Contrarian readers are sharply divided about plans to build a seven-storey old people’s apartment where St. John’s United Church now stands. (My own misgivings here.) First the Cons:
Liz Cunningham, owner of a Charles Street crêperie just down the street from the proposed apartment complex, writes:
Finally somebody who sees through the smokescreen, holier than though, social justice, inclusive nonsense.
St John’s United Church is a developer first and foremost. They are seeking variances on lot coverage, height, density, etc, etc, etc. That is all we should be talking about.
My hat’s off though to Louisa Horne and the rest of that group. They are very media saavy if nothing else. As a neighbor who is opposed to the size of the project–nothing else, just the size!–I must say they have done an amazing job of getting their view out in the media, particularly the CBC and the Chronicle Herald….
I can only hope that Regional Council will see this effor for what it is and vote on this project based only on it’s merits and the many variances they are seeking.
Colin May (who not to be an adherent of any church):
The proponents for Spirit Place–sounds rather First Nations, doesn’t it?–are just daring neighbours and councillors to turn their dream to dust. If I was waiting to vote they would be out of luck for several reasons.
Reason 1 – The possible residents are not of any concern to the decision. A council cannot support or oppose the development based on the possible sexual orientation of residents. Spirit Place is not a group home and therefore not subject to certain planning provisions. It is a residential development and should be treated as such. Implicit in this application is the assumption that persons of certain sexual orientations are having difficulty in finding a place to reside. To date no evidence has been presented to support such assumption.
Reason 2 – The proposed building is too large and is out of characted with the neighbourhood.
The United Church in Canada is facing dramatic declines in worshippers. The congregation at St John’s are looking to engage in a commercial enterprise to subsidise their ability to remain a seperate congregation and are asking the residents of the neighbourhood to assist them. The sexual orientaion of the possible residents is being trumpeted as the main reason why the proposal should be approved.
In downtown Halifax the congregation of St Matthew’s is also facing a dramatic decline in worshippers and is looking to develop the lands between the church and the residence of the Lt Governor. The simple solution for the two congregations is to merge at one building, I’d suggest St Matthew’s, and sell the property at the other site.
If St John’s is sincere in wishing to develop a certain building I would expect them to place that as their first priority and then sell the land to a developer willing to build such a project and one that is acceptable to and in keeping with the neighbourhood. Pursuing such a course of action would also help their fellow worshippers at St Matthew’s.
Sprit Place is being proposed very close to my home. I am in favor of the purpose and philosophy of this enterprise. However, I am very worried about the impact of the size and scale of this project on my neighbourhood. The design looks just massive. Spirit Place will be awfully big and will function in quite a different way than the church it will replace. I belong to a group of neighbours who are concerned about the seven story proposal being considered on a rather small piece of R-2 (residential property). We are a diverse group of people and our argument with this development has only ever been about its size. At no time has anyone expressed opposition to the vision and mandate of this proposal.
What are some other facts about Sprit Place? This is what I have been told at public meetings:
- A shrinking congregation has made money for repairs and up keep for the former St. John’s Church impossible.
- Projected building cost for Spirit Place are presently 13-14 million dollars and will be borrowed as mortgage.
- There is no information that can be given yet as to what any of the rents will be for the units ( “affordable” ones or regular ones).
- Appeals for grants have been made.
- The building has to be seven stories ((no compromise here at all whatsoever) in order to make the project “financially viable” i.e. seven stories (or more) is the essential size needed to generate enough income to pay borrowed money used to build the new church and housing units.
- If the housing unit is smaller, rents will have to be increased to pay for the new church and housing units
Because I want a smaller Spirit Place housing structure, I will be accused of preventing affordable housing for seniors. Must the neighbourhood bear the burden of living with the impact of this vast structure because St. John’s United Church cannot afford to build what they want? I believe that we all share the neighbourhood and should be able to cooperate and come up with a smaller sized Spirit Place.
A supporter of the project, Marian Lindsay, sees the church’s response to the decline in parisioners as creative:
First, rather than fighting the inevitable demise of traditional churches, and spending tons of money to keep a dying church standing, they’ve found a creative way to continue their ministry in the area — and potentially serve the community in more concrete ways, too.
Second, maybe the GLBT angle is a red-herring, but just because there’s a law against discrimination doesn’t mean discrimination disappears. I bet lots of people in the GLBT community would feel more welcome and relaxed in a place that pro-actively encouraged them to live there. So I can’t agree with you that it’s just a silly ploy to divert attention from the zoning variance issue.
Third, Halifax needs to encourage higher density in the central city, and seniors are our fastest growing population. For density, there’s nowhere to go but up–and this isn’t even very far up, for heaven’s sake. We can’t all cling to our big, single family houses, that take up–and waste–so much space. What better service could you provide people in this area? Their idea to provide space for community agencies is also brilliant. Vancouver rewards developers who combine commercial and housing structures with space for social organizations. They aren’t doing that here, so it’s great that a church has the foresight and vision to do it, instead.
Relax, Contrarian: From the street, it should look very similar to the average street frontage of most downtown city areas, with facades built to look like the old architecture of our town. Spirit Place is not much taller than the original church–or the medical building about a block away–[so] what’s the problem? Is it just a taller building that has you feeling so uncomfortable? Having a lot of space to oneself, though considered a birthright in this country, cannot be sustained in this present world. Those who insist on not allowing change to come are being pretty selfish, if it’s hindering some people from getting adequate housing at all.
Perhaps you would prefer to build a low-rise building; “Mean Spirited Place” might be a good name for that.
Ted Sutcliffe, who writes the Square Feet Blog, agrees:
There’s something pathetic about a city that makes a church congregation jump through hoops as it tries to redevelop its property to rebuild a smaller sanctuary and finance it for the future by building 65 apartments for seniors.
The Chronicle Herald called the redevelopment of St. John’s United Church property at Windsor and Willow streets controversial. The project is not at all controversial. A few residents are upset about it because they think it’s too big. It’s not. In fact, it is only about 12 feet higher than the existing church at its highest point and will be much lower than the church had been at the west end where the new sanctuary is located.
City staff, cautious to a fault, recommended a public hearing be held on the project. City council, paranoid to a fault, voted Tuesday night with a show of hands, 17 to 4, to go that route. (There has been no public hearing for the $100+ million convention center.)
As I said on my blog last Sept. 10, this project is a sympathetic solution to the congregation’s problem, and meets the objectives of the municipal plan to encourage infill projects that put more people on the peninsula. Were this project given encouragement other congregations might see opportunities in their own church properties.
The city should be falling over itself to help projects like this. If a church group can’t get enthusiastic support for a project that meets the city’s own guidelines what message should anyone else take from the experience who might have wanted to put his imagination and industry to work?
Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of making mistakes … fear has paralyzed this city and it’s the poorer for it.
Finally, a reader who asked not to be identified, suggests the whole GLBT theme is an offhand comment that got out of hand:
I have talked to the church reps working on the proposal and the architects, and a friend in the congregation who’s privy to what’s going on. This project was never intended or has any effort been made to market, position or otherwise identify it as a “gay” project. In fact, the whole exercise has been downright weird. The CBC was the first to identify it as a gay project, and the Herald jumped on that in two pieces they’ve written about it. And the swell of opposition has caught the church off guard because they, and the architects, described a very long and personal canvas of the neighbourhood that indicated there was very little opposition to the project. All that said, it is Halifax.