Posts Tagged downtown Kingston

Twenty Storeys High: Is the Capitol Condo Development Good for Kingston?

by Samantha King

Kingstonites have good reason to be concerned about a proposal to build a twenty-storey condo tower, “The Capitol,” on the site of the former movie theatre at 223 Princess Street.

At a Jimageuly 22 meeting organized by the McBurney Park Neighbourhood Association, In8 Development’s Darryl Firsten presented his company’s plan for the building, which would dwarf the characterful two and three storey retail and service spaces that largely comprise the downtown core. Two councilors, Jim Neill and Jeff McLaren, were in attendance and listening intently to public concerns.

Not one member of the public spoke in favour of a structure this high. Instead, speaker after speaker addressed the effect of the tower on the heritage look and feel of downtown and the fear that this project would provide other high-rise-happy developers—especially those with their sights trained on the North Block—a proverbial foot in the door.

While Mr. Firsten attempted to address heritage concerns by claiming that the height of the building would be unnoticed by people in its immediate vicinity, he refused to acknowledge that such concerns extend beyond Princess Street to the fact that the tower would dominate the skyline of Kingston and change its look and feel forever. He also did nothing to allay fears that should the city grant a bylaw exemption for a 20-storey building, there would be significant pressure from other developers to have the same (or greater) exception applied to them.

Through letters to the planning committee and at a previous public meeting, concerned citizens have outlined numerous additional problems that are likely to arise from this development: High rise corridors of luxury condos tend to lead to higher rents for small businesses which are subsequently replaced with chain stores, banks, and other service-sector tenants who cater primarily to the corporate classes. Such a transformation is already underway along Princess Street and the building of the Capitol would only intensify this trend. If there are to be a mix of people living downtown, the need to build affordable housing with low access points is crucial.

There are also practical concerns about the creation of wind tunnels and shade, car traffic congestion, the volume of garbage and recycling that would be generated in an area where this is already a problem, the ability of surrounding retail businesses to survive during the build, and the upshot of all of these effects for the city’s tourism industry.

Critics of the project are keen to note their support for downtown densification and at least some are willing to support a 10-storey building in this space. Unsurprisingly, the developer seems interested in hearing only specific and small-scale suggestions about the aesthetics and design of the building. They clearly plan to push for 20 storeys and it remains unclear what they are willing to settle for should City Council reject the proposal or seek a compromise.

Mr Firsten did not answer a question about the point at which his company would walk away from the project should they be required to lower their ambitions, but he was frustratingly adamant that there was no way to build an attractive 10-storey building in that space. The public is rightly skeptical of Firsten’s repeated claim that the only architectural possibility for a shorter building at 223 Princess is an “ugly blob.” The available plot is admittedly complex in its layout, but there are other examples of attractive downtown densification projects within blocks of the proposed site. Anna Lane, the new condo building at Queen and Bagot, was a frequent point of comparison, although it sits at the base of the hill and thus folds more organically into the low-rise streetscape of downtown than would a 20-storey building at its top.

I left the meeting with Mr Firsten with a longer list of concerns about the project than I had going in and the feeling that leaving the space empty would be better than building 20 storeys. I also have some hope that with enough pushback, a compromise solution sensitive to the human scale, the heritage feel of the city, and to a diversity of social and economic interests might prevail.

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An Open Letter Opposing the Closure of KCVI

from the Downtown Action Revitalization Network
January 27th, 2014

Within a month, the Ontario Ministry of Education will decide the fate of KCVI. We, the Downtown Action Revitalization Network (DARN!), are writing to add our voice to the growing opposition against the closure of this school. DARN! promotes and advocates a liveable, dynamic and inclusive downtown. We envision Kingston’s core as a place to live, work, shop and play, and believe that schools are essential to this vision.

The downtowns in almost all Canadian medium-sized cities are in trouble, including (perhaps) Kingston. With too many suburban malls and power centres, it is hard to keep a downtown main street going, as we see in Brantford, St. Catherine’s, Belleville and Hamilton. In 2004, the exceptions to this rule were Halifax, Victoria and Kingston, according to an article in the Journal of the American Planning Association. The Kingston BIA is widely admired for re-positioning the central business district to serve both residents and students in the winter and provide programming for tourists in the summer. The renovation of the Grand, the Market Square and the KRock Centre were all positive additions. However, Kingston’s downtown has taken some significant blows in the last couple of years, with the loss of the movie theatre, Indigo and many other locally owned businesses. Walking below Barrie Street on a Saturday is now too quiet for comfort.

The loss of KCVI would be another major blow and we are left to wonder at what point the balance might shift completely and leave a deserted downtown. Most directly, the loss would affect the downtown residents and employees whose children go to school at KCVI. If this city wants families to live downtown, there must be schools. But it would also affect the downtown businesses. Closing KCVI would remove 1000 students from the downtown streets, as well as the parents, teachers and staff that go with them. We believe the loss of downtown spending would be significant.

Most municipalities dream of having a high school on a downtown university campus. We have a full, vibrant and successful one. Let’s keep it.

Sincerely,

The Downtown Action Revitalization Network (DARN!)

For inquiries, please contact us at darnkingston@gmail.com
For information, please visit us at http://www.facebook.com/DARNKingston and @DARNKingston

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Wellington Street Block Party Brings a Swarm to a Vibrant Downtown Block…Good Eats, Too

By Jamie Swift

DSCN7408“Just so you know,” offers Al Chater as he hands over another complementary turkey-bacon burger, “We do sell ‘em, too.”
The Pig and Olive’s burgers were moving fast. Free food generally attracts a crowd. And DARN’s most recent swarm reflected this simple fact of life. Things were humming.

The Wellington Street celebration brought well over a hundred people – active DARN supporters and casual passers-by – to the block between Queen and Barrack Streets where two new business sprouted up this past spring. A Liquid Nutrition  juice bar franchise opened a few days after Alan and Danielle Chater’s Bath Road butcher shop took root downtown.

City centre carnivores have not had a non-supermarket outlet since the Block and Cleaver closed its Market Square doors a couple of years back. “Aussie Al,” as he’s sometimes known (they sell “outback steaks”), had worked at John’s Deli and the now-shuttered Hind Quarter (it’s now a pawn shop) before starting the Bath Road butcher shop with Danielle.

The couple met at the former A&P, where Al was moonlighting.

“She made the moves on me,” he grins, handing over another burger.

“Hardly,” replies Danielle with a knowing roll of the eyes as she works the cash while keeping an eye on her son. He’s in top gear because of the swarm of activity in the parents’ new store. The couple doubled their usual mid-week business during the swarm.

DSCN7402Things get even busier as local musician Roger James arrives, strumming his banjo. He’s followed by Virg Allegrini from Pasta Genova down the block. The Italian food store, an independent downtown anchor for twenty-five years now, has been cooking the Pig and Olive burgers. The tiny, in-store kitchen normally produces fresh pasta, sauces, foccacia and, on Fridays, those irresistible cheese sticks. Their foccacia sandwiches are among the best in town.

Mara Fiormanti, chief pasta maker, is doing a steady trade in mini-sandwiches that Pasta Genova has provided to support the DARN swarm. Someone has chalked a sign on the sidewalk in front of Mara’s table. “DARN good food.”

One of the dozens of children, their faces painted by DARN’s Rae Brackenbury down in front of the Anna Lane office, is busy filling in the Os in “good food.”
Mara says she’s worried about the number of empty downtown stores, an anxiety reflected by a customer who claims that there haven’t been this many since she came to town just before Pasta Genova opened in 1988. The popular spot will be celebrating their 25th birthday July 13, coinciding as usual with the buskers’ festival. There will be birthday cake and grilled sausages, made in-store.

Mara and Virg’s parents left Genoa (hence the store’s name) in 1951, part of a group that arrived in Kingston together. Unlike most of the postwar wave of  Italian country folk, Mara and Virg’s  father was a skilled tradesman.

“I’ve known Robbie for years,” smiles Mara when I mention that my longtime barber Robert Castelvetri family also hales from the old Italian port city. “His dad and my dad both got jobs at the locomotive works.” (the chatty Rob Castelvetri’s Johnson Street salon is right around the corner from the Block D apartment complex where the waterfront Canadian Locomotive Company employed his father.)

DARN’s Wellington Street “block party” swarm  was the first to support more than one independent business.

The idea is twofold. To raise awareness that Kingston’s downtown, though successful compared to so many other city centres, is threatened by store closures and a retail uniformity featuring a preponderance of bars, cafes, restaurants and corporate chains. And to let people know about all those small, independent businesses that keep going. Both the Pig and Olive and Pasta Genova are supporters of the local food movement.

DARN’s Wellington Street block party was also supported by Hillary’s dry cleaning where people got a chance at free cleaning. The energetic reflexologist Sue Livesay of  Wellington Acupuncture and Massage offered free foot massages. And the Anna Lane condominium was a key swarm backer. Its sales office at Wellington and Barrack is a block down from the construction site where their building is fast rising from the desolate hole that long graced the corner of Queen and Bagot.  “Downtown – no finer place” boasts the Options for Homes developer.

Finally, a new downtown apartment building that doesn’t wall off the lakefront. (for info on the June 23 Shoreline Shuffle, see wateraccessgroup.weebly.com). Apparently Anna Lane units are selling steadily.

Liquid Nutrition’s marketing hype has it that if you enter the juice bar you’ll get “a sudden rush of health and happiness.”
Perhaps slightly overblown. But the sentiment is what has prompted the whole DARN initiative. Downtown living  certainly is good for “body and soul.” Maybe the ghost of tenorman Coleman Hawkins will grace DARN’s next swarm and treat us to the old jazz standard.

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