Tuesday, April 5, 2011

There's Something Happening Here in Greater Sudbury's Downtown

There's something happening here in Greater Sudbury. What it is ain't exactly clear. Well, actually it is pretty clear, and it's exciting, and even though I should be writing about the federal election, I just feel the need to share a recent experience that I had at Tom Davies Square.

Tonight, I witnessed something truly wonderful and miraculous at the City of Greater Sudbury's planning committee meeting. On tonight's agenda was the approval of a request to rezone lands owned by Centennial Enterprises Inc., on the fringe of the City's downtown (Brady and Paris, roughly), to permit high density development. Specifically, zoning permission was requested which would see three 17-storey apartment buildings constructed on a prominent hill top, overlooking City Hall.

The development proposal itself might come as no surprise to anyone living in Ontario. Other communities have been asked to integrate higher-density dwellings into the existing urban fabric. Cities such as Oakville and Brampton, however, have struggled with getting things right. And residents who live in proximity to where the intensified development is going to locate have often found themselves in front of the Ontario Municipal Board, pleading their case to not allow their neighbourhoods to be destroyed.

But here in Greater Sudbury, none of that happened. Instead, planning committee was treated to a number of speakers who politely demanded that the City approve this development proposal, in an effort to begin the process of revitalizing our downtown core. And planning committee easily made the decision to give this proposal the nod.

Bryan Wolofsky, the developer, spoke passionately about the need for the City to offer more opportunities for downtown living. He said that the towers on the hill would be a prominent feature of the Sudbury skyline, and that's in party why this location was chosen for high-density development. That and the fact that it is right adjacent to the downtown core, and within walking distance of 11 transit stops, including the City's transit terminal.

The process which this proposal went through to arrive at where it did tonight wasn't a fast one. Area residents had initially expressed some concerns regarding the scale of the development, massing on the site, and concerns about traffic. These concerns were valid. This development proposal really will alter the character of the existing neighbourhood.

The developer demonstrated that over the months since the application was made to the City, that he had been working to address these concerns where possible. The number of units dropped from 1,000 to 800, as a result of removing one apartment block from the plan. Internal roadways were re-routed away from the lot lines of existing low-density lots. And concerns about access were in part addressed by providing opportunities for multiple vehicular and pedestrian access points from different parts of the site (including the provision for a pedestrian elevator or escalator, to assist with moving foot traffic up and down the cliff-face along Brady Street).

Tonight, the City's planning committee made a decision which is going to start changing everything. It was a bold, and progressive decision, made easier by a developer who clearly has the interests of the community in mind, and who engaged in an open process to work with residents, rather than against them.

The City is currently in the process of finalizing the Downtown Master Plan, which will be calling for more residential development in the City's core. Adding 800 small apartment units, fit for singles, young families and seniors, will go a long way to meeting this goal. A safe and vibrant downtown is a downtown which is used throughout the day and evening, where a healthy mix of commercial and residential uses co-exist side-by-side (or better yet, on top of one another!)

Greater Sudbury's downtown is slowly resurrecting itself, and in the process, it is defining itself as the go-to part of the City for central office locations, boutique retail, excellent cuisine, and a vibrant walkable nightlife. With tonight's decision to permit high-density living in the downtown, the core is sure to become the place for Sudbury's creative class to want to live, work and play.

There's something happening here in Greater Sudbury's downtown. And it's just great!

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