The City and the Province have policies promoting Smart Growth. Have they been forgotten in a weird sort of beer binge?
What gives at the Beer Store on Somerset Street?
The quasi-monopoly Beer Store network must be doing quite well, as it is proposing a severe under-use of its land at 515 Somerset Street, opposite Dundonald Park. Recall that the current store, dating from the 60’s, an ugly, squat thing, itself replaced a row of family housing in favour of a suitable-for-the-suburbs sized parking lot that is conspicuously underused. So underused, that like the location on Bank at Lansdowne, the lot is used for monthly parking rentals. At least the current store has windows and doors onto the sidewalk, albeit locked and barred doors; there is the potential for them to be reused. Despite the overwhelming walk in traffic, the store format caters to the drive up motorist*.
The beer vendors and bottle recyclers propose tearing down the existing store, and building a new one. It would occupy the same footprint from sidewalk to back lot, and on its east (Kent street) side; but would be much larger, extending westward to approximately double the building size along the sidewalk.
But do not rejoice that this will be a bigger, better Beer Store. Rather, the increased frontage will be one or two for-rent commercial units (CRU’s in the developer’s jargon). Note that new Beer Store will be in the back, with entrances facing the parking lot only. Not even the pretense of being a retail unit on a traditional main street, this design is totally parking-lot centric. And note the Barrhaven-style high-speed drive in ramps proposed on Somerset, instead of urban curb cuts and vehicles slowly crossing a busy sidewalk.
Could anything be worse?
Well, yes, it could.
In addition to transplanting a car-centric suburban building format, they propose a store front design of total anonymity, a generic could-be-anywhere facade better suited for Merivale Road or Carleton Place than a traditional mainstreet.
The third elevation or drawing in the list shows the parking lot facade; the street facade is shown at the bottom; the street frontage is offensively bland and all the “architectural effort” went into the parking lot face. The rental storefront also has its main door facing the parking lot.
Can anyone at the Beer Store mega-corporation spell cheap and tacky?
And this is proposed for a busy traditional main street, running between Bank Street and the entrance to Chinatown.
The site faces a large, well treed park. It backs onto stable residential blocks. It is zoned for traditional mainstreet development, not a mini-mall. It cries out for a three or five storey residential development above side-walk facing storefronts. I’d even love a building that had a second floor restaurant with a large front balcony — a beer garden! — facing the park. This site cries out for innovative development, something that redefines Somerset and gives it a kick up in its currently-sagging appearance.
One impediment to smart redevelopment might be that the Beer magnates have already awarded to the contract to a mini-mall builder. Is it too late to get Domicile, Barry Hobbin, or innovative social housing providers like CCOC, someone keener and imaginative into the scene?
Will Councilor Hume, of the Planning Committee, who rarely sees a high building or rezoning he doesn’t like, push some more fizz to this site?
More height please. More density. More imagination. More people on the street, living closer to the downtown. More tax revenue.
Will Hume please advise the Beer store that while they may be within their ‘rights’ to propose a mini-mall, the city can dredge the planning rules for a 101 reasons to deny or delay the application. And then sandbag them for years.
* at least there isn’t a drive-thru beer store proposed.