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City approves Connolly tower - with parking for only half the units

Is Hamilton ready for a high-rise condo project where fewer than half of the residents have parking spots?
An artist rendering shows plans for The Connolly, a proposed 30-storey condo tower on at 98 James St. S. (Stanton Renaissance)

Is Hamilton ready for a condo project where fewer than half of the residents have parking spots?

The builders behind the proposed 30-storey condo tower at the former James Baptist Church are banking on yes.

The Connolly project was approved for a maximum of 259 condo units, two floors of commercial space and an underground 122-space lot that uses a car stacker. The city's planning committee unanimously approved a zoning change to allow it on Tuesday. But whether that's enough parking was a key point of debate.

"What we have here is a different change in mindset," said Luis Correia, director of development and planning with Stanton Renaissance after the decision. But he feels like Hamilton is ready for it.

Transportation planner Stewart Elkman, working for Stanton Renaissance, told the committee that 98 James St. S has a walkability score of 98 per cent, and is close enough to transit and amenities that people won't need a car.

Not everyone was so sure. Yonatan Rozenszajn, a director with the Durand Neighbourhood Association, said the project is "a good in-fill opportunity. It’s a good way to intensify downtown."

But Hamilton is still car dependent, he said, and you can't compare it to Toronto or Manhattan.

"It’s contrary to the current experience we have with other developments downtown, namely New Horizon and City Square," he said. 

"We can reduce it somehow and that’s fine," he said. "But I believe 50 per cent is a little too ambitious. We cannot simply ignore the economic reality that people will bring their cars and they’ll want to park them downtown."

"Frankly, we don’t have experience in Hamilton with such a dramatic reduction in parking."

The Connolly uses part of James Street Baptist Church, a former historic church. Stanton Renaissance demolished two-thirds of the church last year to some controversy, saying it was structurally unsound.

The church facade remains on James South, with the back portion demolished.

There isn't much available parking on the streets around the development — with permits or otherwise, Coun. Jason Farr said. And nearby parking lots have "waiting lists galore."

"There really are no options anywhere around," Farr said. "The whole circumference, the whole diameter within 400 to 500 metres, there are no other options. That about sums it up."

City planner Edward John said Connolly residents may only use their cars on weekends, so they won't mind parking 500 metres away.

Council will vote to ratify the decision next Wednesday. Tuesday’s decision approves a special exception to the area's zoning to allow the 30-storey tower.

Stanton Renaissance hopes to launch its public sales in the next two months, Correia said. It hopes to sell 75 per cent of its condos before it starts construction. Pending the city's approval of the site plan, the company hopes to have shovels in the ground in the fall.

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