Port Place Mall redevelopment

My take: the developer has been given clearance by the Planning Department to entrench a suburban shopping mall in the heart of our city core floating in a sea of parking stalls in return for pretty pictures of medium density urban housing for which there is no market and which the developer is under no obligation to ever build. The safe, walkable, diverse life at the sidewalk level is not the Planning Department’s to give away. It belongs to the people of the city whose interests are not represented when the developer and senior city staff and the majority of Council gather to dream and scheme. One of the fundamental principles of the Downtown Design Guidelines concerns surface parking. It states clearly: On-site surface parking is to be eliminated. It has to go above ground or underground. Expanses of surface parking kills healthy walkable neighbourhoods. It’s simple: no vehicles parked between a building and the street. And we begin to restore our human scale streetscape. Let’s tip the scale slightly in favour of the pedestrian instead of the car.

Port Place location plan2

Port Place location plan1

Here’s what the Downtown Design Guidelines has to say about this precinct which it refers to as Harbour Park – (emphasis mine)

This study area makes up most of the Harbour Park precinct and forms the south gateway to downtown. It is close to the waterfront and both the Protection and Gabriola Island ferries. Higher density development, including tall buildings, is appropriate in this area.

URBAN DESIGN STRATEGIES

Recommend 3 m front setback / build-to line. Allow 8 storeys for projects (or tall buildings as permitted) with underground parking at key landmark locations (see Design Guidelines for Tall Buildings). Roundabout feasibility and design will require Ministry of Transportation input.

1. Create transit exchange at the centre of the development. This is an opportunity to create an excellent shared roadway (see Urban Design section).

2. Create pedestrian plaza oriented toward waterfront. Improve linkages to waterfront walkway system, ferries, and the Commercial Street area.

3. Create dramatic gateway view from Nicol Street with single lane or double lane roundabout at Terminal Avenue with water feature or other sculpture incorporated into the design.

4. Create single lane or double lane roundabout at Front Street as landmark northeast of the development.

5. Mixed-use development with ground floor retail and residential or offices above. Six to eight storeys with service lanes between buildings. Buildings define street edge and create landmark for South Gate down Nicol Street.

6. On-site surface parking eliminated. Off-site parallel parking incorporated into streetscape. Potential underground parking, access mid-block towards Cameron Road.

7. New development along Lois Lane and Terminal Avenue to complete street edge definition and frame South Gate.

8. Port Way comprehensive development. Ground floor commercial with residential above. Define edge of Front Street and create axis into the new central plaza.

In general, here’s the Design Guidelines on parking:

Vehicle Parking

Underground parking is preferred.  Surface parking, if necessary, should be located at the back of the site. On-site parking in front of a building, is not permitted.

• Shared driveways are encouraged to minimize interruption to the pedestrian realm. • Parking lots should be visually screened from bike pathways and sidewalks by way of walls, fences or landscaping. • Surface parking areas should be divided into sections with landscaped dividers between every 4 to 6 spaces. In addition to providing shade, a canopy of trees through the lot will help break down the scale of large surface parking areas and screen them from high level views.

• Above grade parking structures should provide habitable space along the perimeter. • Locate parking accesses away from pedestrian entries and intersections.

What do you think? If you think a suburban shopping mall floating in a sea of parking stalls doesn’t contribute to a human scale, pedestrian-friendly downtown, let the Planning Department and City Council know.

– Frank Murphy

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