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Developer sensitive to St. Joe's importance

The architect who’s designing a condominium development on the site of the former St. Joseph’s hospital site is keenly aware of the building’s importance to Sudburians.
Michael Allen Architects is designing the 190-unit condominium project for Niagara-based Panoramic Properties, which owns eight other buildings in Sudbury. File photo.
The architect who’s designing a condominium development on the site of the former St. Joseph’s hospital site is keenly aware of the building’s importance to Sudburians.

Michael Allen, of Michael Allen Architects in Niagara Falls, said the firm is committed to working with residents in the area to ease their fears as much as possible. Allen’s firm is designing the 190-unit condominium project for Niagara-based Panoramic Properties, which owns eight other buildings in Sudbury.

“I think everyone in the city has emotional ties to that building,” Allen said in a phone interview. “A lot of people were born there, a lot of people were cured there, and a lot of people died there.

“But we think this is a great project for the city. We want to work with the people who have an emotional attachment to the building to make sure that when we’re finished, the emotions they have are positive.”

That’s a tall order considering many people are still upset the former hospital was sold to a private company, rather than being taken over by the city and added to Bell Park in some way.

The 2010 sale took place two years ago next month. While the city made an offer to the Sisters of St. Joseph to buy the 4.5-acre property, the offer was contingent on the sisters paying for the demolition of the hospital site beforehand, something the nuns said they couldn’t afford. Panoramic’s offer, said to be around $1.34 million, didn’t require demolition.

There was controversy over when former Mayor John Rodriguez knew about the sisters’ intention to sell, and why city council wasn’t informed. The sisters said they kept the mayor informed the whole time and gave the city a last-minute chance to bid. But Rodriguez said by the time the city learned of the offer, there wasn’t enough time to counter. It was a done deal before most of the city knew about it.

“That was very wrong,” Helena Hall Shewchuk, who lives on Paris Street, said. “The hospital should have been taken over by the city, with the help of the province. And I think that could have happened. It could have been a different outcome.

“We didn’t have an opportunity for a public forum so they could decide on alternatives.”

So it’s no surprise that Shewchuk is upset to hear condominiums are planned for the former hospital. She and her husband moved to that part of town specifically to be close to the hospital, and to Bell Park.

“We liked having it there, right next to Bell Park, and we also thought that in the long run, it would be converted to a long-term care facility,” she said. “But that didn’t happen. And it was very sad to see that it was sold for a song to an out-of-town developer.

“Whenever we look out our front window, we can see the Mason Building. It’s a very sad testament to the times.”

Under Panoramic’s plan, the Mason Building, located beside the hospital, is slated for demolition to make room for a 65-unit condo building, which would be added to the 125 units slated for the former hospital site.

Steve Ripley, who sits on Greater Sudbury’s Bell Park Advisory Panel, says he respects Panoramic’s right to develop the property, but is keen to ensure that all land belonging to Bell Park is returned to the park. In particular, he wants the parking lot returned.

“I’m sure they will be respectful, but I just want to make sure that they know we are watching,” Ripley said, adding that he was speaking as a private citizen, not as a member of the Bell Park Advisory Panel. “The city is the caretaker of the park, but it belongs to the citizens of Sudbury … And the additional parking lot … was leased to the sisters by the city.”

“We want to make sure that any land that was lent to the hospital is returned to the park … That property is ours and should be used for the park.”

He hasn’t had any contact yet with Panoramic, but says he’s confident they are aware of local sensitivities when it comes to the project.

“I’m sure Panoramic will be respectful and mindful … but where are they going to put all those cars?” Ripley said. “That’s the thing. They’re talking about building a multi-level parking garage, but you still need land to do that.

“I wanted to be sure that people knew an application had been made to start developing the property, and that the citizens know what their rights are.”

Ripley said the Bell Park panel normally meets four times a year. The last meeting was a month ago, but Ripley expects a special meeting will be called soon to look into the proposal.

Ward 10 Coun. Frances Caldarelli also sits on the panel. She said she could support the project, depending on what details emerge in the coming weeks and months.

“I think we have to go forward,” Caldarelli said. “There will always be some people who will never really be pleased about anything going in there. But the place has been empty for a couple of years now. We have to do something.

“So I think apartments or condos are probably your best bet … They’re the least intrusive, I think.”

At first glance, the part of the project that concerns her is the demolition of the Mason in favour of a new structure.

“The thought of taking down that building and putting 65 units there concerns me. It’s more of a traffic issue. Facer Street is all residential, and so is that part of Paris Street.

“If it was just going straight residential, with a lower density, I would think it’s probably as good as it’s going to get. And (Panoramic) may well be open to some changes.”

She hopes the company starts the public hearings process as soon as possible. The best way to deal with public concerns is to make as much detail as possible public, and give everyone as much opportunity as possible to comment, she said.

“If people are upset about things, get it out in the open as soon as possible,” she said. “Because then maybe there are changes (Panoramic) can make to its application to make it more palatable to people.”

For his part, Allen said he hopes to begin meeting with people in the area very soon. In fact, he’s coming to town in a few weeks with a conceptual drawing of the building.

He also said the project includes the construction of a parking facility on land the company owns. They won’t be looking to acquire any more property or rights to the existing parking lot.

“That land definitely does belong to the city,” he said. “There have been a lot of rumblings about parking, but we are definitely not going to be touching any of the city’s land or the parkland.

“We will be, as part of the development, building a parking structure that will accommodate the condominium development.”

While no timelines for construction are in place, Allen said they’re eager to start construction as soon as possible.

“We’re into the process with the city for the rezoning, and as soon as we’re through that process, we’ll have a better timeline,” he said. “But we’d like to start as soon as possible once we’re finished with the rezoning.”

Panoramic owns about eight properties in Sudbury, including Lakeshore Manor on Lake Nepahwin and Commodore Apartments on Ramsey View Court. Dollar value of the St. Joe’s project is still confidential until plans are more solid.

“When we get our plans formalized and finalized, we’ll be able to disclose that,” Allen said, adding the company will hold public hearings, as well as informal meetings with residents in the area.

“Right now, our concern is creating a project that is going to be positive for the people of Sudbury. Our focus is making sure that it’s a good fit for the community.”

Posted by Arron Pickard

Darren MacDonald

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