OPINION: London’s downtown development should be a high priority

Developing London downtown core valuesLondon has a plan for the next 25 years to reduce urban sprawl and to grow inward and upward. There are more than nine high-rise residential towers proposed for the city’s core and many of them are being rejected by the community.
But why? There are a list of reasons.

Everything from inhibiting the flight paths of birds, adding to traffic congestion, blocking million-dollar views, creating wind issues for pedestrians, parking and heritage conservation.

One development proposal that has caught my attention recently is the 29-story condominium tower proposed by Tricar Group at the northwest corner of Dufferin Avenue and Talbot Street.

Last week the Planning and Environment Committee made a very difficult but pragmatic choice to approve the demolition request of the properties at 505, 507 and 511 Talbot St. , as well as a zoning amendment. The decision of the committee did not come lightly, as there was a three-hour debate over both the merits of the proposal and the merits of the heritage buildings in question. London’s heritage buildings certainly harness our historical ties to the past are a strong component of our streetscapes and cultural fabric.

However, I think heritage has turned into an obsession with materialism, rather than the significance of the history and stories of the past activities within a certain property or location.
There are many residential properties that were built in the late 1800s or early 1990s but they may or may not have any historical significance.

There are also many properties such as the old courthouse, the Dominion building, London Life building, Eldon House or the Delta Armouries to name a few that need to be preserved for historical purposes.

But there are many benefits of having more people and development in the downtown.  It will change not just the city’s skyline, but also pump an extra $7.2 million a year into city coffers. With more foot traffic, we’re more likely to see more spending and businesses thriving in the downtown.

The Tricar proposal is going to council and the merits of the proposal are strong. The Provincial Policy Statement, our draft London Plan, the Downtown Master Plan, Downtown Community Improvement Plan, and even the planning department, all approve of the development.

If council had turned down the proposal, and the proponent decided to appeal that decision to the Ontario Municipal Board, the City of London would have lost.

That’s because the policies listed above send a clear message to developers that London is open to building a vibrant and prosperous downtown. In fact, they promote growth and intensification in the Downtown Community Improvement Plan area, which includes properties in that location.

This development did seek other locations including empty parking lots. In a statement ­released last week, Ward 13 Coun. Tanya Park said, “In speaking with the proponents and their consultants, they proved to me that they had made several requests to idle property owners within our downtown to purchase their lands so that they could build their project there, ­ultimately their request to purchase was turned down.”

Also, who says we need to either choose ­between heritage conservation and development? There is always the option of using a ­historic façade with a modern edifice.

But what is important is that as a city, we should try harder to get to yes rather than no, especially in the core.

Amir Farahi
Amir Farahi

Amir Farahi is the Co-Founder & Executive Director of the London Institute. He is an entrepreneur, columnist, public speaker, and is currently specializing in Economics and Political Science at Western University.

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