Revamped twin towers garner positive comment

Height reduced, rooms skyrocket, public access park added & parking requirements to be met.

An artist’s concept drawing depicts the view from the north showing the proposed park area fronting on Winston Road.

By Mike Williscraft

With positive comments, innovative designs and new information aplenty at last week’s public meeting regarding the twin tower development proposal at the Casablanca Inn site, only one thing was missing; the public.

With full houses, dozens of comments intense reviews now the norm at such matters of the planning process in Grimsby in recent years, last Thursday’s gathering held virtually on Zoom had none of that as the meeting – which included presentations by Town planning staff and the developer – lasted just over an hour.

It has not been unusual for similar meetings to last 2-3 hours.

The meeting included a chunk of downtime as technological issues caused a considerable delay to the meeting start.

Once it did, Mayor Jeff Jordan opened the proceedings by outlining its goal.

“The basic premise of this open house is to provide the public with an opportunity to provide input on a proposed development application. To ensure a fair process, members of council are to hear public input, but not engage in debate about the merits of the application,” said Jordan.

“As we navigate our first virtual open house meeting, we ask all participants for your patience. Each participant has 10 minutes to speak, only one chance to speak.”

The only problem is there were no speakers from the public.

“What we found with today’s meeting, and I know this will probably come up from my fellow councillors as well, is that it’s not effective for public engagement. We struggled with technology at the beginning of this meeting. We’ve struggled to try to get the delegations who tried to participate to easily participate.

And the people who could not participate by technology are looking for opportunities to have that conversation,” said Coun. Dorothy Bothwell.

“I think that when we do our statutory public meeting which – whether it is in the near future as I am expecting this developer is hoping to move quickly – that we structure that in such a way that, with COVID, I am sure we can have walk-in boards either at the Casablanca or at the Peach King Centre for a few hours so people can come in, provide their comments, speak to the applicant and have planning staff there to address their comments, too. Then we can shortly follow that with the statutory public meeting and incorporate the comments that are received.We really really have to get multiple public avenues for the public to participate in this.”

Several other members of council agreed with Bothwell’s points and consultant for the developer,  The Rosseau Group, Martin Quarcoopome, noted they would have no issue adding a COVID-friendly meeting more conducive to public comment into the process.

Quarcoopome noted the many changes and updates through a presentation which included several mock-ups of the proposal’s features, among them:

• building heights would now be 12 and 19 storeys, as opposed to the 19 and 22 initially proposed;
• residential units would go from 206 to 420;
• parking spaces would go from 245 to 909 (it was noted this would rise by 36 additional spaces to meet all bylaw requirements);
• retail space would go from 388 sq m to nearly 1,800 sq m;
• 1,500 sq m of public access green space would be included, and;
• amenity areas would go from 3,159 sq m to 4,219 sq m.

“The intent here is to develop that eastern portion with a mix of hotel, conference, retail, restaurant as well as residential uses to reinvigorate the property and see it grow,” said Quarcoopome.

“Once Phase 1 is complete, Rosseau will demolish the hotel and build Phase 2, which would be the ‘boomerang” building, which is a 12-storey mid-rise building. This building is comprised of retail uses on the inner side, the north side that faces Winston Road.

“The south and west sides will have townhouse units that front the streets and have their own private entrances and exits. They will have access to the below-grade parking. Above those are two-storey lofts and other additional apartment units.”

The green space added to the plan met with considerable favourable comment.

“We decided to incorporate a public open space as part of this development. We thought it was something that was lacking in this part of town. It would benefit existing residents as well as those through this proposal,” said Quarcoopome.

Noting the revamped proposal “has dramatically changed to something that is more reasonable”, Bothwell added that the park breaks up the concrete build nicely.

“The inner green is a really nice feature to see,” Bothwell said.

A key concern for Coun. Dave Sharpe was the maintaining of the hotel aspect of the property.

Walter Basic of Grimsby’s planning department outlined several aspects to the planning process which can guarantee the hotel use will be built into any approved plans for the site.

As well, John Mehlenbacher told those on the call his company also wants to see the hotel play a key part in the Town’s future.

Saying the current facility is “like a family,” Mehlenbacher added, “We have a long-term plan to want to own the hotel, to run the hotel and the reason we designed it this way is to put the convention space back up into a location within the property where you can actually have water views again. That was the biggest draw originally with the Casablanca Hotel for years which we lost with the Branthaven site that is in front of us right now.”

“So, not only are we investing in – should all this go through and get approved – the convention space which will live on for many generations to be able to have lots of parties there, but having a convention space, you need hotel space with it as well. Parking was also a major concern for all as it has become a recurring theme in virtually all conversations regarding the Winston Road area.

While Quarcoopome noted a total of 945 would ultimately be built as part of the project, Coun. Reg Freake said they may want to add to that number.

“I’d rather see ample or extra, as opposed to just enough,” said Freake, adding on a question about how the number of spots offered in the proposal was arrived at.

Quarcoopome noted the increased parking is in large part due to the redesign and better use of space, adding precedent allowed by the previous council set the bar for his estimate.

“I will note that this (909 spaces proposed)parking is a deficiency of what the bylaw actually requires,” said Quarcoopome.

“What we did was, we based our required parking for our proposal on the rates that were approved for the neighbouring 10 Windward site. That’s how we came to our number.”

Coun. Lianne Vardy also participated in the meeting, while Coun. Randy Vaine and Coun. Dave Kadwell had logged on but did not participate in the conversation.

“I appreciate the applicant and their willingness to add another meeting where we can actually get poster boards to look at. I really look forward to that for people who don’t have accessibility to internet, live streaming or just aren’t comfortable on a Zoom platform,” said Jordan.

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