Residents voice praise and concern for high-rise condo phase of Mill project

Wally Thorbjornsson standing outside of outside Hawthorne Mill.
Carleton Place developer Wally Thorbjornsson stands outside Hawthorne Mill. He has plans to turn the old mill into a residential building. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.
Posted on: December 20, 2017

Matthew Behrens
At a recent meeting of the Carleton Place planning and protection committee Manager of Development Services Joanna Bowes presented an extensive report on how a proposed 127-unit, 13-story condominium — a phase of the Hawthorne Mill redevelopment project being undertaken by local developer Volundur (Wally) Thorbjornsson — would impact the community. (Read Developer seeks planning and protection committee support for new project phase for more on her report). Following her report, numerous members of the public stood to voice support and concerns about the project.

Local resident and realtor Laura Keller noted the proposal answers the growing need for quality rental units, and that it would raise the property values of surrounding homes because it would be pedestrian friendly, inject new business to the area, and attract newcomers from outside of town. She said the restoration of heritage properties helps build civic pride and define the town, while the proposal’s intent to clean up the waterfront is a major selling point.

“I know in the summertime people avoid the beach because it’s polluted, so having that cleaned up will be nice for families to use,” she said.

Christion Szpilfogel, who works in the Kanata high-tech sector, said a growing number of his staff have been moving to Carleton Place, prompting him to start investing in the area, buying a number of properties “because I think this is a pretty exciting town. The development that I’m seeing here is exactly the kind of thing that would attract me into the area as well as a lot of my colleagues.”

Resident Jennifer Irwin, who works in the heritage field, recalled last summer’s open houses on the proposed project, explaining Carleton Place residents felt a close bond with the old mill building “and many of them really want to see it come alive again. Buildings like this can play a really big part in economic development. Towns that preserve and promote their heritage buildings benefit economically.”

She added that heritage preservation is a destination driver for many tourists ,some of whom are encouraged to resettle when charmed by well-preserved areas. “You don’t have to be a heritage buff to restore old buildings,” she concluded. “It’s simply good business.”

Also expressing support for the development was realtor Ralph Shaw, who said he’s starting to see a wave of “exciting new investors” coming into the town and looking at the downtown core in a whole new light. “This new generation sees the vitality of the downtown, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as you start to put more bums in beds who can walk into the core. It’s what the BIA and the Chamber of Commerce have talked about for 35 years.”

He also said the development would be a catalyst to increase access to the Mississippi River, and is pleased to see plans to rehabilitate the currently contaminated site. “The brownfield cleanup alone is worth its weight in gold,” he said.

However, not all residents were as enthusiastic in their support of the project. Local resident Radek Bandzierz read out a 13-page submission that alleged the town is violating its official plan to “suit the project of the month.” Bandzierz said that the proposed project “will affect this town, its citizens and our precious beach area for decades to come,” and told councillors it is one of the most important decisions they will make as their term comes to a close in 2018.

Given the town’s signature “Meet Me on the Mississippi” slogan, he urged caution given potential beach impacts, and also said traffic flow should be a significant consideration. He also wanted a thorough costing of how much the development might cost taxpayers, and pleaded with councillors to move beyond what he called “one of the principal claims to fame of this council… barroom brawling and occasionally scrapping with a member of the public. Your renown goes far beyond our borders and that is very unfortunate for the reputation of our town.”

Bandzierz concluded that while he did support the first two phases of the project, he believed the town needs to engage in a “big picture, longer term analysis” of potential impacts while looking at what forms of compromise might be required to facilitate what he considered reasonable development.

Having heard the concerns of members of the public, developer Volundur (Wally) Thorbjornsson rose to explain that with respect to cleanliness of the beach, “right now we have a polluted industrial site fenced off by barbed wire and surveillance cameras right at the beach. Is that your idea of clean? What I’m looking to do with my proposal is to open up this area for all of the residents of Carleton Place to enjoy.” He said he is donating some of the land to Carleton Place while cleaning up the existing site, and “doing all in our power” to make the beach as accessible and pristine as possible.

He also said there’s no need for taxpayers to worry about funding infrastructure costs because the key elements like water and sewer have been in place for decades and were long ago paid for by the previous property owners. “No upgrades are needed to that infrastructure. It’s a win-win situation for the developer and the town where an infill project fits within the road, the water, the sewer, and the parkland.”

Thorbjornsson called himself a small developer who is committing to a major undertaking. “I’m bound and determined to finish that project” as a contribution to the town’s rapid growth, he continued, noting that financing is in place for the project’s first two phases. He said recent bylaw changes would mean he needn’t have to pay standard development charges for infrastructure that is already in place.

In acknowledging one resident’s concerns about big picture concerns, Thorbjornsson said the many studies yet to be completed would assist in that analysis and allow him and the town to work out compromises down the road that would work in everyone’s best interest. He said the current application process has already cost $100,000, and that the conditional approval was necessary before investing $1 million for future studies. “For someone to spend that amount of money not knowing if they will get the approval or not, I don’t think anyone would do that,” he said.

“I understand the concerns of the neighbourhood, and I understand it means major changes, but I think in time the neighbourhood will live in peace with it,” the developer concluded.  “I think people will understand and feel the benefit of it, and when we look at the will of the 11,000 people living in the community, unfortunately, a few of them are affected, but when we look at the greater good of this community, I think this proposal is exactly what this town needs.”

While some residents said the size of the proposed development would change the small-town feel of Carleton Place, Thorbjornsson acknowledged that “the official plan does say small-town feel, but with council approving 3,000 cookie-cutter homes in the last three or four years, I think that feeling has washed away very quickly.” He also declared that the 13-storey part of his development would leave the town with a “legacy project.”

2 thoughts on “Residents voice praise and concern for high-rise condo phase of Mill project

  1. Tammy Jordan

    I would say yes and have this 13 story structure approved. I fully support the development idea and feel it will enhance our community!

  2. David Flegg

    The major concern is with a 13 story apt. Building right beside the Beach and the impact it will have on the neighborhood as well as our beautiful Riverside Park. There were 6 residents that voiced concerns about the project …but only 1 is mentioned in the article…while all the project supporters are given prominent mention….
    Interesting…. certainly not fair and balanced. Thirteen story buildings beside the beach belong in Cancun…mot Carleton Place.

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