Our Lady of the Condos revisited

Back in the Spring of this year there was a big fuss about the proposal by Ashcroft to redevelop the site of the former convent along Richmond Road, just west of Island Park, and opposite the current two condo buildings Ashcroft is building at 101 and 111 Richmond Road (former Cdn Tire site). The property is bounded on the west by the Hilson Avenue public school and its playing fields.

The five acre site has a lot of frontage along Richmond Road, and extends back to Byron Avenue. The Ashcroft plan was to build a condo along the Richmond frontage, rising from 8 to 10 to 12 stories high as it moved west. There would be commercial on the ground floor. They proposed a large portal through the building into a courtyard in front of the heritage convent and mansion set back on the site. They proposed a hotel building behind the convent. Running along both the east and west sides of the site they proposed senior’s residences five (later reduced to four) stories high, set back about 40′ from the east lot line. The perimeter spaces have a nice grove of large maple trees that would mask these buildings from adjacent low-density home owners. There would be a road access point at the back of the lot, crossing the Byron streetcar strip turned linear park. There would be a pedestrian and cyclist link from Byron to Richmond through the grove (functionally public parkland at private expense…) for those offended by travelling along  the Island Park bike lanes, or Leighton or Hillson.

The proponents liked to refer to the buildings as set amongst parks (50% of the site remained greenspace) and described a series of linked courtyards that animated the site. Opponents labelled it a fortress, over-dense, etc.

I thought it was good first proposal, that could be improved with further work. For those suckers for punishment: http://westsideaction.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/our-lady-of-the-condos-development/ ; and for more about the arch: http://westsideaction.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/our-lady-of-the-condos-archly/

The city hired consultants to review the proposed plan, although it was not their favorite go to people on the Dark side. The panel met with Ashcroft, city staff, the councillor, neighbours, and the community associations. The issued their review at the end of June to resounding aclaim,   wonder,   no … hostility,   err … interest,    yawns?   silence.

So just what did they say?

Well, they didn’t find the site too congested or dense. In fact, they suggested that the lower four storey buildings on the south side of the site be “consolidated” into a single (preumably-) taller building, eg an 8 storey building. And that this building be further enlarged to incorporate the structure proposed to go up immediately behind the convent (originally to be a hotel, then repositioned as some other use) so that there could be a bit more space behind the heritage structures.

The high rise wall of condos proposed for the Richmond frontage (8,10, and 12 stories high) could be redesigned to be … an even 10 floors high all along the frontage.

The portal through the building that was so controversial : why not make it two portals, so that ped traffic could flow in and out of the site with more ease?

The controversial driveway access from Byron: go for it, it is “supported by the panel”.

In fact, the panel points to the lack of a road access from Leighton (near the north end, where the Ashcroft sales office is now) and says this was a “prime location for a curb cut as a secondary street connecting to a main street”. Ouch.

The main effect of the panel recommendations would be that Ashcroft kept its total building volume for the site, but rearranged. The open space on the south and east would be enlarged to preserve more mature trees, but the buildings inserted into the south half would be larger/taller. The review panel generally deferred to the wishes of the Leighton Terrace home owners, but while the new proposed plan moves the buildings further back from the Leighton homeowners they would likely be taller and more visible (four storey buildings can be masked by trees, eight stories not so easily).

The ‘canyon’ effect along Richmond was not mentioned … is this oversight, or did they think it was appropriate urban form? They made no suggestions to improve Byron access, so presumably they were happy with the overland route, although I think down ramps parallel to Byron would reduce the impact, reduce traffic filtering onto the streets to the south, etc.

I do not expect any of the aspiring politicians running in that ward to be leaping with joy. Intensification is best served somewhere else, there are no votes to be won in liking this project. On the other hand, the modesty and incrementalness of the review panel recommendations suggests that the initial plan was the result of good planning practices and compromise amongst the various interests.

Below is a sketch from the review panel showing the buildings rearranged on the site. The panel text is available here:  http://www.kitchissippiward.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Design-Review-Panel-Comments-1.pdf and the site plan sketches here: http://www.kitchissippiward.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Design-Review-Panel-Sketch.pdf

One thought on “Our Lady of the Condos revisited

  1. I think the new plan is an improvement. I agree with your comment that ramping the vehicle access below ground before crossing the path is a good idea. I’d rather see the park narrowed a bit to accomplish this than have lots of car traffic crossing the path.

    I still think the better solution would be a land swap with the school that would let the development reside primarily along Richmond Road, and the school would get the greenspace at the south of the convent in return. For me, one of the goals should be to animate the street. There are few things less animating than a chain-linked playground that sees use for about an hour a day.

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