‘Signature’ hotel/condo needs height

Developer for The West Lakefront Hotel and Private Residences seeks additional height to deliver a ‘signature’ downtown building on the waterfront

By John Devine
City Scene Barrie

Barrie’s general committee, a packed council chambers and the city at large were presented with a vision of a ‘signature building’ on the site of the old Lakeview Dairy, one that will produce, if approved, the long-desired hotel presence in the downtown core.
But it comes at a cost, namely a zoning change to permit a height of 39.5 metres, up from the current allowance of 30 metres. Proponents and opponents of the requested height change packed council chambers Monday night to have their say.

Rendition of The West Lakefront Hotel and Private Residences, as presented at a public meeting on Monday night at City Hall

At issue is B. E. Groupe’s plan to build The West Lakefront Hotel and Private Residences at 185-205 Dunlop Street East, between the road and the North Shore Trail, west of the Flamingo, an existing 26.5-metre residential building.
The site’s history includes the dairy and a shoe factory. Because of its past industrial use, it is deemed a brownfield site.
The last structure standing at the location included a variety of commercial and retail uses. The shoe factory stood adjacent to the dairy, but had ceased operations years before. That building ended its life housing a number of boutiques and a bar. The dairy remained in operation until the whole lot was demolished in the late 80s.
It has been a vacant lot ever since but has been the target of at least three development proposals over the years, at least one of which included a hotel component. Attracting a hotel to the downtown core has been a long-time municipal goal, identified as such in the Downtown Commercial Master Plan. That document envisioned a hotel/convention centre in downtown Barrie, at the northeast corner of Bayfield and Simcoe streets.
One well-known opponent of the height exemption is Janice Laking, mayor of Barrie from 1988 to 2000. She reminded those in attendance, and the viewing public, that it was her council that bought waterfront lots when they became available, to increase public access to the waterfront.
She said development of the waterfront could be positive, but urged council to maintain the 30-metre height limit. “We must develop it … very carefully.”
Residents expressing an opinion included Mike McClelland, who quoted from one of the City’s own planning documents, Downtown Barrie: The Next Wave, to argue current height restrictions should be enforced. The Next Wave encourages the City to “amend the City’s planning documents to restrict the height of buildings adjacent to the waterfront and the historic main streets of the downtown.”
Marty Stollar, a local developer, urged council to ensure the project presented would be the project delivered if the height exemption were granted. Local lawyer Marshall Green urged committee to endorse the project, saying that other significant development plans proposed for the downtown since the 70s have fallen apart for a number of reasons.
Numerous speakers gave their support to the project, including downtown business owners and those hoping to be future residents.
The proposed development would include an open space between the two towers that provides an unfettered view of the bay. The development would not rise above the Algonquin Ridge, the crest of land surrounding the bay, and the shoreline of the ancient glacial Lake Algonquin.
Even at the requested height, the development would have a lower profile along the ridge than several existing buildings, including City Hall.
The project’s pedestrian-use plans also connect with the City’s goals for access to the waterfront trail. The proposal would provide access to the trail through the property,and also envisions a marina.
The developer’s planner, Ray Duhamel of Jones Consulting, told committee that Groupe could build its project at 30 metres, but the result would be one less ‘significant’ than the current proposal, and would be one with “more massing” stretching up to the edges of the property.
Committee was also told the project would help the city meet its intensification goals as laid out in the province’s Places to Grow policy, which identifies Barrie as a growth centre.
A staff report is expected ready for committee on Dec. 5.

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