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Bridge relocation triggers Northern Junk debate

A large-scale redevelopment application for the Northern Junk buildings elicited a wide range of reactions last week.

Despite his newness on council, Ben Isitt launched the question period with guns blazing.

“I think our council is being saddled with the poor decision of the previous council to allow the developer to entertain the idea that public land can be available,” he charged. “This has gone too far already.”

Reliance Properties, which bought the heritage buildings two years ago, has included city boulevards to the south and east in its development proposal. Council last year agreed to consider the sale of the land to Reliance.

One developer should not have an “inside scoop” on very lucrative land because they happen to own the adjacent property, Isitt argued.

Some on council shared concerns with the scale of the project, likening it to the Regent Hotel which dominates the waterfront landscape.

Others, however, saw the proposal as a positive development promising to transform a derelict no-man’s land into a thriving hub.

Coun. Geoff Young said he enthusiastically supports the project.

The project makes better use of the land now used for parking and triangles of greenspace leftover from when city engineers in the 1960s “destroyed blocks of old Victoria buildings to serve the needs of the automobile,” he said.

City heritage planner Steve Barber also supported the project, calling it a sympathetic redesign.

“This is essential to the economic viability of the successful rescue of these very significant community buildings,” Barber said.

Views of the harbour will be altered, but not significantly blocked, he argued.

“What in fact will happen, is that it will help to open up the waterfront for pedestrian use, with a vibrancy similar that to what you experience at the patio of the Canoe Club. This will help to recapture the harbour from some of the undesirable activities that have become prevalent,” he said.

Council agreed on the need to evaluate the project in context of the new Johnson Street bridge. The applicant’s current drawings show the existing bridge, which doesn’t take into account the land opened up by the bridge’s relocation to the north.

Coun. Pam Madoff argued in favour of taking a step back to re-envision the space, with an eye to recreating the landscape bulldozed 50 years ago.

“I want to see a squared up intersection rather than a freeway off-ramp,” she said of the curved road leading away from the bridge onto Wharf Street.

Her vision, however, doesn’t square with preliminary drawings of the road realignments.

Project lead Mike Lai discussed the plans.

“A lot of work in terms of configuration of that approach has been done by our design team … It’s not a dramatic change from the configuration today, but one of the roads has been shifted further north to accommodate the new bridge,” he said.

The curving roadway, connecting to the one-way traffic on both Johnson Street and Pandora Avenue, is essential to keeping traffic moving swiftly, and not backing up when the bridge is raised for passing boats, Lai explained.

Council voted to get more information before deciding whether to send the application to a public hearing.

 

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