Proposed 7-story Office Building for Fitzroy Street

The City of Charlottetown sent along a letter to our landlords here at the office about a proposed development that’s slated for the empty lot two doors up Fitzroy Street:

The City of Charlottetown has received an application in accordance with Section 4.29, Other Variances, for a variance to the property located at 96-100 Fitzroy Street (PTD #’s 344085, 344101 & 344093) which is zoned Downtown Mixed User (DMU), to allow an increase in height from 39.4 feet (12.0 metres) as required by the Zoning and Development Bylaw, to 98s feet (29.8 metres). The pupose of the variance is to permit the construction of a seven story office building. The proposed height of the building from grade to rooftop is eighty five (85) feet. The proposed height of the building from grade to the top of the mechanical penthouse is 98 feet. The proposed building will also be constructed to the property line or zero (0) setback. The attached map shows the location of the proposed structure on the property. In regards to parking the developer is proposing off lot parking or cash-in-lieu or a combination of these options as determined by Council.
As a property owner within 100 meters of this application, you are being notified of the requested variance. The City solicits your comments with respect to the proposed variance. If there are any objection(s) we would appreciate receiving the reasons for the objection(s) within fourteen (14) calendar days of the date of this letter. In accordance with Section 4.29 the City Planning Board will consider this application at its next regular meeting and may then recommend to Council to grant or deny this variance. Written comments on this application should be submitted no later than 12:00 noon on February 19, 2008.
If you have any questions in regards to this proposed variance, please contact the Planning Department at 629-4158.
Rendering of proposed Fitzroy Street building Layout of proposed Fitzroy Street building Block positioning of proposed Fitzroy Street building

The lot in question has been empty for the past few years; formerly it was occupied by a rather dilapidated building which was torn down. In recent years the lot was used as a parking lot for construction workers building the Jean Canfield Building across the street, and last fall the parking lot was closed and an 8 foot high plywood fence was built around 3/4 of the lot. This is what it looks like this morning:

Comments

Shawn's picture
Shawn on February 8, 2008 - 16:20

And it will probably be built without a basement or anyplace to park. The city will probably lease them some spots from the parkade, which is already full most days. I also think this building will go over ten stories tall by the time it is built.

Better get used to it. The area across University Ave from the Jean Canfield building (service station, dry cleaners, and a small apartment building) are also slated for development.

Councillor Rob Lantz's picture
Councillor Rob Lantz on February 8, 2008 - 16:48

Parking is certainly becoming more of a problem again. A good problem to have, but a solution is required. I don’t believe there are any more spaces to lease in the Queen parkade. A task force consisting of individuals from CADC, DCI, among others have just completed a study on the issue of parking downtown. I have not actually seen the report yet.

Where this proposed new building is concerned, they will have to satisfy the parking requirements somehow, but the issue to be dealt with first is the variances; height and setback. I will be reading comments here and taking them into consideration at our next Planning Board meeting.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 8, 2008 - 21:31

Rob, as you asked, here are my thoughts:

1. I think increased density is generally a Good Thing for downtown Charlottetown. It attracts residents, increases business diversity, provides a market for a broader range of services, and increases the tax base.

2. I think the lot in question is an excellent target for development; since I moved my office onto the street it’s been a falling-down old building and a muddy parking lot; there’s little in this world that wouldn’t be an improvement.

3. It’s clear that the downtown core is expanding up University and through Fitzroy Street. I see Euston Street as a natural commercial/residential firewall in this scheme, and think we should seek infill (like this development) before even considering stretching that boundary.

4. I think the four houses at the corner of Fitzroy and Queen, one of which houses my office, are worth preserving, and that, as a collection they are an important heritage resource and an important aesthetic bridge between the monolithic and generic new-style architecture and the surrounding neighbourhoods.

5. As such my only issue with the proposed new development is the lack of setback from the house next door; while I think it’s fine to go up to 98 feet, I think that to do so without completely overwhelming the house next door (and us, its neighbours) requires including a suitable amount of setback (i.e. more than “zero”, as is proposed) between the new building and the house next door.

Dan James's picture
Dan James on February 8, 2008 - 21:38

As one of the “landlords” I wholeheartedly agreed with Peter’s suggestions. The height doesn’t bother me. It is the 0 variance from the house next door. For me it’s more of a design and aesthetic issue. To have balance on this side of the street there needs to be a space between the new building and the house. To butt up right against it will not only be overwhelming but will also look odd.

Ann's picture
Ann on February 8, 2008 - 21:54

I am a neighbour, albeit not quite close enough to be in the notification group. I agree with Peter — I think increased density in the downtown is a good thing. And, as a staunch supporter of downtown, I am thrilled to see development going on all over.I share the concerns about setbacks and scale but generally, yippee.
Now, wouldn’t it be just grand if we could do something about the moribund block on University between Fitzroy and Kent (and on Kent between Queen and University)? It already looked awful — but with development going on all around it, it looks even worse.

Jevon's picture
Jevon on February 8, 2008 - 22:19

I think that letting the Jean Canfield building go up without proper underground parking was a big mistake. Getting rid of parking should not be considered at all as a way of “discounting” the cost of development in a city. If a development cannot handle the cost of the burden they create in the city then the development really just isn’t economically sound.

Speaking of development. I am curious why Charlottetown does not do more to punish landlords who seemingly make no effort to rent the vacant space they have available. (If that is even possible… it may not be,. but it might be) — It seems to me that it is worth exploring whether or not Charlottetown’s economy is so bad that so many storefronts go unoccupied. For its size, Charlottetown seems pretty vibrant, and you do see new businesses going up in far less “prime” locations on a regular basis. Are there even “For lease” signs in the windows of a lot of these vacant properties?

There must be some way to encourage a turnover in these buildings?

Jevon MacDonald's picture
Jevon MacDonald on February 8, 2008 - 22:27

Apologies for going off topic. *blush*

Charles's picture
Charles on February 8, 2008 - 23:35

Screw a new office building, that space should be zoned for another parkade. I’ve been on the waiting list to get into the Fitzroy one for about 5 months now; the one on Queen has been full for years; and Pownal is too far away if you work downtown. The the JCB putting another 600 people int he downtown core (well, most are moving from the ATC or DJM on Kent… but you get the idea) Charlottetown needs parking more than another office building. As Jevon said: there is plenty of available rental space downtown. What we don’t have is parking.

Rob Lantz's picture
Rob Lantz on February 9, 2008 - 00:12

I agree with Jevon’s suggestion that we should punish property owners who leave their buildings vacant, but the first step is to stop rewarding them. You see, at some point in the past someone thought it was a good idea to allow commercial property owners to pay the much lower residential rate if their property has been vacant for five years, I believe. Not only vacant buildings, but empty commercial lots as well. I don’t understand the logic. I spoke with City staff about this only a few days ago, and there is serious talk amongst councillors about putting an end to this. It apparently requires the cooperation of the Province.
To Charles, who said: “Pownal is too far away if you work downtown”. Ah…the Pownal Parkade IS downtown. And it’s not full.

Jevon's picture
Jevon on February 9, 2008 - 07:16

Charles: Pownal parkade is not that far away. In all seriousness — it is a fine place to park and cheap as well.

Rob: Wow! You get a reward for leaving your property vacant right now? That is insane. I can’t wait to see the end of that, and can’t imagine that it would take much work to convince council and the province to go along… (then again, I am often surprised at how politics work,. or don’t. or do)

Can’t wait to hear more.

Ann's picture
Ann on February 9, 2008 - 17:57

That point about the taxes goes a long way toward explaining an often asked question about why so many commercial spaces, all owned by the same person, are vacant downtown. That’s a ridiculous situation and should be fixed. Maybe that person would then be inspired to rent or sell some of his properties.

shannon's picture
shannon on February 10, 2008 - 15:26

In response to the comments about downtown parking, or the lack thereof, I would suggest that the city direct more resources toward strengthening and making more attractive some NON-single-passenger-vehicle modes of transportation such as public transit, bike lanes and bike parking, as well as maintaining the pedestrian friendliness of our streetscapes. We need to reduce pressure on the current parking capacity by diversifying people’s transportation options, not investing in more ugly concrete boxes. On the other hand, when the sea level rises, the top of the parkades just might be the driest spots in the city.

Darren's picture
Darren on February 11, 2008 - 12:20

I like the idea of infill and increased density, provided it complements the wonderful heritage resource that we have in Charlottetown (and P.E.I. for that matter). City and provincial development staff have to realize that we ARE different than other places on this continent. This is simply stating a fact. Our extremely limited geography and 3+ centuries of property ownership/development has given us the landscape and streetscapes that we enjoy today. To simply let what I will bluntly call ugly North American tilt-up buildings and absent-minded architectural styling take over would be a travesty to future generations.

That being said, for that vacant lot next to the old Garden City Dairy, a low-level (ie. < 20 storey) building is a GOOD thing, provided it does include appropriate set-back at street level to keep the streetscape APPEARING to be part of the original 500-lot heritage district.

Right now, any new housing subdivisions or commercial development in the city (I believe) requires payment of certain amounts in lieu of things such as parking spaces, parkland, etc. I think that the city should go one step further and enforce an additional fee that will go exclusively toward a significantly beefed up heritage structure fund. Such a fund could also be topped up by the Immigrant Investor Fund and should be of a sufficient amount to make a major difference in retrofitting and repurposing our numerous heritage structures in this city in order to bring them to modern standards (inside) while maintaining their charm (inside and outside).

As for parking — we have had a lack of parking for decades. Every decade since the 1970s, city council after city council has tried to build parkades at multi-millions of $. And all to give us what? A few hundred more parking spots?

If city council was really serious about improving mobility of this municipality, not to mention the health and well-being of its citizens, then it would bring in a massively beefed up transit system. We have close to 60,000 residents in the census agglomeration area.

We also have a pretty compact geography for the “commuter shed” which stretches largely from Suffolk/Marshfield in the northeast, across to Harrington/Stanhope in the north, Hunter River/Ebenezer in the northwest, Cornwall/Bonshaw in the west and Stratford/Pownal/Mt. Herbert in the east.

Why not bring in a more capable bus system and stop spending money on parking downtown? Why not start dinging the big box outlets in the areas outside downtown in order to pay for increased density, so that merchants downtown don’t suffer from less parking?

There are solutions to every problem, including council’s at-large debate (hint — bring a vote on this topic to the citizens).

Apologies for straying too much! :-)

Go the Distance's picture
Go the Distance on February 12, 2008 - 13:56

Progress requires progressive thinking AND action. Agreed? If yes, proceed.

1. Vacant commercial space in Winnipeg is taxed at DOUBLE the regular commercial rate. If in disrepair and/or still vacant after one year the City has the right to demolish the premises to make way for new dvelopment or sell it another developer**. Time for tax ACTION.

2. Perhaps the City’s economic development authorities (who are suredly trained in this area of expertise**…) have already researched this approach and made recommendations to Council. After all, any one who ever visits the City asks why all the prime niche store fronts are VACANT. City should take ACTION to connect the dots through well researched and prepared reports by City staff, not consultants who do the City staffers work…

3. City could/would/should tax active commercial space downtown at preferential rates (i.e. lower taxes) to encourage downtown development and stop West Royalty and Sherwood from poaching government offices with cheap land, ample parking and ultimately undermining the downtown. This ACTION would be supported by the City’s Oficial Plan (which some Councillors have never read).

Rob Lantz's picture
Rob Lantz on February 16, 2008 - 03:17

I received the Planning staff report on this variance request. Planning Board is meeting on Tuesday, February 19th to discuss and make a recommendation to council. To date, of the 32 notifications that went out soliciting comments, only two (2) responses have been received. The board, quite rightly I think, interprets non-responses as “we don’t care”. If you received a notice please consider sending your thoughts on this. You can email them to Planning staff.

Rob Lantz's picture
Rob Lantz on February 16, 2008 - 04:56

I got some clarification on this whole reversion from commercial to residential tax rate after being vacant for 5 years thingy. I try to explain here.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 17, 2008 - 18:13

I’m writing my response now and will drop it off at City Hall on Monday morning.

adam's picture
adam on February 19, 2008 - 01:09

I would like to see the building constructed. The only complaint seems to becoming from mainly parking issues. Well, here’s an idea- walk, bike, car pool. Islanders (of all the places I have lived in North America), seem to drive everywhere unnecessarily. And now I hearing they would reject a building that would house full-time employment- in general because of laziness, or feel to big for public transit.

Andrew Chisholm's picture
Andrew Chisholm on February 20, 2008 - 21:03

There was a time when I would base my opinion on development with only one factor: whether or not it would look “cool.”

A new seven story building in the Charlottetown skyline would look “cool” in my opinion. A new seven story office tower in Downtown Charlottetown would also bring a lot of business to the area, possibly even for our local web firms. These two factors (coolness and business) are enough for me to base my decision that this building should one-day stand ground in Downtown Charlottetown. However, the proposed location is not something that I am ready to favor just yet.

We have several eye-sores in Downtown Charlottetown which need to be ripped down and replaced with good development; development which will actually do some good for our downtown core. I would like to one-day see the gas station on Fitzroy replaced with an office tower to compliment the Atlantic Technology Center and the Jean Canfield Building.

The lot in question would be better served with a low level wooden development which will leave the south side of Fitzroy from University to Queen with its current appeal. The landlords have done a lot of work in recent years to fix that block up. Rewarding their hard work with a seven story tower just doesn’t seem right.

Tradesperson's picture
Tradesperson on March 18, 2008 - 15:20

I’d like to know who is planing on putting this building up? May be a person can get some work out of it.

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