Every year carriages bring tourists up Ambrose Street to see beautiful heritage homes and hear about the area’s history. But now they’re being told about the new building at 5 Ambrose Street and the mean residents who don’t like it. Letters to this newspaper fuelled this tale, starting with variations of “I don’t know what I’m talking about but here’s my opinion anyway.” So it’s only fair that this newspaper allows the tourists, upon whom Charlottetown’s economy depends so much, a more accurate version.
Six months ago, on the advice of Coun. Rob Lantz, I requested that council reconsider this development’s permit. The problems were immediately clear because of what it is, but also because of how it was approved. Now that it’s complete, the problems are obvious.
To begin, it’s very badly designed. Professionals have described it as an attempt to cover as much land as possible, showing a serious lack of training, no understanding of domestic architectural construction or design, and little awareness of architectural masses of neighbourhood houses. If they’re wrong, I’m sure the architect whom the owner is purported to have consulted would be willing to put his name to it. And Coun. Lantz will explain why he admitted recently to area residents that he didn’t imagine it would end up being as bad as it is.
Beyond that, it comes nowhere near conforming to the goals of the city’s Official Plan, which include maintaining the distinct characteristics and identities of neighbourhoods such as Brighton by ensuring new development is harmonious with its surroundings, and enhancing the city’s physical and cultural heritage, for the enjoyment of residents and for their important economic value. Councillor Lantz knows the area’s defined character because he’s promoted it himself, both to the public and IRAC. Instead, this building exemplifies the unregulated developments constructed before the Official Plan existed, which, in the Plan’s words, had “little regard for their surroundings,” and which the Plan aims to control.
But even beyond that, the development flouts almost every criterion in the city’s Zoning and Development Bylaw, from mass and scale, to materials, to fascia height, to light penetration, to use of open space. There are even potential environmental and safety risks. And it’s a significant violation of the privacy of surrounding properties, which cannot be mitigated.
Lest this prompts further suggestions that baking cookies is the answer to planning failures, it’s not a criticism of the building’s owner. It’s a criticism of the competency of the building inspector who was allowed to approve this development unsupervised. It’s a criticism of the Planning and Development Department and Planning and Heritage Board dominated by untrained amateurs whose approach to urban planning and heritage belongs to the 1970s. It’s a criticism of the city’s paid Heritage Consultant, who ignored all queries. It’s a criticism of Coun. Lantz who as chair of the Planning and Heritage Board openly demonstrated that he didn’t understand the basis for the request for reconsideration when he encouraged others to reject it, who pushed it through the process without allowing responsible consideration, who actively favoured the interests of the developer, and who has since provided one inconsistent excuse after another for why none of this matters. And it’s a criticism of a council who, with a couple of exceptions, has little idea of what it’s doing, and no idea of where Charlottetown is headed.
My neighbours should be able to expect enjoyment of their own properties. And they have every reason to be concerned. The combined money they’ve put into restoring their “dream” homes and the city’s heritage, at the encouragement of the city, is in the millions, not thousands. I don’t expect people who haven’t made this kind of investment to understand its significance, but anyone who makes this commitment deserves better from the city than lip service to its own stated goals, objectives and bylaws. If the city’s real plan is to turn Charlottetown into a second-rate Stratford, it should just say so and save everyone else the time and money.
So the next time the carriage comes up Ambrose Street, perhaps the tour guides would like to share this story instead.
By Elizabeth Schoales
- Elizabeth Schoales is a well-known animal rights activist and law student, living on Ambrose Street in Charlottetown