In September, Master of Planning students from Ryerson University were in Huntsville to launch a three-month project for the Town of Huntsville: a visioning exercise for the Brendale Square area.
The students and professor Dr. Mitchell Kosny met with Councillor Nancy Alcock, who as Chair of Huntsville’s Planning Committee will act in an advisory role to the group, Councillor Bob Stone, Manager of Development Process Kirstin Maxwell and Community Development Officer Scott Ovell, and then took a walking tour of the Brendale Square area.
Dr. Kosny noted that all of the students chose this project – it wasn’t assigned – and that they will be paid in grades, and that their success will depend on support from the Town.
Staff and councillors briefed the students, some of whom have already been employed in their field, on the challenges that would impact a revitalization of the area, including its nine owners, its propensity for flooding, and that it includes the site of a former gas station that requires remediation. Staff also stressed the need for any solution to be feasible and actionable.
“We need something that is feasible and that people don’t freak out and say, ‘it’s great on paper but it will never happen’,” said Alcock. “So there was an added dose of reality which is a good thing to do.”
In addition to gathering information from the business owners in that area, part of their assignment is to speak with other stakeholders, like the Downtown Huntsville BIA.
The students will also facilitate a public meeting on October 18 (details at the end of this post) to present the information they’ve collected to date, outline the purpose and objectives of their project, and gather additional information from those who attend the meeting.
At the end of the project in late November or early December, they’ll present a report to a panel of Ryerson faculty and representatives from the Town of Huntsville.
With some changes already occurring in the area – like the development of a craft brewery in the former Dollarama location – and ownership of the area being in the hands of the private sector, it begs the question, ‘what’s the point?’
“(The craft brewery) will be a tremendous catalyst,” said Alcock, “but if I’m an owner of one of the buildings, I would love to be part of a new vision for the area.”
She added that the students’ recommendations could open up opportunities for public-private partnerships. “It’s classic revitalization, and revitalization done properly requires different partners. We need to show (the owners) what they will get out of it.” Alcock cited parking infrastructure as an example where an investment from the municipality could encourage additional investment from the area’s property owners.
Reclaiming land for the natural environment could also be an option that would require partnerships. “What if the students come back and say they have a recommendation like that?” said Alcock. “That would likely be very expensive but it might be the sort of thing that, at the next opportunity, the municipality could put in an application to the province and the feds for infrastructure partnership programs, much like we did with the Hunters Bay Trail extension.
“If the students come back and say this is a really important piece of the overall picture, then we have to, as a council, decide whether to put it on our list of potential capital projects. We aren’t going to do it if we don’t have buy-in from the developers.”
It’s not the first time Ryerson students have completed projects for the Town of Huntsville. In 2009, they prepared a report, A Vision for Huntsville, that was later used in the development of Huntsville’s Unity Plan.
The public meeting on the Brendale Square area will be held on October 18 from 6-8 p.m. at the Active Living Centre (20 Park Drive). Watch for further details at huntsville.ca.
Note: this post has been updated to reflect a change in the meeting location for October 18.
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free newsletter here.