After months of heated and often acrimonious debate, Sudbury is getting what one city councillor described as an $80-million condominium development at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Health Centre.
Panoramic Properties received unanimous support Oct. 22 for its plans from the city’s planning committee after almost three hours of debate. It was clear early on that changes Panoramic made to its proposal took much of the steam out of the opposition.
Unlike previous public meetings on the plan, which drew packed houses and cries of “shame” from the gallery, the house was barely half full and even the most strident opponents of the plan seemed resigned.
Among those making an appearance at the meeting was former mayor John Rodriguez, who said he had come to “set the record straight” about why the city didn’t buy the property.
It all came down to the cost of demolishing the former hospital, Rodriguez said. The city and the Sisters of St. Joseph, who owned the property, were negotiating in 2007 and had even talked price, but it was all contingent on the province paying the $4 million to $5 million cost of demolishing the hospital building.
“We had offered $1.1 million for the property, without the building,” he said.
When the province told the nuns there was no money to pay demolition costs, Rodriguez said the nuns asked him to petition the province to change its mind. He did, and that was the last he heard about it until the sisters told him they had an unsolicited offer from a southern Ontario developer.
He was told the city had 48 hours to decide what to do. An extension was requested but was denied.
“We would have had to incur costs of $4 million to $5 million to take the building down,” Rodriguez said. “So the position I would have taken, if we had been granted more time, was no, we’re not going to spend taxpayer’s dollars to take the building down. And I have never seen a blade of grass pay taxes to this city.”
After giving his version of events, the former mayor urged councillors to support the condo development, which he praised as an asset to the city.
Michael Allen, whose firm designed the condo development, outlined the changes to the plan, along with city planner Eric Taylor, who gave a detailed description of the history of the property and Panoramic’s plans.
Taylor said Bell Park was given to the city in 1926, totaling about 145 acres, with the condition it be used only as parkland for residents to enjoy. The Sisters of St. Joseph acquired the northern half of the hospital property — about seven acres — from the Stafford family in 1944, Taylor said. The Bell family gave the southern portion of where the hospital now sits to the city in 1944, who then gave the land to the sisters in 1945 to build the hospital.
Allan outlined the changes to the condo plan. Panoramic eliminated amenities planned for the Paris Street site — a wellness centre and a restaurant — and increased the number of residential units on the site to 210 from 190.
That decision will significantly reduce traffic flow around the site. While it still plans to demolish the Mason building, the site will now be landscaped, rather than host a new building, and will include an 11-space parking lot.
The southern section of the former hospital will be demolished and replaced, going from a four-story to an eight-story structure housing 85 residential units. Plans to build a seven-story parking garage have also been scrapped. Instead, Panoramic wants to build a three-story garage underneath the new building.
In total, there will be 332 parking spaces underground and 20 on the surface. With the changes, the total amount of property set aside for landscaping increases to 47 per cent of the 4.5-acre property, compared with 24.3 per cent in the original proposal.
Plans for landscaping include a new bike path and walkway, which would link up with existing paths in Bell Park. The northern area of the property near Facer Street would get new trees, a mix of pine, oak, spruce, maple and birch.
The new structure on the south wing of the hospital will create a 62-foot space between the old building and the new one. That will allow a view of Ramsey Lake that was blocked by the old hospital, without creating new visual obstructions.
The changes elicited praise from the audience and city councillors, who said they were impressed by how responsive the developer has been to public concerns.
“I still believe that a restaurant and wellness centre could have — and could still — work,” Allan said. “But in listening to concerns from the public and city staff, we took them out to try and establish common ground.”
He said construction costs will be significantly higher because 90 per cent of parking will be underground. But winning public and municipal support was worth it.
“The one thing that has impressed me most about this process has been the give and take,” said planning committee chair Dave Kilgour.
“We’re talking about a project here that is probably (going to be worth) $80 million plus,” said Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli. “We talk about the million dollars in new tax revenue this is going to produce. That will easily pay for one or two new roads to be resurfaced.
“I think you’ve done a fantastic job and I fully support it.”
The plan still must be formally approved by city council, but that’s expected to be a formality. Panoramic hopes to begin construction in early 2013.