There’s been a series of grand plans for this West Harbour community. Now, just four homes and piles of rubble remain after the mass expropriation for a failed Pan Am stadium project. What’s next for this deserted neighbourhood?
Mark Marsden’s home no longer stands in the way of a West Harbour football stadium.
But soon, it will stand virtually alone.
The Hamilton contractor hired a lawyer and held out for more cash when the city bought out his neighbours on Tiffany Street and Barton Street West to make room for a Pan Am Games venue. The expropriations stopped when the stadium plan died — but the dismantling of Marsden’s now-ghostly neighbourhood is well under way.
When the demolition dust settles in November, his white, siding-clad two-storey will be one of only four neighbourhood survivors of the ill-fated Pan Am plan. He’s not sure if that’s a good thing or not.
“They’ve destroyed this area. They took our gas station, took our neighbours away. Now, it’s like a dead zone,” said Marsden, who still mows the lawn of the boarded-up building beside him out of stubbornness. “It would be nice to know what the city (council) is doing here, because from where I stand, it doesn’t look like they know.”
The short-term plan, at least, is clear.
The 13 homes and 7 businesses on the city’s 11 acres of West Harbour property, purchased with $10 million from the Future Fund, will be mostly demolished, cleaned up and seeded with grass by the end of the year
, said city buildings manager Rom D’Angelo. A council decision is pending on a special contract to tear down and recover steel from the massive Rheem factory on Barton.
Residents on the south side of Barton say they’re relieved the long row of abandoned buildings across the street is coming down — for safety and aesthetic reasons, but also to erase the evidence of a lost community.
Once upon a time, residents thought the long-term neighbourhood plan was to import families — up to 700 of them. The city’s Setting Sail Secondary Plan, finished in 2005, would have rezoned the land bordered by Barton, Queen, Bay and Stuart streets for new medium-density housing, with a bit of commercial in the mix near Barton and Hess Street North.
But now, the city is proposing to alter Setting Sail
— a plan born of years of community consultation — in an effort to end an Ontario Municipal Board appeal by CN, which owns a waterfront rail yard north of the neighbourhood.
A recent city proposal to end CN’s OMB appeal, obtained by The Spectator, shows a 150-metre “buffer zone” surrounding the CN rail yard that would make much of the neighbourhood off-limits for homes. Instead, the land would be zoned commercial. The city’s proposed compromise appears to leave only a small L-shaped swath of land along Barton and Bay zoned residential
It’s a secretive process. The city, CN and other OMB appellants recently met in a private mediation session, but an actual public OMB hearing isn’t scheduled until December
. The main Setting Sail objector — CN Rail — declined to speak to the Spectator, citing the ongoing private negotiations.
The city’s apparent compromise, pitched without public input and discussed by council behind closed doors, frustrates Ellaline Davies even as she welcomes the demolition of abandoned buildings across the road from her Barton Street home.
“We asked for residential. You need people to have a vibrant community,” said Davies, who was part of a community liaison committee that helped shape the neighbourhood’s secondary plan. “I’m just deeply disappointed to see such a collaborative community process go awry. How did we get from community involvement to shutting us out completely?”
The city isn’t working against residents, said Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr. “This is a legal matter so I have to tread carefully, but I completely understand the frustration of residents … councillors are also frustrated that we have to stay mum,” Farr said, adding he expects public discussion of the neighbourhood’s future will resume “sooner rather than later” after the OMB process.
Farr said he can’t comment on specific city OMB proposals. But he said “meeting halfway” with Setting Sail opponents such as CN could be the fastest route to the rejuvenation of the neighbourhood south of the tracks.
“If we fight (the CN appeal) and lose, what do we end up with? An industrial zone,” he said. “If we compromise, maybe we win and get some of (the homes) we’re aiming for.”
Mayor Bob Bratina also wouldn’t comment specifically on OMB negotiations.
But the former ward councillor said any plan for the future of the West Harbour needs to be updated to reflect “new realities” like pending all-day GO Service, which he argued may change the city’s land-use priorities. The mayor has also warned the development opportunities associated with the city-owned properties in Barton-Tiffany may also be affected by historic contamination. Preliminary testing suggests remediation costs range from $3 million to $37 million.
Those costs are the reason why the city’s OMB compromise won’t work, said Marino Rakovac, a Hamilton developer who has tried for more than a decade to turn his old autowrecking property on Bay Street into a mid-rise housing project.
The city’s compromise appears to zone Rakovac’s property for low-density housing. “That would be impossible for us,” said Rakovac before the pre-OMB hearing mediation. “You need height and density in a project to pay enormous remediation costs.”
Rakovac, who was also turned down by the city on a last-minute adaptable stadium pitch for West Harbour, still believes he’ll get the go-ahead to build 300 housing units in an eight-storey development. “After so many years I shouldn’t be saying this, but I’m hopeful,” he said. “I think we’re seeing some movement from all parties.”