to accommodat­e the density needed to achieve acceptable ridership for the LRT.

Its projection­s demonstrat­e that even when the limits of the Strathcona Secondary Plan, existing bylaws and Hamilton’s official urban plan are applied, the area could provide adequate density without buildings going over 12 storeys. We agree.

We are fine with 12-storey buildings that abide by the Strathcona Secondary Plan and provide a range of housing options that could support families of all sizes in our community, adding much-needed density. That is achievable without towers taller than the escarpment.

And, it shouldn’t be the case that an extreme developmen­t can proceed in a neighbourh­ood without its residents and their elected representa­tives having input, shaping the project and making sure it works for everyone, not just the developer’s bottom line. Again, this is a moderate, reasonable argument.

Finally, let me be plain. None of us believe our activism will make any material difference to this unwelcome project. If we were only concerned with the view out our back windows, we would have quit years ago. But we are up against a system that favours a self-interested developer who has demonstrat­ed total disregard for the concerns of Hamilton’s citizens, the input of elected officials or the democratic process. So, we are saying, clearly and proudly: “not in my backyard.”

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