© Guardian photo by Nigel ArmstrongAlex Forbes, Charlottetown's new manager of planning and heritage, stands beside renovations underway on lower Queen Street at the former Kay's Brothers wholesale shop.
There is a whole new regulatory system at work now on the historic downtown core of Charlottetown.
The city’s new planning manager, Alex Forbes, took up his role as Charlottetown’s manger of planning and heritage in September, about the same time as the new 500 Lots Area and its development standards and design guidelines came into effect.
He was guest speaker at this week’s monthly meeting of the Downtown Residents Association.
The entire area south of Euston Street in Charlottetown has been the focus of much study and consideration in recent years. In 2005, the planning firm Ekistics launched extensive consultations with residents and published a strategy for the area.
In 2010, Charlottetown hired a firm named The Planning Partnership to provide development standards and design guidelines for this core area. That resulted in a published document in December 2011. The same firm is helping the city revamp and renew its entire official plan, which is being done zone by zone with the goal of being finished next year.
The 500 Lot Area, referring to the original number of lots that made up Charlottetown’s early history, was the first area to undergo consideration in the overall official plan review process.
It is defined as the area between Euston St. to the north and Water St. to the south , and from behind the government office complex to the west, over to Esher St. to the east, but not including Holland College or Maritime Electric lands.
Areas south of Water St. are part of the waterfront zone, which also has gone through a consultation and official plan review process.
Both are now subject to new form-based codes, said Forbes.
“This new plan focuses more on what the actual buildings look like and trying to put more attention on ensuring that the new additions or new buildings complement what is in the downtown area, as opposed to take away from it,” he said. “On bigger projects, more complex, we are in the process of putting together a design review committee.”
Members of that consulting committee would likely be architects or similar professionals not associated with municipal government. They may not even be resident in the province, said Forbes.
Their job is to give an opinion on a design for city council to consider. The review committee opinion is not binding.
“They are really at arms length,” said Forbes. “The problem with design, it’s always in the eyes of the beholder. This allows design professionals to comment.”
While much is done to preserve heritage in the downtown core, modern development is not excluded, said Forbes.
An area has to evolve, he said.
“You have to put something in that is compatible, that doesn’t detract from the historic buildings that are adjacent to it, but on the other hand, it’s 2013 and we are building LEED buildings (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a building certification program) which are very environmentally conscientious in regard to trying to keep as much heat in them and to be as energy efficient as possible. It’s just part of that evolution of the built environment.”
There is a diverse, mixed use in downtown areas, including Charlottetown, from old churches to restaurants to apartments to modern condominiums and retail space, said Forbes.
There is a North American renaissance of downtowns as people move back in and appreciate the advantages, he said.
“It’s complicated because it’s dynamic, people want to be in the downtown, they want to invest in the downtown, there is more development pressure in the downtown,” said Forbes.
There are federal, provincial and municipal programs that can offer financial assistance to help projects maintain compatibility with the surrounding built environment, he said.