Backlash Deepens Against ‘Great New Urban Neighbourhood’ Plan

  • 06/12/18
  • |          London

Development in SoHo, sure.

Just not this one.

Neighbours aren’t backing down from their opposition to a plan that aims to rejuvenate the largely vacant site where the old Victoria Hospital once stood.

The pitch: two apartment towers, 19 and 23 storeys tall, a repurposed heritage building, shops, patios and a public courtyard to connect to the river.

There’s the potential for the development to build “a great new urban neighbourhood” within the up-and-coming SoHo community, city planner John Fleming said — part of a broader vision to develop a thriving, modern space with public gathering spots and a nod to the area’s heritage.

But residents aren’t convinced.

“I’m in favour of development. Right now that lot is only being used by geese. I just think this particular construction is a little too ambitious,” Londoner Heather Hatch said of the plans for a one-hectare plot at South and Colborne streets.

She was one of dozens who came out to a public meeting on the development proposed by Toronto-based Medallion Corp., which has also built highrises in Old East Village and on Kipps Lane.

Residents doubled down on concerns about the height and density of the towers and the impact on noise, traffic and environment.

The SoHo Community Association slapped back at a recent zoning application by Medallion Corp — which needs city council to green-light a zoning change — fretting about the impacts, and arguing the proposed highrises are much too tall.

“We think it’s excessive,” said president Angela Lukach. “We are not opposed to development at all. We would really like to see thoughtful development that respects the character and history of the neighbourhood.”

She wants to see apartment towers that give a nod to Victorian architecture. “These buildings are so modern and so ugly,” she said.

It’s the kind of development that was long expected on the old hospital lands. The city’s 1989 official plan zoned the site for high-density residential and more recent documents looking at the property and surrounding neighbourhood paved the way for high-density development at the site.

Medallion has committed to preserving and reusing the old Colborne building, with a price tag in excess of $8 million, in exchange for the taller towers with more units.

It’s the kind of intensification — inward and upward growth — emphasized in the London Plan.

Rad Vucicevich, director of development and construction for the company, said he’s used to pushback against projects like this one. “There’s always the fear of change.”

But he said similar developments in older or low-density neighbourhoods bring life.

“I don’t know how to explain it. It introduces new blood into the neighbourhood. It’s alive,” Vucicevich.

It’s the kind of housing to which young people and empty-nesters flock, he added.

The city has larger plans to revitalize SoHo, including a civic space on the north side of Colborne and South streets, the Back to the River project, and the Thames Valley corridor to connect Wellington and Maitland streets.

Medallion’s zoning application is expected to go to the city’s planning committee later this summer. That would include a public meeting.

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