Mayor Dean Fortin called it a “chance for something spectacular.”
Scaled-down development plans involving the Northern Junk buildings on Wharf Street won a warmer reception from city council last week than a previous version.
Reliance Properties seeks a rezoning and heritage alteration permit to repurpose the two abandoned heritage warehouses near the Johnson Street bridge, and to build a large mixed-use building including 59 units. If approved, the new portion will be located primarily on property now owned by the city. Land-sale negotiations are ongoing.
The company’s revised plan includes one major change: the new building has been split into two smaller ones. The division allows for a view corridor from Wharf Street toward the Inner Harbour.
The project’s public amenities include a plaza and waterfront pathway. The new plan has replaced an elevator down to the pathway with a more accessible route.
“It screams walkability to me,” said Coun. Shellie Gudgeon.
“It will create the much-needed animation.”
“This is potentially a really exciting entranceway to the city,” added Coun. Marianne Alto, qualifying that “Public input is absolutely key.”
On Thursday, council voted to move the proposal to a public hearing.
There are two outstanding budget issues, however.
First, Reliance will likely pay a portion of the harbour pathway’s cost, in exchange for being granted extra density for development.
The added density is valued at $348,000. The pathway, however, will likely cost more than Reliance’s amenity contribution. That means the city will have to pay the remainder.
Second, the developer’s cost to revitalize the two heritage buildings will outweigh their future revenue potential. For this reason, the city will consider measures to support the revitalization, such as a 10-year tax break costing the city a total of $478,000.
Councillors Pam Madoff and Ben Isitt opposed the motion to proceed to public hearing.
Madoff encouraged a more radical revision of the plan that would see a “village of small buildings” on the site. She also felt the heritage buildings were not prominent enough.
Isitt encouraged postponing a decision until the city knows how much it can expect to contribute to the project.
“I feel it is premature,” he said. “We don’t know how much taxpayers will be on the hook.”
A second report detailing this information will come to council before the public hearing.