Visions for the Outer Station Area

Carl Bray’s graduate students in Planning at Queen’s presented three proposals yesterday for what the area around the Outer Station could look like. Invited guests were Paul Schliesmann from the Whig Standard, Greg Newman and Chris Wicke from the City of Kingston Planning Department, developer Ben Pilon who was unable to attend, and Anne Lougheed and myself from Wellington X (Sayyida and I had presented to the class in January). One group of students was charged with being “green,” a second with planning for minimal intervention, and a third with including the WSE. The event was really interesting as a way of framing issues that will come up in Secondary Planning consultations that will include this area of the city. Thanks very much to Carl and the students for their work!

Here’s an aerial view so you can orient yourself (Counter Street is at the north, Harvey at the west, and Montreal to the east):

outer station area

The “green” group proposed a big swath of park and trail along the old railway lines, some affordable “growhome” row housing and raised community gardens on the old Frontenac Tile site, a Community Enterprise Centre, and a bus stop cafe on Montreal near a public art space. They suggested keeping the train station as a “curated ruin” rather than restoring or moving it (actually, all three groups kept the train station in place). Industrial uses to the west of Harvey and south of Hickson were left unchanged.

The next group put in quite an intensive grid of small streets in the area north of Hickson and east of Harvey Streets to “make connections.” They proposed a school and a library in the Frontenac Tile area, and a mix of walkup apartments, townhouses, and so on. They suggested an existing Steel fabricator could become a training facility associated with St. Lawrence College.

The last group suggested the largest changes to the area, including the WSE. This group imagined the WSE at its northern end as a “destination”: a commercial/residential corridor rather than just a thoroughfare. The goal of the road (two lanes each direction at peak hours) would be to “calm Montreal Street down” and to separate the industrial part of the area from the mixed-use part. This plan had the least parkland, erasing the curve of the old train track, though the greenspace there was hooked in nicely up to Counter Street by the existing apartment buildings.

Needless to say, the WSE-centred plan seemed the most problematic to us. In the question period, I said that the commercial-residential WSE was a lose-lose proposition: it would both channel traffic through residential neighbourhoods further south (not to mention Fluhrer Park), and steal business from downtown or prevent the commercial rebirth of Montreal Street. Or maybe neither the shoppers, tenants, businesses, or traffic would materialize, and then it would become an empty liability. The planners in the audience seemed to share my skepticism. One pointed out that the fact that the WSE doesn’t go through to the 401 would make it less desirable for commercial tenants than Montreal or Division Streets.

Another area of skepticism that emerged during discussion was about the combination of brownfields and residential development. It was suggested that single family homes require the maximal level of soil remediation, so are likely to generate insufficient revenue per square foot of land to be feasible. Would higher buildings be more financially viable and/or appropriate? Perhaps higher buildings could help fund cleanup in parkland? Otherwise, how could the City on its own afford to do that parkland remediation? One of the rationales of the WSE is that it would “unlock development.” But it seems there are a lot of reasons why this isn’t prime industrial park or residential land; the WSE seems unlikely to  be a magic bullet. It might be a draw for a big box store or some storage lockers, but… please tell me that’s not worth it!

As one student said near the end, this area of Kingston is both close to downtown and close to the 401: it should be more valuable than it is. But maybe this dilemma invites us to think of what value (and values) we are seeking. The value seems to me to lie in the space this area provides for trades and light industry near downtown, and also in its unofficial greenspace that feels somehow far away from urban life while in fact being very close. It’s pretty exhilarating to be up there, as this photo of our bike tour last summer shows. Hopefully the Secondary Planning process will help us see this part of town as more than a void to be filled, and will generate some ideas that are within the realm of financial viability too. DSCN4002

— Laura Murray

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