Reinstating the obsolete is not planning for the future, but it is deja vu all over again

The City is making admirable progress on the renewal and rebuilding of the OTrain corridor. The Bayview Station CDP is pretty good, overall.( Of course it has flaws, after all they didn’t adopt all of my suggestions.) The Preston-Carling CDP has many good elements, tempered by a few underplayed opportunities and few retrograde car-dominant ideas that are downright mistakes.

But the biggest problem with both CDP’s was they were designed after the land stampede was well under way. Spot rezonings and ad hoc decisions forced the area planners to make the plan fit the evolving reality, rather than shaping it from scratch. And the mayor made it perfectly clear at the 2012 planning summit that there was to be lots of tall buildings. Very tall buildings.

Now it looks like it’s going to be deja vu all over again for the middle section Gladstone CDP. A number of large parcels or prime development sites have already been bought up by the big developers. The middle section will be under intense pressure to deliver the same very high rise zoning that was so generously spread around on the north and south portions of the corridor.

Recall that a few weeks ago you read here about the Feds selling off the south portion of their giant warehouse site known variously as 1010 Somerset or “Oak Street complex”. The warehouse, built maybe in the ’40’s, was always a “quickie” building not designed to last. And it was found structurally unsound years ago, one bay was  pulled out in the middle somewhat like an abscessed tooth, and apparently people are not permitted to work inside the warehouse.

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above: view from Somerset St looking south

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above: view from Gladstone looking north

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above: view from the new OTrain MUP. The OTrain is to the left, the warehouse to the right.

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The PWGSC strategic plan from 2011 reveals the decision to demolish the existing warehouse, remediate the land, and sell the vacant site by 2015. Assuming it takes about a year to remediate the land, we might see demolition late this year or next spring for sure.

While PGGSC is demolishing all the warehouse (we don’t know about the little office building at the north end of the site) and remediating all of the land, they are only selling the south portion, outlined in yellow below. .

1010 somerset for sale


The City may be interested in buying the site, or the portion closest to Plouffe Park – Plant Rec Centre, to expand that park. Any part of the site, of course, would give Claridge or Richcraft or whomever wet dreams. Regional Realty may already have a large site nearby, and I hear Broccolini  has a big parcel too.

But the fly in the ointment is that PWGSC isn’t planning to sell the north portion of the warehouse site. In fact, they intend to fast-track a new warehouse on the site. They cite some stuff about it being a “support structure” for the “parliamentary precinct” and thus necessary to be in close proximity to Parliament Hill. And a key feature of that warehouse will be … an outdoor stoneyard.

Apparently all those piles of architectural stonework heaped around the site aren’t there for lack of indoor space, but are outdoors so they “age” at the same rate as the original source building, so they can patched back into a building and blend right in.

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above: spot any familiar pieces?

While the historical consciousness is admirable, there are huge issues with the Feds using this prime land for a stoneyard. To start with, the site abuts but makes no contribution to and draws nothing from the adjacent Somerset traditional mainstreet. In fact, the PWGSC site is dead gap, if not a blight tempered by the occasional bit of spot-the-familiar-stone-guess-where-it-came-from for passing pedestrians.

The longest bit of the site abuts the OTrain-LRT corridor. That makes this lot one of the most transit accessible locations in the city. The City is counting on high rise development and intensification all along its transit corridors to generate the development fees that are to pay for the LRT schemes so that the new LRT doesn’t cost existing ratepayers a cent.

And the City’s planning policies specifically describe as inappropriate for this area,  low density land uses like lumberyards, car storage depots, garages, dealerships, outdoor storage yards, low employment businesses,  etc.

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above: the forbidden land use

So why on earth are the Feds proposing the most inappropriate land use possible for a prime transit-oriented land parcel? Surely they could reap lots more revenue from selling all of the site for redevelopment than using the majority of it for a warehouse that could function just as well elsewhere, far from a transit line?

Of course, they are “above” City zoning rules. The City cannot force them not to build a warehouse. And there is some “moral rights”  to an existing land use continuing. But a new warehouse makes almost no financial sense for the City and definitely makes for bad urban planning.

Unfortunately, by time the City gets its Gladstone CDP underway, the Feds will be well down the path to construction. Again, the City’s CDP process is too late.  I suspect the only way to delay the warehouse construction and continued stoneyard, is political appeal from the highest levels at the City to John Baird. They could start by pointing out all the money he would be leaving on the table by using such a valuable site for a warehouse. They might even try pointing out some alternative locations.

If that doesn’t work, the City could spend ten of thousands of dollars, maybe even hundreds of thousands, developing a CDP that has the heart of its planning area cut right out. Somehow that seems par for the course.


2 thoughts on “Reinstating the obsolete is not planning for the future, but it is deja vu all over again

  1. Do you know why the Feds are so wedded to this particular piece of property for the stoneyard/warehouse? Just because that’s where it’s always been (and centrally located)? Or, do you think they would not require too much convincing to move it elsewhere if they city were to make something available to them?

    1. I think it is inertia. No one at PWGSC has figured out how much they could sell the land for, for high density development. Instead, they want a warehouse, they have the land, don’t need no political approvals to buy another site or relocate, so it is the easiest (laziest) way. After all, there is no reward to any individual for selling the land for $20-40 million.

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