Guest post: Historic 500 Lot Area building standards and guidelines

Submitted by Joan Cumming, a long-time Sydney Street resident who attended the 27 April Public Meeting for the 199 Grafton residential/parkade/commercial development proposal

At the public meeting on April 27, 2021, I quoted to you from the “Standards and Guidelines” section of the report by the Planning Partnership approved by Council a few years ago, highlighting their comments on large and taller buildings proposed for the historic 500 Lot Area


Larger & Taller Buildings Have the Greatest Civic Responsibilities

The 500 Lot Area has a long history of large and tall buildings. Historic buildings, such as St. Dunstan’s Basilica or the Rodd Charlottetown Hotel, exhibit architectural grandeur that corresponds to their scale and civic importance. The way they are situate on their sites, the expressed massing, material quality, and design detail, all work in concert to enhance their stature while positively contributing to their context. By contrast, more contemporary large-scaled developments, such as the Delta Prince Edward, exhibit far lesser care for their context or design quality. Consequently, by virtue of their scale, they sit prominently and distractingly in the streetscape, constantly reinforcing the perception of large-scale being synonymous with bad design.The Standard & Guidelines recognize that large-scaled buildings are, and will continue to be, part of the urban fabric of the 500 Lot Area. However, these developments should be directed only to where they already exist and can be accommodated, and subject to stringent conditions and performance standards. Appropriate setbacks and massing are especially important to ensuring that these building do not overwhelm and adversely impact streetscapes and adjacent properties with respect to matters such as sky view, wind, and shadows. Given their visual prominence, these buildings should be held to the highest design standards, exhibiting landmark architectural qualities. Furthermore, these development rights ought to be privileged through a bonus afforded only in exchange for public benefits such as heritage protection, community amenities, or public realm improvements.


The development currently under review is nowhere near compliant with these recommendations nor is it a structure of civic importance like the majority of past and present tall buildings in the city.

I would like to have spent more time reminding those present of what dire straits Charlottetown has been in since last spring with COVID-19 restrictions keeping visitors away, devastating the local economy, and showing us just how deeply dependent we are on attracting tourists. 

Why do visitors come to our city?  Firstly, because of its signature place in the history of this country, but once here they are totally surprised and captivated by the uniqueness and charm of the place.  I know, because I have been hosting them for over 30 years and have enjoyed taking them on walking tours for the last twenty.  I know what they love, admire, and wished they had in their part of the world — the built evidence of our history lining the streets.  These streetscapes should be preserved at all costs — in fact, any resident who owns a “designated heritage property” is subjected to restrictions by City bylaws if they want to make improvements or changes to it. 

Why is it not the same for big-building developers?  Anyone building “infill” in the 500 Lot Area should be obliged to adhere to the bylaws but instead, the reverse seems to be the case because approval of zoning changes and variances seem to be the norm rather than the exception.  This encourages developers to dictate what they want to City Council and to push the limits to get the optimum benefit out of empty space, sometimes to the detriment of those living nearby, often regardless of the negative impact on a streetscape, and showing no respect for the City’s efforts at heritage preservation.

What should be required of such projects is that they be in harmony with what is already there, not something which is distracting.  The Planning Partnership study does not promote the concept of “modern” being a desirable or appealing contrast with the historic gems I mentioned like City Hall and the three churches on Prince Street!  None of my guests or walkers on my tours has ever raved about the glass and metal structures that have appeared in the city core in the last few years but rather mention how these ruin the character of an otherwise attractive street.  To keep travellers interested in coming here, returning for longer stays, and encouraging others to do the same, Charlottetown has to remain an icon with a high standard of integrating the old with the new

This proposal fails miserably to do that and should be sent back to the drawing board.