Hamilton Tall Buildings Guidelines featured in NRU

Posted with permission of the publisher of NRU Publishing Inc. Original article first appeared in Novae Res Urbis – GTA Edition, Vol. 19 No. 16, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Written by Dominik Matusik.

The City of Hamilton is trying to come to terms with what is tall in the Hamilton context. While the downtown secondary plan permits tall buildings in locations where impacts on sun, shade, wind and public spaces can be mitigated, specific design criteria are needed regarding height, fit and context. In response,
tall building design guidelines have been drafted.

Hamilton senior project manager Christine Newbold wrote in an email to NRU that the intent of the guidelines is to provide direction on where tall buildings should be located, “and how they should integrate with and complement the unique heritage, character and varying contexts of the downtown and surrounding neighbourhoods.”

Created by SvN, the tall building guidelines for downtown Hamilton are intended to inform the city’s on-going review of the downtown secondary plan. SvN senior planner and urban designer Shonda Wang told NRU that SvN used the original secondary plan as a starting point, not to re-create the vision that was established, but to refine and update it to ensure that it remains relevant. The downtown core has the potential to be very walkable and bike-able as it grows, thanks in part to the “intimate” scale of the downtown. She said there are some high-quality infill developments coming downtown. “So because we’ve developed [the guidelines] in parallel to that [secondary plan] process, I think there’s a lot of strength in where the guidelines are…consistent with the messaging of the secondary plan and vice-versa. It has been a highly iterative process, now that we have the draft final guideline document, the city is doing the same thing where [it is] going back and seeing where [it] needs to update the secondary plan to ensure that the priorities are reflected in the policy document,” she said.

Wang emphasized the importance of Hamilton’s natural features in crafting the guidelines. “The downtown is so uniquely positioned from so many perspectives— from a physical growth and intensification perspective —… it’s framed physically by the harbour generally to the north and the escarpment frames the south end, so those were two natural heritage assets that were really important to the community as we were coming forward to them [with the guidelines],” she said.

The guidelines are shaped by 10 principles, and, according to Wang, are intended to respond to the natural heritage assets, as well as the built heritage and open space elements of downtown. The guidelines also establish seven character areas in the downtown. Wang said that SvN’s approach to projects is to look at the unique attributes of a place, whether it is the topography, or the underlying character of the area.

“[We’re] trying to tease out what are the existing attributes, the community’s vision for these character areas. And also importantly, because we are talking about guidelines as a product, what are the design priorities for each of these areas?” Wang said. According to the tall buildings study, the 10 tallest buildings
in Hamilton were all constructed prior to 1990, with the tallest being the 127m Landmark Place building at 100 Main Street East, which dates from 1974. There are currently two projects under construction—one which would take second place and the other would tie for third spot among tallest building – the 108m Royal Connaught at 82-114 King Street East, and the 103m The Connoly at 98 James Street South. A public consultation meeting on the draft tall building guidelines is scheduled for April 27. Then they are expected to be considered by the design review panel in May or June. Both the guidelines and the updated secondary plan are anticipated to be before the planning committee and council this fall.

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We prepare detailed Design Guidelines for municipalities in order to advance the policies, goals and objectives of Official Plans and Official Community Plans, specifically those related to the design of streets, parks, open spaces and buildings. We apply our combined technical and design expertise to the creation of effective and comprehensive guidelines.