Monday, December 17, 2012

The Northern Junk Proposal

Looking towards the buildings in the late 1860s

Overview of the proposal
Reliance Properties has passed through the latest hurdles in their proposal to restore and preserve the old waterfront warehouses that everyone in town knows as the Northern Junk buildings.  I have written about the proposal before because I think it is probably the most impressive proposal for redevelopment I have seen this city.  What impresses me the most is the way the two old warehouses are not only preserved, but given a new location setting that makes them shine beyond anything anyone could have imagined.   But it seems even the highest quality and most impressive proposal still has people opposed to it and seemingly preferring to see the buildings to rot further.

There was a letter from Sharon and Nick Russell  in the TC on the weekend that pushed all of my buttons.  The Russells are involved in the Hallmark Society and the Hallmark Society has decided to mount a campaign to "save" the warehouses now that someone is proposing to protect and restore the buildings.   I read their letter and I do not understand how they can possibly come to the opinions they hold when you look at the facts on the ground.

The text of their letter:

Re: “Victoria council eager for input on Northern Junk proposal,” Dec. 8.
What does it take to persuade Victoria city council that citizens loathe the plan to hide the 1860s gold-rush warehouses on Wharf Street behind two commercial towers?
Sure, there is a small, vocal group supporting building the two slabs. But they ignore the unimaginative architecture, the disastrous placing of the proposed towers (blocking the end of Old Town), the sale of city parkland and road allowance to the developer and the fact that the proposal flouts the guidelines in the city’s official community plan and the downtown core plan, particularly requiring protection of viewscapes.
The developer’s supporters use the fact the buildings were once a recycling facility called Northern Junk to diminish and demean the buildings. But viewed as 1860s gold-rush warehouses, they have great potential to attract visitors and anchor this section of Old Town and the harbour.
Council needs to assert itself against developers and demand that such proposals meet city guidelines and add positively to the streetscape. And the council needs to press developers to design for the future, as suggested by the city’s own planning department in its Old Town guidelines:
“Consider whether your building and landscape might be worthy of preservation by future generations for their positive contributions to the character of Old Town.”
This plan fails the test.

Sharon and Nick Russell
I read this letter and I am trying to figure out what they are talking about.   Here are my comments on it:

  • Commercial towers?   Since when are five story condos commercial towers?  Slabs? How can you look at the proposed new buildings and see slabs?
  • Small vocal group in favour?   In more than two years I have met almost no one that does not think the Reliance Properties proposal is not a good thing.  The biggest complaint I have heard is from people ideologically opposed to the sale of any government owned land.
  • The look and feel of the new buildings are in keeping with the look and feel of Old Town, they also make a huge improvement from the Sally Ann building and the hotel next door.  These errors in the past need something of a decent scale to counter act.    The old warehouses on their own have long been left isolated and are simply too small on the site to ever succeed without supportive new buildings around them.
  • The proposal is in keeping the Old Town design guidelines - I read these things and Jon Stovell has gone well beyond what would meet the guidelines.   I can not find any aspect of the design guidelines that are done justice by the proposal.
  • The viewscape is not harmed by this proposal because there is no view of the harbour available.  There are no heritage buildings obscured but at the same time we obscure the view of that ugly hotel on the water.  The views of the old warehouses will be enhanced from the water, the bridge and up close.
  • The name for the site is one that EVERYONE in town uses - we all call it the Northern Junk site because of the freaking billboard sign on the building!
  • Sale of parkland?  The space of public land that would disappear is a dead piece of land that no one considers as a functional park.  It would be replaced by a pedestrian friendly area.   Selling road allowance is a good idea when it is road space that is not used to any benefit.  Better to collect property taxes from it and not park a couple of cars on it.
  • The proposal is the single most important improvement to the streetscape of Old Town in decades.   The addition of the pedestrian precinct and the new store fronts are a huge benefit.   
  • These are buildings that will have merit 100 years from now as opposed to the one across the street from it.

These are the buildings in the late 1860s - the one with the three windows and then the one to the left
This is what the proposed development would look like from a similar angle
This is a view of the site in 1947 - note all the heritage buildings that have been lost since, it these lost buildings
which were the connectivity for the site proposal to the rest of the city
If you ever wonder why this city drives me nuts, it is because of the small and narrow minded thinking as expressed in the letter above.
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