This morning, I cast my vote in favour of approving the demolition of part of the Seours de la Visitation convent at the Ashcroft site on Richmond. I had a very short time to respond to a fast-moving file, and wanted to provide a quick summary of what transpired today.
As residents know, I have consistently and vocally advocated against several iterations of design for the next phase of the Ashcroft convent site. A 25-storey proposal a couple of years ago was universally derided, and another plan to glass in much of the convent that was presented last winter was also deemed wholly inappropriate by much of the community.
As I telegraphed in my newsletter before having to put that publication on hiatus for the duration of the election period, I found the most recent iteration of the design to be much more acceptable to the community at large.
Nonetheless, on August 2 I argued at the Built Heritage sub-Committee that the interface between the old building and the new was still unacceptable. There was too little breathing space between the old building and new, and the new building was simply too overwhelming in comparison to the heritage building. The sub-committee agreed with me, and rejected the proposal, but on the explicit understanding that further work would be done to refine the concept to address my, the community and heritage advocates’ concerns.
Late last week, I received a copy of the revised plans. Ashcroft has removed some density to create more acceptable step-backs and breathing space between the old building and new, and I don’t consider that it is nearly as overwhelming a proposal as it was three weeks ago.
Time constraints and the election constraints on my communications channels meant that I was not able to consult on those plans as widely as I would have liked, though I spent time in conversation with community and heritage leaders in the past few days about how to proceed.
The decision came down to a simple calculation. We could reject this compromise, which, in my view, would likely result in several years more discussion during which time the convent would continue to deteriorate. Or, we could accept the compromise which met the spirit of what I was seeking at the beginning of the month: a building that is no longer as overwhelming, and that provides a gentler transition to the height that’s been approved behind.
With little time in which to decide, I chose to support the new plan and finally see a way forward to preserving the convent.
The commitment that staff have made to me is that, when the zoning for the new building moves forward, we will see strong legal language in that to ensure that the convent is preserved when the new building is built, and that one cannot move forward without the other.
There are still multiple decisions that have to be made. I am not supportive of proposals for new height in the last phases of the development, and I continue to seek some way forward out of the entry/egress/transportation mess that this development creates. I need to continue to work during the zoning on maximizing community benefits and putting strong protections in place to ensure those move forward. On all three fronts, I believe I will have staff’s and my colleagues’ support.
I hope that summary provides some insight into my vote today. I look forward to working with you in the next months to ensure the zoning is approved in a way that protects the public interest.