London

'Quite controversial': Farhi plans 40-storey tower along Banker's Row

Farhi Holdings Corporation is planning to build a 40-storey tower on Ridout Street North at Queens Avenue, a proposal that is already raising concerns from a local heritage advocate.

Developer says they've taken care to integrate the tower with heritage buildings on Ridout

This conceptual drawing shows a view of the proposed tower looking north up Ridout Street from just north of Dundas Street. The courthouse is on the right.

Farhi Holdings Corporation plans to build a 40-storey tower on Ridout Street North at Queens Avenue and while some are raising concerns, the developer says they've taken steps to ensure it will be a good fit with the heritage buildings it will sit next to on Banker's Row. 

The tower is proposed for the northwest corner of Queens and Ridout, across from Museum London and kitty corner to London's downtown courthouse.

It calls for a mixed-use tower with 280 residential units. Site plans show the building's footprint placed behind three brick Georgian buildings that date from the mid 1800s and are designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. Collectively the three buildings (435, 441, and 451 Ridout) also form a National Historic Site designated in 1966.

The project's heritage impact assessment points out that the row of heritage buildings forms an important link between Eldon House at 481 Ridout and the former Middlesex County Court House at 399 Ridout, a heritage building recently sold to a developer. 

That stretch of Ridout is known as Banker's Row because its buildings were once home to the head offices of five banks, which were later turned into residences or businesses.

Heritage buildings to stay 'untouched'

CBC News spoke to Jim Bujouves, president of Farhi Developments, who was hired by the company in September. 

Bujouves said the proposed tower, which represents an investment of about $100-million, will respect the heritage buildings on Ridout and nearby Eldon House.

"What we've done from a heritage perspective is we've clearly retained and repurposed the existing heritage structures on site. They will remain untouched," he said.

Bujouves said Farhi began working with the city on the project back in 2012 and said careful thought has been given to integrate the building with the river, the Thames Valley Parkway and the surrounding neighbourhood.

He said part of the plan involves the city receiving a portion of the parking lot near the river, to enhance Harris Park. 
The application will require an amendment to London's official plan to permit the 125-metre height and an increase in density from 350 units a hectare to 500 units. Zoning amendments will also be needed. 

The existing vacant three-storey building located on the slope between Ridout and the river will be demolished if the proposal goes ahead. 

The plan also calls for a multi-level parking area that can accommodate 370 vehicles. 

This aerial view shows the proposed building in black at the centre, with the courthouse on the left and Labatt Park in the background. (Farhi Holdings Corp.)

The project is currently in a four-month consultation period, a chance to allow the public to weigh in. Bujouves said he expects there will be a public meeting about the plan to be held some time in the coming months. 

He said the current plan is to present the project at the city's April 27 meeting of the planning committee, along with a city staff report with a recommendation about the project.

Heritage advocates are already voicing concerns. 

The 'wrong place'

Jennifer Grainger, president of the London region of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, said the proposed tower is out-of-scale with the site. 

"This is going to be quite controversial for a lot of reasons," she said. 

"This is the wrong place for a 40-storey highrise. It would be a very strange backdrop for the existing buildings on Ridout." 

Grainger said it would block river views and she's concerned that it's too close to a section of the Thames which is prone to flooding. Grainger suggested Farhi Holdings Corp. should instead consider locating the building on one of the downtown surface parking lots the company owns.

The site plan shows the footprint of the proposed tower at the corner of Ridout Street North and Queens Avenue. (Farhi Holdings Corp.)

It's clear the company has already put considerable resources into the proposal.

In addition to a geo-technical assessment, documents related to the project and posted on the city's website include a 167-page heritage impact assessment and an 87-page planning justification report

Farhi to shift focus to developing?

Bujouves said ​​​​​ Farhi Holdings — a company known more for buying and holding London properties — will be looking to develop more of its extensive inventory of local real estate holdings. 

"It's simply to take advantage of the significant and exciting platform that he has across London and other communities," said Bujouves. "To enhance the attributes of those platforms and create value for the communities."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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