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Rize tower chapter 2: Public opponents make arguments from sublime to ridiculous

February 29th, 2012 · 32 Comments

Night two of the public hearing got through about 50 people on the speakers list. Only two or three were in support, the rest opposed for reasons that ranged from reasonable to conspiratorial.

I heard, at various points, that the Mount Pleasant Community Plan was no longer a valid document, because it was the result of conversations with a group of people from the past and not the current community, and that it was an excellent plan solidly founded on what the community wants.

One woman said she welcomed new condos because, as a single mother and low-income renter, new condos helped her feel her rental apartment would be secure because the first-time homebuyers would decamp to buy condos instead of putting more pressure on her building. Many others said they believed allowing the Rize tower to be built in the neighbourhood would displace current residents and drive up rents.

One of the more striking presentations from the night was from designer Annabel Vaughan, who had this to say:

Good evening Mayor and council. I have lived in Mount Pleasant for twelve years; I run a small design firm; I am an activist and a voter who is passionate about citizens having a voice at the development table in their communities.

I could have spent the last 2 years fighting this development – but the thought of going up against another developer was exhausting because it is not the developers that are the enemy – the ENEMY is the flawed process that the CITY uses for rezoning large development sites.

I believe we are at a historic moment as a CITY – and that you – OUR elected council – face a huge decision – it will, in my opinion, be a defining moment of your term – you can choose to do business as usual when large developments are rolled out into existing neighbourhoods or you can step out in front of the issue and provide the leadership and VISION that you have promised US.

Until recently the majority of large rezonings have happened on brownfield sites where there was very little context to respond to BUT as the City faces the challenge of creating more density, which I believe is necessary for the sustainable evolution of our city, these large projects will be happening more and more in our neighbourhoods – REAL places like Mount Pleasant – that have context, history, AND the people + small business owners who have invested their lives in making them vibrant communities.

The current public process brings out the worst in everyone – developers and architects design projects in isolation and then land ‘spaceships’ into neighbourhoods.  The developer’s fight desperately to justify their designs, backed up by proformas demonstrating how their decisions are the only way to make any money on a site. The community is brought in AFTER the design is complete and can only react to the ‘spaceship’ – inevitably they have no alternative but to scream loudly to be heard since the project is almost finished and in process at the city.  This results in public meetings where opinions are voiced on all sides and then the Architects are asked to massage the project to address community concerns – creating design by consensus – a mediocre exercise at best – giving us buildings that are collages of public opinion but not great architecture. Council is caught in the middle mediating this mess.

I want to point out that Rize Alliance – at the direction of the City engaged the Mount Pleasant Planning Group by coming to meetings – they presented a proposal that had been under design for a couple of years, a design that had already been to the city and was supported in principle, a design that already had a proforma that justified their choices – they were not interested in engaging the community in a dialogue about what to do at this site – they were interested in selling their largely finished idea to the community. At a public meeting held in the spring of 2011 when asked about the unprecedented FSR of 6.44 for the project – Mark Ostry – a principal at Acton Ostry said that he and the developer knew they were pushing the limits on the size of the project but they decided to try for the most they could get…the massive height + size of this project was not coming as a directive from the city or the community – it was simply at the whim of the developer + his architect – this project is unfolding just as we would expect under the current model – needless to say the ‘spaceship’ has landed

Ken Greenberg – a brilliant city planner + architect has been working with a different planning model – one that puts the community + the city at the front of the development process – together they produce a wish list for these complex sites that balances community aspirations with city goals – this template is given to the developers + architects who then do what they do best – take a complex problem with constraints and make it economically viable and architecturally innovative – there is give and take in the dialogue that unfolds but it is about how to achieve the best possible outcome for everyone at the table – it is producing some of the best architecture in the country.

A year and a half ago I stood in front of council recommending the Mount Pleasant Community Plan It is a solid document that takes on the challenges of densification and the escalating pressure that our city faces in providing affordable housing and space for the production of art. Mount Pleasant has the will and the determination to make the best possible use of this site – the project in front of you tonight fails to meet our community objectives – this project represents business as usual.

I believe that the density of the proposal in front of you is about right – larger sites in our city should be able to absorb an FSR of 5 – it is the form of the development that is the problem – what I would ask council tonight is that YOU take a stand for our city and OUR neighbourhoods – send this project back to design development with stringent recommendations so that the concerns of the community can be addressed – drop the height to reflect Mount Pleasant [8-12 stories] get rid of the big box retail + the need for semi-trailer parking [the access for trucks cuts across the highly used bike lane on 10th] and kills Watson Street, reduce the parking in the building to half of the city requirement – this is a no-brainer the project is on a major transit corridor in a city aspiring to be the greenest city in the world – ­reincorporate affordable housing into the project, and find viable partners for the art space so that purpose built finished space [not shell space] can be delivered to the community or put policy in place, ahead of the project being approved, that guarantees that the CACs will be spent in Mt Pleasant on these items – and do it in a building form that is innovative, architecturally compelling and responds to the context of Mount Pleasant.

We can aspire to more – we can create a city where we are addressing concerns head on and engaging everyone to work towards the best possible solution but we can’t do it if YOU won’t fight for our RIGHT to be a part of a transparent public process.



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