By Gail Pool
The City of Kitchener is undertaking a large-scale revision of its Urban Design Manual. As part of the process, the planning staff is meeting with various groups on Secondary Plans.
On February 20th, an urban design Charette was held for the Victoria Park Secondary Plan. About 10 people were present. Most of us, including myself, are residents of the area.
In order to help me understand the direction of the plan and give voice to the participants, I decided to write up some comments while it is fresh in my mind.
My own views
The document that was examined, Design for Residential Infill in Central Neighbourhoods, is a key document for the areas around the Urban Growth Centres (areas in light green below). An earlier version of the document left out the phrase “Residential Infill,” which suggests a change in direction.
Adding “infill” to the title infers that what the Victoria Park Secondary Plan needs is residential infill. What if we are happy with what is now there and just want to improve the character of the neighbourhood? Infill can mean many things and is seen as a way of increasing density. Some jurisdictions do that by changing zoning so that low rise residential can have 4 to 6 units rather than single or duplex units.
While the Victoria Park area can’t be “frozen in time”, the revised title suggests that the direction is to relax the restrictions in the Victoria Park area. Is thaw the right word here? As nearly every participant at the charette suggested, there is a fear that nearby highrise buildings will overwhelm the Victoria Park area. There are also concerns that the regulations that restrict high rise development inside the residential zone will be built. In my view and that of others, we need to not only continue to prevent high rise development inside the Victoria Heritage Conservation District (VPHCD), but also have buffer zones near it. That way, we can really protect the low-rise historic district rather than infill it. Given that we have seen recent incursions into the Conservation District on Queen Street, with two houses destroyed and two others put at risk, the design needs to be very strong in the face of density pressures. So, rather than promoting infill, why not reinforce the statement that built heritage shall be preserved in the VPHCD? Maps and detailed panels of the Victoria Park Secondary Plan are available here). Here is one map of the broad zones.
The Secondary Plan boundaries extend beyond the VPHCD but the rules on heritage conservation, e.g., heritage shall be preserved, are still in place.
The panels do not adequately describe the design proposals. However, the Design for Residential Infill in Central Neighbourhoods (p. 1) suggest that:
Kitcheners Central Neighbourhoods have character, historical significance, and provide contrast to the current and future intensification of the Downtown and Major Transit Station Areas (MTSAs). They represent a variety of eras and styles, and if properly planned and conserved, can contribute toward a unique and desirable condition: pockets of low-rise, historical residential neighbourhoods within walking distance of the city core and light rail transit.
I am very concerned with the phrase “pockets of low-rise… neighbourhoods.” There will be many high-density buildings around Victoria Park (some underway and some to be built) in the Urban Growth Centre and they will add thousands of residents and jobs to the area. I would suggest that you examine the images in the Urban Growth Centres design, where there are many high rise buildings sketched in. Here is an example of the vision:
While this image is hypothetical (only Charlie West is under construction), it is a design guideline and developers will take notice of such images and say: Look at what they are suggesting, right next to Victoria Park!
Do the residents and citizens of Kitchener really want that? It is sometimes suggested that Gaukel street be made into a pedestrian/cycling promenade from City Hall to the Park. Do we really prefer to have five high rise buildings there?
My question is: Can we sustain the beauty of our established historic neighbourhoods and Victoria Park itself, which are very much enjoyed by all residents of the region and beyond?
In my view, we have two very extensive heritage conservation districts on either side of the core. These are not pockets. They appear to be larger than the areas targeted for high density development. I am not opposed to higher density. We are being asked by the Province to increase density in order to save our farmland, (Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe) and targets are not always being met. They should be. Rather there needs to be an understanding that the low-rise neighbourhoods are an attractive and important feature of Kitchener’s central area. Low rise, historic districts in downtown Kitchener are not only good for the inhabitants, but they are also good for tourism. They attract people from around the region and beyond, particularly in the summertime when many festivals are organized, bringing in thousands of tourists.
So, with that in mind, what several people suggested was that we ensure that there is:
- Adequate park space
- Transitional zones between the high and low density areas
There were concerns voiced about the zoning process. How, for example, did a multi-storey building get built on Courtland across from the school? Several people felt that zoning regulations are too easily over-ridden. One person stated that the development on Victoria Street near West had to be opposed in order to reduce the number of storeys. The development at 242-262 Queen, on the other hand, was originally 8 storeys and was allowed 10 storeys. This was done through bonussing, a hidden strategy that is allowed under zoning.
One person (living on Theresa?) suggested that the 100 Victoria building has made her backyard open to be seen from that tall building. Other people were concerned about transition zones. For example, the area behind Theresa has a very large parking area (Ukranian Catholic Centre). Should there be a high rise in this area? Currently the area is zoned l-1,1R, 93R, 399U. Medium rise? What would it take for a developer to request a re-zoning to a high-density development through zone changes and bonussing provisions? The City of Kitchener needs to be much more cautious in its development planning.
Other questions were asked about the following:
- There is a need for more park space due to high-density development surrounding the park
- Better cycling access, e.g., Queen Street
- Bike parking requirements for buildings
- Affordable housing requirements
- Surface lot re-purposing
- Better transit stops
- More green roofs with trees
- More parkettes, required next to developments
- More greenery around high-rise developments
- Rent geared to income; require a certain number/percentage of units
- Design a good use of the old bus terminal
- Area along Iron Horse Trail near West and Victoria could be a parkette
- Wild area between Iron Horse Trail and the Railway could be developed for public park space
- Better pedestrian amenities, including connecting neighbourhoods with adequate crosswalks, e.g., at the Iron Horse Trail and along Queen Street
- A suggestion was made that better connections be made between central areas and the park. Perhaps a continuous landscape plan needs to be developed that connects the various areas in the Downtown and along Schneider Creek.