Forgive me if I can’t get too excited about the recently released Orléans Integrated Community Improvement Plan. You see I’ve been down this road before. I’ve seen Community Improvement Plans come and go and most of them are destined for the city archives to collect dust.
The main object of this latest Community Improvement Plan is to help kick-start the revitalization of St. Joseph Blvd.
The word revitalization would suggest that St. Joseph Blvd. was once vitalized. Of course that’s never been the case, and it’s become less so ever since the expansion of Innes Road at the beginning of the 2000s with all the commercial development that came with it.
City politicians and business leaders have been trying to “revitalize” St. Joseph Blvd. for more that 25 years. During my first tenure with the Orléans Star in the late 90s, I followed the Orléans Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to get rid of the hydro poles along St. Joseph and bury the overhead wires that was led by former Chamber of Commerce president Diane Boucher.
The best the city could do was install concrete conduits along St. Joseph at the main intersections when the street was rehabilitated in 2003.
Those conduits are still under St. Joseph waiting for the wires that never came. The irony is that by the time the wires are eventually buried – whenever that day comes – the conduits will have to be replaced.
The city is hoping that incentives in the form of grants will entice businesses to either redevelop their existing properties and create living spaces above commercial businesses, or build new mixed use properties with the same concept.
Unfortunately, after 20 years of trying, not a single mixed-use property has been created on St. Joseph despite the numerous recommendations contained in the St. Joseph Corridor Study, conducted in 2003, and the St. Joseph Community Improvement Plan which was created in 2009.
Under the former plan, three major projects were completed – the Royal Garden retire-ment residence, the St. Joseph Shoppers Drug Mart across from Place d’Orléans, and the Place d’Orléans Farm Boy.
Two of the projects – the Farm Boy and Royal Garden accomplish at least some of what the city has been hoping for. Royal Garden brought people to St. Joseph by creating living spaces, and the Farm Boy is both aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly.
As for the Shoppers Drug Mart, it doesn’t do a whole lot for me or the surrounding area.
The city is hoping the LRT expansion along Hwy. 174 and the handful of LRT stations that will be built at Jeanne d’Arc Blvd., Orléans Blvd. and Champlain Blvd. will create commercial and residential inten-sification. In other words, you can expect to see high-rises in excess of nine storeys on Youville Drive and around the Orléans Town Centre next to Centrum Blvd.
Be that as it may, there’s no question that the LRT expansion provides the city with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to finally get St. Joseph Blvd. right.
But to get it right you need to start with a vision.
The vision shared by most people is to see St. Joseph turned into a user-friendly throroughfare and not an alternate route to get from Fallingbrook and Queenswood Heights to Montreal Road and further downtown. If you want to witness the worst St. Joseph can be, try driving down the street when the 174 is reduced to one lane during the LRT construction.
Once the LRT line is completed, St. Joseph needs to either be reduced to one lane in each direction with a turning lane in the middle, or one lane in each direction with on-street parking on both sides and a median down the middle with trees and flowers. In either case, the overhead wires need to be buried under the street once and for all.
In the meantime, every effort needs to be made to replace aging properties with new mixed use development that combines com-mercial businesses on the main floor with residential dwellings on the floors above that are no more than four storeys high.
Only then will St. Joseph Boulevard fulfill its potential and finally become the “main street of Orléans.
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