Middlesex County and the City Council of London, Ontario, have decided to proceed with rezoning plans that would involve tearing down the five-story Middlesex County Health building that is located at 50 King Street, just south of the heritage castle-like Middlesex County Courthouse building in the heart of London, and build a 28-story high-rise at that location. Here is an artist's rendition of their proposal.
That land is really valuable for this type of use. The units in the building would overlook the Fork of the Thames and have ready access to the parks along the Thames River and to all the downtown amenities -- theatres, Budweiser Centre, the market, and many nice restaurants.
And yet some people (not including me) have filed an objection with the Ontario Municipal Board [OMB] to the proposed zoning change that would allow this redevelopment of this plot of land (see this):
There were concerns voiced at the time that the original concept — a monolithic design — would block the view of the river for residents of the two Renaissance Towers. [EE: one and half of these are shown to the right in the above drawing]
Other concerns were that the tower, a design unseen in London, would overshadow the historic Middlesex County building, formerly the county’s courthouse. [not shown in the above drawing but immediately to the left of the proposed high-rise.]
But those are not the only objections (and let me add that I know of no one in the Renaissance Towers who raised the objection at the latest public hearing that the proposed tower would block their views. I don't know why the Freeps keeps mentioning this.).
The original plan was rejected by the former city council by a vote of 14-0. The new plan isn't all that different, no matter how the planners tried to dress it up, and yet the new council voted 14-0 to approve it. The consultation with neighbours was perfunctory at best, and there was no heritage assessment (as is ordinarily required) of the proposal.
As I wrote last year, the proposed high-rise would not only "overshadow the historic Middlesex County building", it would cast shadows over it much of the day. [see this earlier posting]. To address this issue, the latest proposal calls for the building to be a bit west of the original plan. But it will still cast shadows over the historic Middlesex Courthouse at least as much of the day. The city's planning committee and the full council brushed this fact aside.
Further, the proposed 8-story portion of the building (east of the tower) will also cast shadows over the green space between the building and the courthouse. The walkways and parkland between the current building and the historic courthouse are nice. With the proposed buildings, they will be smaller, and they will be in shadow much of the time; also, they will more likely than not become dark, dangerous places for people (see the walkways around the current courthouse and Bell Building).
Another point that has not been addressed adequately is that the proposed building will remove about 70 parking places and replace them with about 150 parking places. 80 or so additional parking places for who knows how many people working in the offices and/or living in the residential units? Surely there will be hundreds of residents, not to mention employees in the offices planned for the lower levels of the building. That is insane, and the reduced number of publicly available parking spades will greatly tax the available parking available in the downtown. Furthermore, this decreased number of publicly available parking spaces will substantially reduce access to the Fork of the Thames, in direct contradiction of the City Council's recently approved desire to increase access to and public use of the parkland there.
Yet another problem with this proposal is that it will greatly increase traffic on the narrow streets around the building, especially during rush hours in the mornings and evenings. As it is, the streets are often backed up a block or more in this area during rush hours. Extra office space and extra residential space, all with people expecting to gain entrance and egress to the building from a small side street, will spell zillions of Advil moments. It will also create even more problems for people trying to gain access to the parks along the river (again, so much to the city's "Back to the River" campaign). And it will play havoc with the various parking lots in the area that are designated for guest of the residents of the already existing residential buildings.
Finally, and this really frosts my cookies (and exemplifies the heavy-handed, unthinking processes of our city planning office and city council), a recently approved development only two and a half blocks away which would have done much more to help repopulate and rejuvenate the downtown has been canceled because some offices in the city (I'm not sure which) decided the developers of that plan would have to sacrifice loads of valuable space (but they weren't sure how much and wouldn't commit to how much!!) to form a hub for the city buses. This proposal would have provided considerably more residential and parking space and would be adjacent to a huge dying/dead mall that would provide tremendous retail space to serve the development. It is an ideal location for a massive development. ... and maybe one of it's residential towers could incorporate the fascinating and beautiful twist of the proposed building in the above photo.
If the City of London is serious about "Back to the River", here's what it should do:
- Trade land elsewhere in the city to the County of Middlesex and let the county work with developers to put that neato-looking twisted building up somewhere else. Maybe even in south London along the South Branch of the Thames.
- Put in truckloads (ok, carloads) of parking under that space where the current Middlesex County health building is at 50 King street.
- Make sure the area where the building now is gets converted to additional parkland above the underground parking, facilitating and encouraging pedestrian and auto traffic access (with the additional parking) to the Fork of the Thames.
- Put in more trails, footpaths, and (where necessary) boardwalks along the north side of the Thames west of the Fork of the Thames.
Disclaimer: Let me add that where I live, I would be affected by the congestion during the construction of the tower/buildings shown in the picture. I would also likely be affected by the traffic and parking issues that I have raised. But it will have absolutely no impact on my view.