By Bruce Bowden
ACO Port Hope is again dealing with issues surrounding the 65 Ward Street heritage property. This past June, Southbridge submitted planning applications for a high-rise long-term care facility, which was an entirely new concept for the site and required zoning amendments due to its height and other issues. In September, we sent a letter to Council expressing deep concerns about this new proposal noting that while the ACO certainly supports the urgent need in Port Hope for new, up-to-date long-term care homes to replace Southbridge’s now-dated facilities, we were troubled about the impacts of Southbridge’s new proposal and the fact that many seniors in Port Hope were describing the proposed new facility as “soulless,” “warehouse-like” and “bleak.”
In the letter, we stated, “the new facility will be considerably larger than the one originally planned as it is to be 7 storeys in height, and much more massive in its U-shaped ‘box-like’ form. At the south side of the site, a huge, barren parking lot will create an uncomfortable ‘hole’ in the consistency of the area. In addition, the activities on the site will change the nature of the adjacent streets, with added traffic and possible need for on-street parking on visitor days when the on-site parking may not be sufficient for staff, residents and visitors.” The difference in scale between the current buildings on the site and a 192-bed 7-storey facility will be dramatic.
We believed that this proposed new facility was simply too big for the site, and we therefore recommended that the Southbridge project be relocated to a more suitable site through a land swap with the Municipality, as we had been given to understand that other possible sites are available which would be larger and more appropriate. This, we believed, would provide the developer with the opportunity to lessen the impact of their facility on any surrounding neighbourhood and create a more warm and inviting home by reducing the height and mass of the building, minimizing the prominence of the parking lot, and increasing the size of the outdoor space. This would also mean that the current Hope Street Terrace residents would not need to live within a construction site for two or three years while the new facility was being built.
Other groups and individuals also expressed concerns regarding Southbridge’s proposed new facility. Most of the people who made written submissions to the Municipality shared our concerns about the size and scale of the proposed building, the loss of green space and the detrimental impact that this building would have upon the surrounding historic neighbourhood. Many were also concerned that the approval of such a structure in this area would set a precedent for the approval of similar buildings in other heritage areas of Port Hope.
There were also many complaints that such a massive, high-rise structure with limited outdoor space was an out-dated and unsuitable model for a new long-term care facility and actually would constitute the ‘warehousing’ of seniors. Indeed, Dr. Patricia Spindel, in her submission from Seniors for Social Action Ontario, suggested that “Southbridge is promoting an outdated, morally unsustainable model of ‘care’ that will meet its economy of scale requirements but in the eyes of many, especially the 95% of Canadians over the age of 65 who have reported that they never want to enter an institution and will do all that they can to stay out of one, also violates the human rights of those forced to live there because they have no choice in the absence of any other community-based care options.”
In January 2022, we encouraged our membership to make their views regarding the issues surrounding the 65 Ward Street historic site known to the Municipality if they hadn’t already done so, and on February 15, 2022 when the matter came before the Port Hope Council, the Councillors voted 6 – 2 to deny the zoning amendments. We are now waiting for Southbridge to determine their next course of action.