Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Northern Junk Proposal

I was disappointed to hear the City of Victoria Council turned down the latest version of the Northern Junk Complex proposed by Reliance Holdings of Vancouver.

The two small buildings have been derelict on the site for many years.   The site itself is currently set up so as to be functionally useless to anyone.   The location is bisected by about 90 meters of Wharf Street.   This means there is more pavement there than anyone really needs.   The site also has parking on it meaning even more of the site is paved.   As a public space, the small piece of grass is offering the City nothing and costs money to maintain it.

photo from Merrick Architecture

The City not only gains by having what looks like a decently designed building going in on this site, it would also gain from the new taxes the site would bring in.   The roughly 2000 square meters of land that the City owns at this location would be much better served being added to some development at this location.

The existing property is only about 2200 square meters in size.   It also comes with some significant limitations because the slope behind the buildings.   The footprint of the two old buildings, 290 and 150 square meters respectively, does not leave much space to do much on this land.   Reeson Park, which is adjacent to the Northern Junk buildings, would be rescued from being a drug use location and actually allow people to make use of the park and enjoy the harbour.

The building proposed is on the same scale as Swan's Hotel or the Salvation Army.   It is in fact a much better building for the area than the Salvation Army building which at the moment seriously detracts from the old town feel of the area and creates a very dark and gloomy walking area.  The shape and size certainly would be an improvement over the current situation.

The building as proposed would have no significant impact on any existing views from old town to the habour.   This is because at the moment there are really no decent sight lines in the area.

I think it the City would be well served to work with the developer to come up with some way to transfer as much land as possible into functional building space and make some real open space for the public.  

The development would encourage more walking and extend the "LoJo" area southwards.   It creates a much more holistic and complete area.   Though the area still has to contend with the further dead zone in the area.

In fact the whole set of intersections of Johnson, Pandora and Wharf creates this dead space.  It is an area of green with trees that is completely out of sync with the rest of the old town.   The trees, as they have grown, obscures the view from the bridge to the old town.

The area of roads, parking and green space, without the 1/2 acre that would be part of the Northern Junk Proposal, is 2.5 acres in area.   The streets do not function well, the green space is not one that is open and friendly to the public.   No one's interests are served.  

My hope is that council will look at the bigger picture of the area and see that there are opportunities for the City to divest itself of some unneeded land.

Maybe it is time to make Wharf a one way couplet with Government from Pandora Street to the Empress.   Doing this would improve the traffic flows in the area and would also make the redesign of the roads in the area easier to accomplish.  

If nothing happens with the site and if the buildings fall down, it would be a shame.   No one is making new 19th century buildings and each one lost is one less available to make a consistent look and feel in old town.
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