New from the Newcastle+Brechin Front

Dan Appell:  March 28, 2011

So city staff presented their so-called plan for Newcastle+Brechin Hill to council. They asked that the plan be endorsed and then they asked council to “direct staff to prepare alternatives for Council’s consideration regarding building height above four (4) storeys on portions of the waterfront within the Medium High Density Waterfront designation.” Council unanimously decided only to receive the document and also instructed staff to reexamine the zoning in the rest of the neighbourhood as well as considering alternatives for heights along the Brechin waterfront. This was a small victory for the Brechin Hill neighbourhood, a large defeat for city planning staff, and a major setback for the would-be developers of towers on the waterfront.

The planning document was scheduled to have first and second reading at this upcoming council meeting, but now it is off the agenda. We haven’t got word from city staff as to what they intend to do. Most of the people from the neighbourhood are taking the weekend off. It is a rare moment of relative calm, allowing most of us to relax while waiting for the other shoe to drop.

My thinking is that the city might let this planning effort slide off the radar screen. Since all they wanted to do was open the door wide for developers and towers by the water, its hard to imagine the city very eager to entertain alternatives. Also, the plan is already over budget. Spending more time and money on it doesn’t assure them any greater hope of success. And, if they lie low for a while the whole debacle and their own incompetence might soon be forgotten.

A core group of us are going to continue producing a plan for this neighbourhood. The neighbourhood still needs a plan (a real plan), but without the pressure from the city, this effort might, also, just slide away. I think there is enough material now to construct a small document that is far superior to the cities’ document. I suspect another few weeks is all that is required to compile it, so that it is presentable. It would be a shame to let all this effort go to waste at this late date. Still, it is hard to imagine a venue that would allow this material to be presented.

So far we’ve got something substantial for the Brechin Waterfront. This includes height restrictions, but it allows for a considerable amount of development. We’ve calculated that there is room for around 700 residential units (over 1200 sq.ft.)  in that area and that doesn’t include the hotel site or anything north of Stone’s property. We have some policies for encouraging resident driven infill development for the present “neighbourhood” part of Brechin Hill, and we have some methods for encouraging high density development along Terminal Avenue. There is still work to be done, but the foundation for a stronger and more vibrant community will be put into place shortly. We have focused our energies towards being relevant, considerate, directional and doable. The result is becoming almost the complete opposite of what the city produced.

I might be expecting too much, but I would like to demonstrate the extreme difference between good planning and what the city does. If we can highlight the advantages of good planning we can make a case for elevating planning to a level were the activity can make a real contribution to the improvement of this city. In my heart, at least, hope springs eternal.