City plans core park in place of parking lot
August 06, 2010
The Hamilton Spectator
"They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot," Joni Mitchell sang. Hamilton is doing the opposite, turning a big contaminated parking lot into a downtown park.
Rumours and ideas have been circulating for years about turning the roughly 0.6-hectare plot of asphalt on the southeast corner of John Street North and Rebecca Street into a park, but concrete plans and a timeline only began to take shape recently.
"It's an important part of making the downtown livable," said Ron Marini, the city's director of downtown community renewal, adding that it will be designed to be a respite area and safe place.
Staff are working on a master plan for the park for this fall, followed by community consultation, council debates and finally construction beginning in 2013.
It is possible the city could enlarge the park by buying neighbouring buildings on King William.
The first step is to clean up the land. According to a Phase 2 environmental assessment in 2008, it is contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons. Marini said tests show no chemical spread and no danger to the public.
The paving has sealed the contaminated soil for the roughly 50 years the site has been a parking lot, since a Hamilton Stove and Heater industrial facility closed, he said.
From an urban planning perspective it's a "no-brainer" that parks add value to downtowns, said Mason White, an assistant professor in the University of Toronto's John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.
"This could be the catalyst for the downtown," he said.
Hamilton has an opportunity to be innovative with this park, he said, suggesting the city should maybe look into adding solar panels or other progressive features.
White pointed to Vancouver and cities in Germany as places where there are innovative parks.
"A public space needs an identity," he said.
He also suggested inviting the public into the designing process.
Area councillor Bob Bratina said it should be a boost to turn the swath of asphalt into parkland.
Right now it's a "desperate-looking streetscape," he said.
Park development should go hand-in-hand with residential development, like condos or townhouses, downtown, Bratina said.
The city is in the process of hiring a company to conduct the $171,500 cleanup of 600 to 1,000 cubic metres of soil at the site. Interested parties had until this week to file a prequalification document. The cleanup is to start this fall and take between four and five weeks.
The site will be repaved for continued use as a parking lot before park development, Marini said.
The lost parking spaces will be made up at 140 King William St., according to a Dec. 14, 2009, city document about the site.
Petroleum hydrocarbons are a number of different chemical compounds that originate from crude oil. The Ministry of the Environment regulates acceptable levels of these chemicals, which can vary depending on the use of the property. These regulations are being strengthened effective July 2011.
The ministry has no record of issues at the John Street North site, said spokesperson Jennifer Hall. However, the ministry has to be flagged only if there is risk of spreading, or if ongoing monitoring has to be set up during remediation.
The John Street property, bounded by Catharine Street on the east, will not be the first contaminated site to become a park. The Matilda Street Natural Playground will officially open tomorrow.
It was built on a former Shell gas station on King Street West in Dundas. That property, too, was contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons.
The city has been tracking both properties through its contaminated site management program, which follows city-owned brownfield properties.