What do you think? Major downtown development to be voted on this Monday.

After many months of back-and-forth between a developer (Republic Properties), the staff and committees of City Hall, and citizens, a major development proposal for the entrance to downtown St. John's is coming to a vote in council.

The proposal, entitled the "Light House Project," is in fact two properties on the east end of Duckworth street, and will consist primarily of extended-stay hotel suites and "Residence Units." The building on the south side, 83 Duckworth St., will have street-level retail, and 90 Duckworth will contain a two-level parking garage to accommodate users of hotel and residence units.

Light House Project Main ImageThe Light House Project, looking west on Duckworth St.

A number of concerns have been expressed regarding this proposal. I'll briefly note the main ones here, and you can read a number of written letters of support and objection in the October 21 Council Agenda.

First, because the construction of the hotel on 83 Duckworth would require parking (of which there is currently none available), the City and the developer came to agreement whereby the developer could purchase the city-owned land at 90 Duckworth. While this is within the City's legal rights to do, some parties are upset that there was no public tendering process for the land.

Second, these buildings will be big... very big. They are designed to completely fill the available land and will require by-law amendments due to height restrictions. The current regulations limit height to 15 meters, and 83 Duckworth will be 21 meters on the short side.

Neighbouring residents and businesses are concerned about the impact this will have on them. For example, the Quality Comfort Inn hotel is directly next to / underneath the proposed 83 Duckworth property and are concerned about the impact on their customers' experience. As well, the owner of the Red Orche Gallery is concerned about access to the fire escape on the side of her building, as well as the effect on the ambiance of the area for her customers.

Which leads to the third issue. Because of their magnitude, these buildings will likely dominate the physical, visible experience of the area, which many consider to be the entranceway to historic downtown. This development will not only drastically alter the area, it will also re-inforce an ongoing precedent of height allowances in the protected heritage areas of our downtown.

The proponents of the development have reasons to support it. First, there is a huge demand for hotel and residential units in the city, and this development would help meet the demand. Second, the properties currently on those lots are considered to be old and derlict. In other words, there is great potential for the area, and many consider the modern design of this development to be a welcome upgrade.

As well, the development will have retail along the street-level, which is very beneficial to the vibrancy of an area. Having store fronts in an already pedestrian-heavy part of our city will add life and activity, adding to the positive experience for visitors and residents alike.

With regard to the design, while in terms of its size it is not overly sensitive to its surroundings, the façade has been carefully designed in consultation with experts, including the city's Heritage Advisory Committee. (Disclaimer: I am the incoming co-chair of this committee, and it is my understanding that while the committee approves of the design, it does not generally approve of the location / context).

This is a very important decision for our city, and one of the first in my term as councillor. I have been thinking about this issue for a long time, and will share with you my opinions soon.

But I would like to get your thoughts. Please leave comments below and share this link with others so we can get as much input as possible. This is your city, and I'm here to represent you. Share your voice!

Some more images:

Light House Looking South on OrdnanceLooking South on Ordnance

Light House Project - Looking Southeast
Looking Southeast

Light House Project - Looking West
Looking West

Lighthouse Elevation Diagram 83
Elevation Diagram - 83 Duckworth

Light House Project - Elevation Diagram 90 Duckworth
Elevation Diagram - 90 Duckworth, standing on Ordnance looking west

Written by Dave Lane at 16:45

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