Caswell makeover plan takes initial step: Neighbourhood would be reshaped after bus barns move

Courtesy: Star Phoenix

A $7-million plan to turn the south end of Caswell Hill from an area known primarily for the constant hum of buses and semi trucks into an arts district bustling with pedestrians passed its first political test Tuesday.

The city's planning and operations committee approved the concept plan for a south Caswell Hill development, including closing off a portion of 24th Street to traffic.

Coun. Pat Lorje, the area's councillor, said the development would bring positive change to the area but advised the city to avoid being restricted to targeting the arts community because the same idea is being tried in Riversdale and elsewhere.

"There's only so many artists," Lorje said. "Quite frankly, my experience has been that they prefer to live in older, more character homes."

Alan Wallace, the city's senior neighbourhood planner, said the notion of creating an arts hub in the area will have to be tested against the market when the city sends out a request for development.

"We wouldn't want to take away from (other areas)," he said. "We're going to try to direct it in that manner, but we have to always test it."

The south end of Caswell Hill has become traffic heavy during the last decade with a semi-truck repair shop, taxi company headquarters and the transit barns bringing more and more vehicles to the neighbourhood.

The development is a way to ensure the area doesn't "become a big black hole" once transit operations are moved and to create more green space in an area with few parks, said Dorothy Johnstone, president of the Caswell Hill community association.

"We don't want a big vacant lot sitting there," she said.

The plan for the 13-acre area, developed by a Manitoba-based consultant, proposes closing off a block of 24th Street between avenues C and D to create a pedestrian mall, developing a large park space and a small dog park, building affordable housing and reusing the transit maintenance building as a commercial space.

While other areas of the city have been hesitant to embrace affordable housing developments, Caswell Hill residents see it as part of the area's character, Johnstone said.

"We're a bit different that way," she said. "We recognize there are seniors that have to leave the neighbourhood and need an affordable place to live, students for both the university and Kelsey who need affordable housing," Johnstone said.

"We've always been very proactive about supporting mixed housing."

The plan, the end result of 18 months of community consultations, also proposes hanging on to two of the transit buildings -- a 1984 office building at the northeast corner of 24th and Avenue D and the original 1913 street car building at the southwest corner of Avenue C and 24th -- and renovating them for the community's use.

One of the suggestions that came out of community consultation was to create an identity and name for the area, which people envisioned to be "a hub for the arts and creative industries."

Suggestions for names for the area include Caswell Artisan Village Eco-Spaces (CAVES), the Barns or South Caswell Hill Area (SoCa).

The $7 million would go toward environmental cleanup and utility work, land acquisition, landscaping and urban design.

Any development still relies on the approval and funding of a new home for the area's bus barns, the headquarters of the transit department, with a report exploring options expected some time this spring.

Aecom Canada Ltd. was hired one year ago at a cost of $200,000 to find a site and design a concept plan for relocating city transit operations.

Lorje said the bus barns need to move "sooner rather than later."

The south Caswell Hill plan also needs the approval of the municipal planning commission next week and city council in April.

Tyler Frederick

Tyler Frederick

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