By Mike Williscraft
The Woolverton – a proposed seven-storey, 74-unit apartment building at the corner of Elm and Mountain in downtown Grimsby – took an initial step Monday with a public meeting dealing with Official Plan and zoning amendments.
The project includes the lots at 13 Elm Street – the current GBF Hub and long-time Different Strokes prior to that – as well as 13 Mountain street, currently H&R Block’s location with prior tenants being The Syndicate Restaurant and The Gables.
The current “downtown intensification” zoning calls for a maximum of four storeys on the lots with town council being able to approve up to six storeys. As noted, seven are proposed.
While the height is significant, planner for developer Castlepoint Numa, Drew Sinclair, told those on the Zoom meeting there are several facets to the design of the project which minimize impacts of that height. As well, he noted design elements would make it a contributor to cultural and environmental responsibilities.
Sinclair also noted that planning guidelines in the downtown intensification area are distinctly different for side streets as opposed to Main Street itself.
“Main Street needs people. It needs residents who are walking,” said Sinclair adding it’s “critical to understand..how it contributes to a post-carbon future.”
To that end, he highlighted several aspects of the design which create a “green” approach to the build including a “planted or vegetative” rooftop, which will allow for water re-use on site as well as generate energy savings.
As well, upgraded windows will also reduce energy use.
In terms of footprint, Sinclair noted their idea to go up – about 50 per cent of land will be covered by the build – allows for more “community space” and a spot where residents could have a growing area.
Key for many in the discussion both Monday night and prior input received online was the impact on the two heritage buildings in play and parking.
Sinclair noted not only would the two original buildings be fully restored during the building process, they are an imporant aspect of the overall design. He showed several examples of other projects where modern design was created in harmony with heritage buildings, such as Niagara Falls History Museum, as well as others in Toronto and Cambridge.
As well, noted at several points, was the rental unit aspect to the entire site.
“It is an all-rental project,” noted Sinclair, pointing out the difference between condos and rental units.
He explained the philosophy behind that is to provide much-needed rental units to serve the highest in demand category facing the
Grimsby market, adding 60 per cent of the units will be for families (two bedrooms or larger).
Several area residents attended Monday’s meeting and addressed key areas of concern, including Sandra Yemm who lives nearby on Mountain Street.
Yemm said the proposal would “change the harmonious balance of our downtown core” and noted the building would block views and cause shade issues.
Sinclair noted design components have been implemented to minimize impacts on neighbouring properties including all setbacks being within Town of Grimsby specifications.
“(Any) shadows are almost exclusively on other downtown intensification areas,” said Sinclair.
Similar to minimizing impacts, he noted his team put in an “immense amount of work to keep the heritage elements and maximize public use space.”
Long-time downtown businessman Bryan Macaulay stated he appreciated the “cultural hub” use for the heritage building, which was initially Grimsby Baptist Church.
Resident Rob Hattin said he was “cynical initially” of the proposal but said, after working through all the design elements – “It’s not a box,” he said – he changed his opinion.
“It sets a design standard,” he said.
“We need to ask ourselves, does it make Grimsby better? And I think this ticks a lot of boxes.”
Resident Elizabeth Cesnik noted she learned several things about the project during the initial presentation, adding the planting and gathering space are nice features, but traffic remains an issue for her.
“We will be gridlocked. That is my biggest fear,” she said.
For resident Veronica Charrois, parking was a prime issue. She noted she checked the south side public parking area after Noon on Monday to find just over a dozen available units from about 129 in the lot.
With spill over parking by tenants and their visitors, Charrois said more parking is needed on site.
For residents Duncan Storey, Maria Clark, Ian Robertson, Joanne Hall, Kevin Luttjehuizen and Ken Cherney, parking and traffic volume were also major factors.
From a downtown business point of view, Luttjehuizen noted merchants are already concerned about parking space, so any negative impact would be felt in the business community.
Sinclair said all the points would be carefully assessed and dealt with.
“We are taking notes, he said.
In wrapping up the meeting, Mayor Jeff Jordan noted a statutory public meeting will be set for the next step in the project’s planning process.