March 4, 2010: Redeveloping the Convent.
Redeveloping the Convent.
By Hampton Iona Community Group and Island Park, Westboro and West Wellington Community Associations.
(A July readers extra: A timeless article from our older issues.)
On February 1, Ashcroft Homes invited community members to a meeting to discuss the status of their proposals for redeveloping the Sisters of Visitation convent property at 114 Richmond Rd. and the former Billy’s Appliance site at 90 Richmond Rd. The purpose of this meeting, which included a presentation by project architect Rod Leahy and by Ted Fobert of Fotenn Consultants, was to get community input on the proposed planning and design guidelines for the site, which is deemed to be important for both historical and architectural reasons. Ashcroft had also held two previous meetings with the immediate neighbours of the property – those residing on Leighton Terrance, Byron Avenue and Shannon Street – to discuss the specific concerns of those residents. Issues such as access and eggress, drainage, privacy, fencing and land use were raised at those meetings.
The original land grant for the property, in 1839, was to Philip VanKoughnet, who became an elected legislator in Canada West and a leading politician and provincial judge. Architecturally, the 1864 stone house is still much in its original configuration and well-maintained. The convent and stone house will have historic designation and cannot be demolished. Ashcroft is appreciative of the need to find adaptive uses for these historic buildings and has hired an architectural firm from Southern Ontario with significant experience in working with historic buildings to work with Rod Leahy.
At the meeting on February 1 with the general community, Ashcroft presented their vision for the site but did not present any firm designs. Their general plans, however, include: a condominium building along Richmond Road, possibly incorporating a large arch opening up to the convent; preservation of the convent and the adjoining front gardens; a possible building on the northwest corner of the site adjacent to Hilson Public School; and, seniors’ housing on the back portion of the site. The site will only have limited temporary surface parking; most parking will be underground to allow for more green space on the site.
The only road running through the site will be for emergency vehicles, though there will be bicycle and walking paths connecting the Byron tramway and Byron Avenue to Richmond Road as well as a series of courtyards along these paths. Access to the northern part of the site will either be directly onto Richmond Road or off Leighton Terrace. There will also be access for vehicles on the south side of the site connecting to Byron Avenue through the Byron tram-by Ashcroft and the city that this southerly access will be through the tramway corridor rather than along Shannon Street. Ashcroft has advised that, due to how site access and underground parking will be configured, it will not be possible to drive through the site from Richmond to Byron, thereby preventing cut-through traffic.
Issues raised by the community at the February meeting included: the overall density of the project; the height of some buildings, particularly the proposed 10-storey condominium along Richmond Road, and the proposed four-storey building facing Byron Avenue; the limited visibility of the convent from Richmond; the use of the convent building; the potential traffic on Byron and Kensington Avenues due to the vehicular access onto Byron and whether there would be access directly onto Leighton Terrace or via Richmond for the northerly access; and overall timing for submission of Ashcroft’s rezoning application and opportunity for community input.
A group of local residents has formed to look into potential uses of the convent building. In particular this group is looking at the potential for public, community and NGO space and what this would entail.
The next public meeting will be on March 10 from 7 to 9 pm at St. George’s Church. Ashcroft will be seeking community input at this meeting. They will present their rezoning application to city hall later in March; this could limit the time available for community input prior to the city starting its review of the rezoning application.
As the site is currently zoned for institutional use, Ashcroft requires a rezoning to mixed-use – as envisioned in the community design plan for Richmond Road and the resulting Secondary Plan – for them to proceed with their plans. Once the rezoning is in place, Ashcroft should need no further approvals for their development beyond approval of site plans, as the requested rezoning will match what they are planning to build.