HomeLet More People Live in Downtown Core

Let More People Live in Downtown Core

Oct 26 2004

An economic boom sweeping the Atlantic provinces is bypassing Charlottetown, says one of the Island’s most successful developers.
The message from Tim Banks was clear when he spoke to a public meeting Monday on the topic of increasing residential density in the downtown core.

Every other city and major town in the Maritimes has seen construction designed to offer more apartment space for rent, said Banks.

“What’s happened in this community?” he asked. “In the past five years, nobody has done a private-investment, high-density development. It’s happened everywhere else so there’s no rush. It’s going to pass us by very soon.

“I hear the word revitalization, but I don’t see any action.”

Most of the speakers at the meeting supported Banks in his call for the city to come up with some plan to allow developers to meet the demand for downtown living space while at the same time allow such development to make economic sense.

The city’s planning and development department has created a report that

offers four options to do just that. It called Monday’s public meeting to hear opinions on its report titled The Downtown Residential Density Project.

Kingsley Lewis, a city planning officer, presented the information of the report. The first option would keep the official plan unchanged but allow a developer to put more people into a building, called a bonus, if the development included such things as low water use, underground parking and a design which is compatible with traditional architecture.

There could also be, under the city’s existing official plan, the creation of a designated growth zone with the downtown plus a way to allow apartments in the upper stories of existing businesses.

The second option would open up all of the residential properties south of Euston Street to permit high-density development anywhere provided the development meets certain strict criteria yet to be defined.

A third approach would be to expand the current definition of downtown core which the current official plan says is only the area south of Euston Street. That would allow new property to become available for high-density development.

The fourth option outlined in the report would be to permit higher densities in specific areas which lie to the north and east of Euston Street.

Banks and his APM company want to build an apartment building on Pownal Street.

He could do it now, he said, with 26 units but he would lose money. If council made a few concessions governing the allowable square footage per apartment, Banks could put in 45 units within the same size building and make a “marginal” return on his investment. If council allowed him to also build higher than the existing maximum height, he could add another floor, make it 65 apartments and he would start building tomorrow.

Higher is not necessarily a problem, said architect Ole Hammarlund who pointed to the Kays Brothers building or Confederation Court Mall as historic examples of the rules being flexible to allow appropriate development.

Banks had staff holding up pictures of the apartment and passing out investment analysis reports comparing the financial return for different numbers of apartment units on the same site.

If Charlottetown won’t allow it, he will just go to other communities, like Stratford, which would welcome such development, he said.

Whatever council decides is the best way to increase density, it should do it soon, said Banks.

“I hope council will get on with the deal and do something about it,” he said.

It was a sentiment echoed by others, including Ed Gillis, who told the meeting he sold his home with the intention of moving into the new apartment being proposed by Banks.

“There is no real nice building for retired people like ourselves,” he said of his desire to be in the downtown area. “My request is to get on with doing what needs to be done.”

Cheryl Paynter, president of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, called on city council to allow a 200 per cent increase in residential density in the Charlottetown core. The chamber wants city council to make those enabling changes by January. That, she said, would quickly return a vibrancy to the downtown.

Stella Newman, a former member of the town planning board, pleaded with council not to make any changes until the 100-year-old sewer and water system was upgraded.

That brought Brian Gillis of APM to the microphone. He said there were more people living in downtown Charlottetown 75 years ago than presently.

“There were a lot more bums sitting on toilets,” he said, to much laughter from the audience.

The study by the planning department has looked at capacity, saying water distribution is not going to be much of a problem with higher density, but sewer systems might be.

Newman said the problem isn’t distribution but having enough water to distribute, adding the city should only allow higher density once it has found and developed a new, additional water source.

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