Townhouses for any food group

Dave Bartlett
Published on November 28, 2011

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.