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“Nuclear option” or resumption of original plans?

In March 2015, in the dying days of the Wynne government, the Province of Ontario announced it was disposing of a 12-hectare parcel of Fennell Avenue West land that was part of the former Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital. The main building, Century Manor is a Victorian structure that has long been eyed by heritage advocates for possible restoration.At that time the local councillor. Terry Whitehead welcomed the move. He said he would   ask staff to do an assessment of potential uses for the lands noting it could be valuable if rezoned residential.

“It’s not about taking a building (Century Manor),” Whitehead said Friday. “It’s about whether we want to control our destiny and how those lands are developed … We preserve what we need to preserve and then allow development where it needs to be developed. There’s a chance we could bring some money in. There are all kinds of possibilities here.”

In less than two months Whitehead announced he had hammered out a three-way deal with then MPP Ted McMeekin for the property. The province would sell the land to the City. The City would then sell the land to Mohawk College across the street for its future needs, and the proceeds would support the construction of a residential tower on York Boulevard that would contain some affordable housing units. Mohawk had agreed to restore Century Manor and turn it into student residences. At the time McMeekin said that even though the election was only weeks away, and the Liberals were facing certain defeat, the money was locked in with Treasury Board and could not be altered by a new government. Bur five months later, the Ford government did exactly that, cancelling the entire project.

Last Friday the Ministry once again announced that the land was being rezoned and that some of it would be available for residential development. At Planning Committee this week, ward councillor John-Paul Danko called the provincial move a “Nuclear bomb” decrying a lack of consultation with the city prior to the announcement.

The Director of Planning and Development Jason Thorne said that although he has not been able to get a clear sense of the Province’s plans for the site, the Ministerial zoning “has added permissions (single, multi-residential) to the institutional zoning that is already in place.” He also assured the committee that the portion of the lands near the mountain brow would continue to be protected from development.

 In response to a query from the Bay Observer the Ministry strongly suggested some form of long-term-care housing will be part of the plan, presumably partly financed by the sale of some of the land to the private sector. The Ministry spokesperson wrote: “We believe that the development of long-term care and residential housing is a option for this site. The site has not been sold and no final decision has been made on the future use of the site. However, the change to the zoning of this site does not remove the permission of institutional uses for the site – such as the option proposed by Mohawk College. It simply adds the ability for residential housing to be built, including housing for veterans, seniors and students.”

Asked what form the multi-residential use could look like, Planning Director Steve Robichaud said the zoning  would allow for towers of up to 18 stories, adding that there could be “multiple 18-storey buildings” allowed on  the site.

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