Revised downtown Hamilton plan proposes new rules for height, density and heritage

On Monday the city of Hamilton released a revised proposal of the Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan that will go to the planning committee next month.

The proposed guidelines including height allowances will go to planning committee next month

Today the city released the final and latest revised Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan for how the downtown core could possibly be built up. The plan has been revised since October will go to the planning committee April 17. (Terry Asma/CBC)

A new downtown development strategy sees the core being built up with more high-rise buildings but uses the escarpment as a test of when high is too high.

Today the city released the final version of its Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan — which contains the goals, actions, policies and implementation of the direction for downtown Hamilton. It goes to the planning committee next month.

In addition to height, the plan covers, design, heritage, general land use policies, diversity of housing and parking, sun and shadow and protection for patios and parks.

Among the new proposals:

Parking 

  • New surface parking lots are not permitted.
  • Where parking is required, development has to provide charging stations for electric cars.

Music venues

  •  New development near live music venues will have to provide appropriate noise reduction or other measures.

Public spaces

  • Building massing and orientation has to minimize shadows on public sidewalks, parks and private open spaces, schools yards, playgrounds, sitting areas and patios to maximize sunlight. 

The area for the plan is confined by Cannon Street to the north, Wellington Street to the east, Hunter Street to the South and Queen Street to the west.

Parts of the Beasley, Central, Corktown and Durand neighbourhoods are included in the plan.

The proposal identifies opportunities for various building types and more specifically, the height of buildings with an agenda to maintain natural vistas, but with an allowance for mutli-storey buildings throughout the core.

Today's version has been revised from the plan released in October. 

Chief planner and director of planning for the city, Steve Robichaud, says three major changes have been made after a host of consultations with community members like property owners, tenants, residents, business owners and developers.

"We spent a lot of time talking to people and we've been listening," said Robichaud.

Robichaud says generally there was feedback around housing, heritage and building heights.

Building up

The October version had three height categories, now there are six.

No building height within the downtown area shall be greater than the height of the top of the Escarpment as measured between Queen Street and Victoria Avenue.

All development downtown will have to be a minimum of two storeys, except for land identified as pedestrian focus streets, which will have to be a minimum of three storeys.

"In October people saw because they looked on the map, and they said look how much of the downtown is identified for 30 storeys. That wasn't correct because then you had to read that map in conjunction with the policies that said no structure should be taller than the Escarpment and then the zoning provided further clarification as to what that maximum height would be," said Robichaud.

Robichaud says the new plan provides more clarification about what the height permissions are.

 He says there was a general policy in the old plan that said that if you did a sun shadow study and a wind study, the sky was the limit for height, but the new plan says that if you're looking to increase height beyond what's permitted on the new height schedule, you will need to go through a full planning process that could involve an official plan amendment and a re-zoning.

Shawn Selway, spokesperson for People's Plan for Downtown Hamilton, a group advocating for a better plan with a focus on affordability and sustainability, says that height isn't the main cause for concern. It's about the need for further guidelines to determine what the building would actually be like.

"In the same way that the city has provided tall building guidelines, which govern the built form of new development that's expected, we think it would be a good idea if we had sustainability and accessibility guidelines, which would also come into play when development applications are being made," said Selway.

Height permissions

The city may authorize increases in the height of a proposed development beyond those permitted in the zoning bylaw, in return for the provision of community benefits. Those benefits can earn a developer what is called height or density bonusing.

The escapment maximum still applies, as does the requirement for the building to be compatible with the surrounding area.

Community benefits considered appropriate for increased height are limited to rental and affordable housing, community facilities and services, child care facilities, cultural facilities, protection of cultural heritage resources and transit station improvements.

Heritage

When it comes to protecting the city's heritage, the plan now goes further according to Robichaud.  

The secondary plan identifies cultural heritage landscapes such as the Gore says Robichaud.

"We're limiting the current permissions in those areas to six storeys, saying you can increase the height provided you submit the necessary heritage studies. You can't demolish the building and you have to submit a cultural heritage study that shows how those heritage buildings are going to be re-used or incorporated into the new development," said Robichaud.

Protecting rental units

Affordable housing is a hot topic in Hamilton — something Selway says should still be the main focus.

"The primary problem that we have at the moment is affordability of housing," said Selway.

"The point is, what exactly is in it for the rest of us who are living here in the city and more broadly for the citizens of Hamilton?"

The new plan says that for every demolition or redevelopment of a building containing rental units, they have to be replaced.

"If you were looking at demolishing a building that had six or more rental units you had to replace those housing units. We've gone further to say, three or more housing units in the zoning bylaw and you have to provide for that housing within that redevelopment," said Robichaud.

A public open house for people to talk with staff and learn about the proposed downtown plan will be held early next month.