Every Stratfordite knows we have a long history of fighting to preserve public land. From City Hall and the Gordon Block, to opposing commercial encroachment into the parks system, Stratfordites have been successful in protecting the community's scenic streetscapes.
Then fast forward to today's current debate - the Erie Street parking lot. As someone who has lived in five apartments on Wellington Street, three of them with views of the parking lot itself, I fail to see the scenic splendor of the space. It is a parking lot, plain and simple asphalt.
As an environmentalist and planner, I see simple at-grade parking lots not only lacking in beauty, but an inherent waste of land. There are much more efficient ways to use land that could add much more to the community - tiered parking is one, mixed-use buildings with underground parking are even better.
The essential planning question in this entire debate is simple: Do you support intensification or urban sprawl? The reality is Stratford is surrounded by prime agricultural land. If we want to protect this land, as our Official Plan indicates, we have to use the land within Stratford much more efficiently.
This means intensification, so not only is there a need to develop Erie Street, but it also means other underused land (i.e. Kalbfleisch's, Downie Street, Cooper Site, etc.) all should be considered for mixed-use developments. This is not a matter of one, under-used piece of land versus another, this is a matter of having all of these potential development areas used much more efficiently. Either we build within the city, or we build on the edge of it. Given where gas prices are going, it makes sense to go inward and closer to our cores if we can. And, in Stratford, we can.
The success of downtown depends upon this. To say the core doesn't need an infusion of residents and investment is a complete lie. Assessments in the core have fallen by $3.5 million since last April. That means less tax money and less money to promote the core. With some stores opening and closing with the theatre season, there is a need to have year-round residents supporting downtown. To do this we need more apartments/condos and more parking.
Demographically, intensification makes sense. The single fastest growing demographic is single people. Whether they are seniors, or young people, the day of the three-bedroom house on the edge of the city is going to be eclipsed by a demographic trend that is looking to downsize and move closer to amenities. Stratford already has a rental property crisis and star-
ing down this demographic reality without adequate rental/condo space will not do the community any favours in the near future.
Now, of course, when we talk of intensification people get their backs up. Intensification can be done horribly wrong. To be fair, we have seen some ugly buildings built in this city. But that's one of the benefits of working with a developer on city-owned land; you have much more control over the end result. Under the Planning Act, municipalities have a hard time getting good design. But if the city owns the land, we can use performance bonds to ensure whatever is built looks good and truly serves the community.
As an environmentalist, a planner and resident of downtown, I do not support the "no" development option. This is not good planning, it is not good environmental policy and it is not good for downtown.
However, my support for development is dependent upon great design. There has to be easily accessible short-term parking, there has to be delivery access, the alley must resemble a pedestrian mall lined with retail opportunities and greenery, and the development itself should be residential in nature and complement the historic aesthetics of the downtown.
If there is great design, as the city can ensure with performance bonds, there is not a single planning, environmental or good downtown citizen argument that can claim developing Erie Street is a bad thing.