Mixed-use project meets old-soul community

How a sustainable development plans to fit into a neighbourhood with deep-rooted locals
Thursday, October 1, 2015
by Rebecca Melnyk

In 2011, when the City of Guelph proposed a plan to develop the former site of a W.C. Wood appliance manufacturing plant in an east-end neighbourhood called The Ward, deep-rooted residents worried the character of their mid-19th century community would disappear. The geography of the once predominately European immigrant enclave, a 15 minute walk from the downtown core, was on the brink of becoming part of downtown, too.

Initial plans for the brownfields site, which Kilmer Brownfield Equity Fund remediated before Fusion Homes bought it, were calling for a community of four to 18-storey condos. Now known as The Metalworks, the urban project aims to complement Guelph’s Downtown Secondary Plan, positioned to revitalize the downtown, rather than focus solely on the outskirts.

“When the city first called for a meeting to let people know the changes to downtown, no one from the neighbourhood went because no one knew the city was talking about The Ward,” says Maria Pezzano, chair of The Ward Residents Association, five years later.

Formed specifically in response to The Metalworks, the association eventually had a say in project details and decided to adopt a positive attitude about what would ultimately bring value to the area.

“We came up with this concept that we need the development to fit into the neighbourhood, not the neighbourhood to fit into the development,” Pezzano emphasizes.

Neal Hallock, director of land operations and high rise at Fusion Homes, says this developer-public relationship was a key factor in the planning process.

“The relationship developed from the first public meeting where we started showing concepts,” he says. “There was a lot of positive and negative talk and everything in between, but we were very passionate about listening to what they felt was necessary and desirable in that area, even having our architects at the meetings.”

Connective green space

For both sides, a major necessity has been creating a sustainable neighbourhood. The Ward is viewed among many as one of the first sustainable neighbourhoods in Guelph. It once had its own economy; there was a butcher, a shoemaker, a hatter, small grocers, some of which still stand. Residents would walk to work at the nearby factory or to downtown. Local amenities kept them from driving out of the community.

A reflection of these attributes will gradually surface as The Metalworks completes five phases, totalling about $300 million to be built over a five to 10-year period. So far, phase one of the 10-storey, 600-unit project includes the construction of 119 apartment units, 14 townhouses, a fitness centre and pet spa, all expected to be finished by 2017. However, along with the residential component, Fusion Homes will weave commercial and green space into the mix, making the community even more sustainable in a city emerging as a leader in renewable projects.

“One of the biggest sustainability features is giving life to a site we never thought would have life again,” adds Hallock.

From the eight-acre site, 2.5 acres will be dedicated green space, including courtyards and the River Walk, a 50-foot-wide walkway on flood plain land along the Speed River. The River Walk will play a leading role in sustainability since pedestrian traffic will help connect the downtown core to the development, encouraging a more environmentally-friendly commute.

Hallock also points out that during phase one, stormwater harvesting will be used for watering plants on the walkway. Throughout the remaining phases, the builders will introduce green roofs, low-flow and low-demand LED fixtures, low-light emission for pollution control, and will follow LEED principles, such as sourcing local products for the exterior and interior finishes.

Creating a neighbourhood from scratch

Once complete, The Metalworks will have created a neighbourhood from scratch, a seemingly large feat in the early stages that requires attention to the incoming demographic.

“You have to put yourself in the homeowners shoes and ask what is needed in order to feel more like home and offer a sense of community,” adds Hallock. “A lot of that is setting a vibe that will draw like-minded people together.”

Amenities will be gradually introduced to the site. There are big hopes for the heritage building, a potential spot for restaurants or a place for people to grab drinks after work or a grocery store or market, where people can congregate and meet their neighbours.

The condos, which are now more than 70 per cent sold, will house a mix of what Hallock calls “right-sizers.” Many had already owned a single-detached family home and are looking for a low-maintenance lifestyle. Many are about to enter retirement, while others are first time homebuyers, including young families or couples.

In mid-September, long-time residents of The Ward looked on as the project team and Pezzano, shovel in hand, attended the official groundbreaking ceremony. Locals are now more receptive to how the development will fit into their neighbourhood, and connect them to downtown and the Speed River.

“It’s the first time in 100 years that people will have access to that part of the river, so it’s a pretty significant development,” adds Pezzano, whose family had lived across from The Metalworks site for 50 years. “It’s ultimately making the area more desirable, and property values will increase as well.”

Rebecca Melnyk is online editor of Building Strategies & Sustainability and Canadian Property Management @rebeccachirp





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