Both the city of Brantford and Laurier are looking for input on what the south side of Colborne Street will look like once redevelopment finishes.

On February 24, the city hosted two community workshops asking residents about what they want to see built along the south side of Colborne Street after demolition. (No date for demolition has been set.) Participants were divided into groups and asked to consider four main aspects: street character, building design, connections and linkages, and activities and animation. Mark Gladysz, Brantford’s senior policy planner, said the purpose of the workshops was to “get public input” before the city solicits proposals about determining building design. Specifically, the city wants input about what residents want to see at the block closest to Grand River Hall, as well as the block closest to Brant Ave. The largest section, the middle, remains the site for the proposed YMCA-Laurier athletic facility.

Representatives from Urban Strategies Inc., a Toronto-based planning and urban design firm assigned to the project, guided the discussions. The firm previously worked with the city from 1998 to 2000 to review the downtown master plan. The company includes in its core values an appreciation for history, citizen participation, inclusion of nature in city planning, and recognition that campuses are unique communities. All these aspects were present in the discussion.

Residents expressed concerns about a few large buildings occupying Colborne Street, creating the possibility for another situation like Harmony Square. Instead, many said they wanted to see a variety of smaller businesses, like shops and cafes. Concerns were raised about preserving the historic nature of Colborne Street, making the redeveloped area pedestrian-friendly, and including grass and trees.

Others raised concerns about attracting residents to downtown. As USI’s Michael Sraga told one group of citizens, “to add life to downtown Colborne, you need people living here, and people with money.” Preferably, residences will not be rental, or street-level. Others expressed concerns about the affordability of living downtown after redevelopment, and how the student population affects the area. “When April comes and the kids go home, this place goes to sleep,” explained one person.

Ideally, the proposed YMCA-Laurier recreational facility will help prevent that bout of sleep. The facility is intended to serve both students and the community. Right now, the main goals are determining exactly what the facility will include, and who will pay for it (the cost is currently estimated at $42 million). As Dave Prang, Laurier’s director of student services, explained, neither the provincial or federal governments have pledged any money towards the project. Prang also said the University considers students to be “key partners” in the project. Students may be asked to vote in a referendum as early as this fall about contributing financially to the project. Prior to the vote, open houses will be held to showcase the plans for the building. According to Prang, one such open house may happen as early as April. Still, the building is a long-term project. At best, construction will begin in the summer, and the building will open in Fall 2012. Any additional student fees to cover costs won’t apply until Fall 2012.

Until then, students can complete an online survey about recreation at Laurier Brantford. Results from the city’s public workshops will be available for viewing from 2 to 6 pm on March 10 at the City Hall foyer. For links to the online survey as well as presentations from the public workshops, visit TheSputnik.ca.

Online survey on recreation services: http://brantford.mylaurier.ca/wilkes/info/visioningsurvey.htm

Presentations and summary notes from the public workshops: http://www.brantford.ca/newsroom/newsreleases/Pages/ParticipateintheRedevelopmentoftheSouthSideofColborne.aspx

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