BACKGROUND

On December 5, 2013 at the Performing Arts Centre, the Town held the public launch of its Downtown Plan, http://www.oakville.ca/townhall/downtown-plan.html.  The theatre was packed – standing room only.  Mayor Burton (who was on stage the whole time and who acted both as the principal speaker and master-of-ceremonies) is very committed to this project.  Its essence is to leverage the complete overhaul of the Downtown road infrastructure, a 50-year reinvestment, so as to maximize the commercial and cultural value of Downtown to the Town at large. 

What is envisaged is that, in addition to replacing or refurbishing essential street infrastructure (sewers, water, hydro, …), there will be beautified and upgraded amenities – wider sidewalks, larger under-street planters for trees (so that they can thrive), bike lanes, elimination of the one-way traffic system (to improve pedestrian movement), …, combined with refurbished or brand-new cultural facilities (parkland and riverside access, central library, performing arts centre, gallery).

Council is totally committed to the idea that Downtown is the heart of Oakville.  In June 2014, it endorsed the following vision and objectives for the Downtown Plan:

Vision

To create an attractive, active, animated and vibrant downtown where people come together to live, meet, work, stay, interact and engage.
It will be the cultural, social and economic heart of our community where citizens and visitors can celebrate and experience the natural setting, heritage, culture and the arts.

Objectives

  • To contribute to an economically successful and vibrant Downtown
  • To create a cultural focus for the Town in the Downtown area
  • To provide facilities and infrastructure that meet existing and future needs
  • To protect and enhance the natural environmental and cultural heritage of Downtown
  • To develop solutions that are financially sustainable


Mayor Burton stated that there would be no extra Town taxes raised to pay for the Plan.  Money beyond that required for renewal of infrastructure will come from other sources.  Possibilities are other levels of government, private-public partnerships, appropriate sale or lease of Town-owned property and/or air-rights, community fund-raising, ….  In addition, at the time, the Mayor anticipated the availability of Federal grants for Sesquicentennial projects.  He wanted to have shovel-ready projects for Downtown by 2017.

The Plan is organized into two studies - The Downtown Cultural Hub Study, http://www.oakville.ca/townhall/downtown-cultural-hub.html, and the Downtown Transportation and Streetscape Study, http://www.oakville.ca/townhall/downtown-transportation-streetscape.html.

A concern is that Downtown is defined very narrowly.  Allen to Water, Robinson to Randall are the boundaries defining downtown for the studies, notwithstanding the spread of commerce west to Kerr and beyond.

TCRA POSITIONS (as of May 16, 2016)

Acknowledge that business viability is a priority and that downtown is a regional tourist destination.  These principles should inform all Town planning – zoning, marketing, promotion, parking regulation, permitting, services.

  • Shift focus from theatre, library, etc. to parkland and access to waterfront.  Treat parks and waterfront on west side of harbour as being in planning scope.
  • Preserve existing public ownership of creek brow-land and bottom-land.
  • Preserve downtown height restrictions on creek brow-land and Lakeshore Road.  Between Navy and Allen relax height restrictions.  Allow heights to increase up to Randall, from the existing 4 stories on both sides of Lakeshore to 8 stories on the north side of Church to Randall.   Can sell public lands in these sections (with public parking provisions).  Charge suitable development fees.


Longer term vision ….

Preserve plans for theatre, library, etc. downtown but require significant private funding. 
Consider building a marina like Bronte’s at Tannery Park / Waterworks Park.  Relocate OYS and OPBC to the new marina long term – freeing up the vacated land for public use.  In the meantime, negotiate public access to the waterfront when renewing leases.
Combine the commercial districts of Lakeshore West to Rebecca between Forsyth and Brock, Kerr Village, and Downtown as one entity for planning.  Current separations do not reflect the way residents use the districts.  They compromise planning.
Allow concessions, restaurants, etc. in leased space on public waterfront land.  Repurpose the Erchless Estate to include a restaurant with patio overlooking the harbour.  Minimize surface parking on waterfront land (underground parking?).

CURRENT STATUS

The Transportation and Streetscape Study has been completed, and the resulting plan is moving ahead as a set of projects:

Lakeshore Road Reconstruction and Streetscape Project - Navy Street to Allan Street
Downtown Oakville two-way traffic conversion
Lakeshore Road Bridge Rehabilitation over Sixteen Mile Creek (note: this project is not “in scope” in the original study – but is so closely related that it is included here for reference)

Click on the relevant link for project detail.

The current overall timetable for Downtown and related projects, approved by Council, can be found at: http://www.oakville.ca/assets/general%20-%20town%20hall/DowntownOakvilleArea-Timeline.pdf.

The Cultural Hub Study has developed high-level concepts and themes for a renaissance of Downtown cultural facilities, it has identified various options, it has identified the need for a substantial new parking facility to compensate for the loss of parking spaces as Water Street is redeveloped as parkland … and it has stalled.  The problem seems to be a combination of the high cost of new facilities (hundreds of millions), no Federal Sesquicentennial grants, public resistance to the idea of condo-development on Centennial Square to help pay for the new facilities, and the inevitable confusion that ensues when Town Planners and the public get bogged down in detail.  The result is a current Staff Report to Council (November 1, 2016 staff report) which recommends a slow, incremental program which in 2024 (8 years hence) delivers riverside access via a new park below the Library (where Water Street and the Library parking lot are now), delivers theatre renovations to meet short-term needs, and delivers a long-term plan (including financing) for new cultural facilities.  The practical implications are that the Cultural Hub, as currently conceived, is very unlikely to be developed if Council accepts Staff’s recommendations.

Meeting with the Mayor

Five residents’ associations represent all of Ward 3 – Trafalgar-Chartwell, Oakville Lakeside, Chartwell-Maplegrove, Clearview, and Joshua Creek.  Representatives of these five groups met with Mayor Burton on October 26, 2016, to discuss Staff’s Downtown Update.  The residents’ associations were united in supporting:

  • relaxing height restrictions on Church and the south side of Randall, while retaining current height restrictions for Lakeshore
  • extensive public access to the riverside and lakefront public lands – with appropriate commerce (restaurants and cafés particularly) on those lands – creation of new riverside parks and elimination of riverside parking
  • repurposing of the Erchless Estate to allow for a restaurant or café on its grounds
  • a new library, performing arts centre, and gallery – dispersed as appropriate between the public sites Downtown
  • the idea of public-private partnerships to help finance the new facilities – no discussion of particular approach but support for the general concept
  • underground and under-street parking, freeing surface public parking lots for development


We (TCRA) noted:

  • the Mayor’s unwillingness to sell his vision for Downtown, and the logic for it
  • the apparently leisurely pace of the Downtown Plan – the apparent lack of urgency
  • the absence of comprehensive visual aids which will allow people to grasp where we are headed in the long term (20-50 years) for Downtown and its adjacent areas, that is, artists’ renderings and models which illustrate the Official Plan as it applies to South-Central Oakville, assuming the various elements envisaged materialize
  • sustained success of Downtown Oakville depends on operational excellence as well as good planning and successful projects.  Operational excellence is very dependent on the attitudes of the people involved, and attitudes are in turn very dependent on clear messages from leaders, along with leading by example.  We noted a gap between intention and practice which needs attention.


Results

The Mayor had concluded that there was insufficient public support for new cultural facilities and so was oriented to refurbishing the existing ones.  Having listened to us, the Mayor was encouraged.  He appears willing to reconsider.
The Mayor will defer the Downtown Cultural Hub update to the Planning and Development Council (PDC), scheduled for November 1, to the November 28, 2016, PDC meeting.  He will do this to give the residents’ associations time to consult with their boards.  He hopes the associations will be able at that time to support a more ambitious Cultural Hub programme.
The Mayor will document his overall vision for Downtown, with specifics and logic and timetable, very quickly  - in time for input to the November 28 PDC meeting.
Assuming enough ongoing support from the residents’ association and Council, the Mayor will lead – will push for – realization of his vision for Downtown.  He suggests that a mid-2020’s date for completion is feasible.
With respect to ongoing operational excellence, we were not successful in making our case.  We need to persist.

WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
If you would like to participate in TCRA’s engagement with the Town and the Downtown merchants on this file, please let us know.  We would be very glad of your help.

As you may imagine, it is hard to stay on top of the Downtown Plan.  It has huge implications for us.  For many of us, Downtown is part of the reason we live where we do.  The infrastructure overhaul will be huge, irrespective of any cultural developments taking place at the same time.  Downtown will be disrupted for years - but we're looking forward to seeing the results

Contact Doug McKirgan at dmckirgan@sympatico.ca, or 905-338-2833.

 

 

downtown revitalization