Townhouses for any food group

Dave Bartlett
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The developer of a proposed project in St, John’s says it could be a cornerstone in a renaissance of the downtown’s west end.

At a city planning committee meeting this week, a proposal was presented to redevelop the former Swift Meats building on Brine Street, near the bottom of Hamilton Avenue, into about 10 townhouses.

Members of council at the meeting seemed pleased with the proposal, which was also recommended by city staff.

“The neighborhood is changing after years with little development activity,” states the memorandum from the planning staff included in the meeting’s agenda.

Staff also note the project meets the objective of the current municipal plan to “encourage compact urban form by encouraging higher density development in residential areas where feasible, and reinforcing older areas through compact renewal and redevelopment projects.”

The building has been home to The Lettuce Farm, which has grown lettuce and herbs hydroponically year-round for the last 12 years.

The farm would be moved from the basement to a different part of the building, as its owner, Chris Snellen, is a 50 per cent partner in Croat, the development company. The other half is owned by a group which includes Derek Locke, who spoke to The Telegram about the project this week.

“We thought it would be … the first incarnation of the meat packing district for St. John’s,” Locke said.

New York City’s meat packing district was largely converted to a swanky, upscale neighbourhood in the 1990s.

“What we would do is keep the integrity of the (three-storey concrete) building and the footprint, and convert the current portion of the building that’s running (from) the corner of Hamilton (Avenue) and Brine Street into townhomes,” Locke said.

The building’s current zoning allows residential homes in the upper floors of commercial buildings, but an amendment to city regulations will be needed to allow them on the ground floor. However, there is already precedent to make that change.

Recycled energy

A laundromat would also be moved into the building from another nearby property, and waste heat and CO2 from the laundromat will be used to help grow the lettuce.

The basement would become parking garages for the individual townhouses, said Locke.

He said his group must still submit final drawings and floor plans to council and the heritage committee before getting final approval. Those plans are currently being drafted, but the hope is between eight and 11 townhouses can fit into the building.

When asked how he became involved in the project, Locke said Snellen approached him about the possibility of redeveloping the building to help keep his costs down.

Locke said the value of real estate, especially in the downtown, has risen significantly over the last 15 years.

“We ran the numbers and it made a lot of sense to us,” he said.

Locke said the style of the buildings would be “industrial contemporary,” but the current exterior would be dressed up from what it is now.

The townhouses will also have roof-top gardens and high-end interiors.

“We’re very excited,” said Locke. “That whole area of the city, the west end of Water Street, the time has sort of come because every other aspect of downtown ... from Signal Hill all the way down to ... The Delta (has) all been developed or is in the process.”

He hopes council will approve the plan so construction on the first phase can start in the not-to-distant future.

Organizations: Swift Meats, The Lettuce Farm

Geographic location: Brine Street, Hamilton Avenue, New York City Water Street Signal Hill

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Recent comments

  • odderin
    January 05, 2012 - 10:48

    Wonderful idea! I love the energy efficiency and especially the lettuce! I could wish the buildings were a little less ultra-modern in design though... that sort of thing always looks out of date within 5 years. also, my vote for 'lettuce inn'.... mr. smith you are brilliant

  • Pat
    January 05, 2012 - 09:57

    I think this is fabulous! Congratulations to the developers for their ingenuity!! I love that the structure will be a mix of residential and business, will have roof top gardens as well as the Lettuce farm, and also that is makes use but updates the current building. Bravo.

  • Jean
    January 05, 2012 - 09:41

    What negativity -- this is a great idea, and stays within the existing footprint of the building. It allows for innovative use of the structure, and shows some real ingenuity. What's up with all the sniping? This is true progress, unlike the monstrosity Bristol proposed for Water East, and all people can do is whine.

  • Joe B
    November 28, 2011 - 17:35

    Wow, that's one ugly building and they turned down the Fortis development? I hope they don't go with this, its ugly.........

  • Matt Smith
    November 28, 2011 - 14:18

    Call it the "Lettuce Inn" town homes.

    • Joe
      November 28, 2011 - 14:52

      Hahahaha! "Lettuce Inn".... now that's funny!

  • Anonymous
    November 28, 2011 - 14:00

    I wouldn't expect any trouble from Shannie and her cohorts. The area has about as much "heritage" value as any other part of the city, but it's mostly a low income neighbourhood. It wont be blocking the views of the yuppies, elitists, and rubber-booters on Gower Street, so it will likely be rubber-stamped.

  • Barbara
    November 28, 2011 - 11:56

    Great idea and about time. But I hate the colour! Do they really intend to build it in that hideous colour scheme? Doesn't suit the downtown at all.

  • Bob
    November 28, 2011 - 10:41

    I’ve long thought that it is time for the West end of Water Street to be developed as it should be, and as it once was. With the exception of a couple of mostly antique/second hand stores, there’s little to bring foot traffic past Waldegrave Street. It’d be great if there was a continuation of the shops and restaurants. I’d love to see someone develop some new rowhouses with lower shop space along Water Street West, particularly along the green strip where the old Irving HQ was.

  • Confused
    November 28, 2011 - 09:59

    Are these design plans for the new HMP?

  • Confused
    November 28, 2011 - 09:56

    Are these design plans for the new HMP?

  • Don
    November 28, 2011 - 08:53

    Look, I'm all for sustainability, and I'm glad to see that a project like this is economically feasible. But please, go back to the drawing board on these architectural renderings. When drawings like these get the thumbs up from developers, it makes me question their sanity. Take your time (and pay the price) to get it right in the planning is worth it in the end.

  • Tom Watters
    November 28, 2011 - 08:23

    Damn that is ugly. Looks like the penitentiary.

  • nomore duff
    November 28, 2011 - 07:36

    Not a chance in St John's. Shannie will not approve. The heritage police are coming for you!!!