Building LeBetter Flats, part 5, The Isles

The projected build out of Albert and Chaudiere Islands * starts with the material already at hand, ie the existing buildings.

The former brick and stone mill buildings will be converted to commercial uses, starting in 2015. These offer the quickest revenue opportunity for the developer, Windmill, and I imagine it is much easier to attract firms rather than condo residents. Particularly hi-tech-y firms which show a propensity to edgy industrial sites in other cities in part due to their often young employee age group and non-conventional self-image.

The first buildings to be converted will most likely be on Albert Island, immediately behind the War Museum. The Island is small, making it easier for the developer to digest and get the project going. The existing two buildings are right on Booth Street; a single new building is proposed at the western tip of the Island, right behind the Museum:

3b sharper aerial image from windmill

zooming in closer, the Museum is at the bottom of the picture, Booth Street on the right; and the new ped-cyclist bridge to the island over a control dam is shown on the left (previously subject to this story: :http://www.westsideaction.com/unheralded-bike-ped-bridge-construction/):

3c albert island close up

 

The space between the two old buildings the developer proposed to glass-in to make it a four seasons courtyard. The Isles location is windy, and often considerably colder than the rest of the city (it is no coincidence that the Flats was both a cold sink and slum at the same time). This is a brilliant solution to the challenges of the location, amps the glamour aspect, and makes the spaces useable year round. Here’s an artist’s impression as seen from Booth Street just leaving the Ottawa shoreline behind the Museum:

11b windmill photoshop, entry plaza

The large glass roof is an artist’s impression, lacking as it does much in the way of structure to hold it up. Note that the outside traffic lane on Booth Street has been converted to a bike lane appealing enough for parents to use it with children (more on this in a bit). The occupants of the buildings will have water views just inches beyond their windows, which should be very dramatic and marketable.

Moving into the courtyard:

13 inside the entry plaza courtyard

The proposed indoor / four season plaza will be very welcoming and worthwhile destination on the Islands. The reddish hue to the brick suggests the old buildings are red brick underneath all that gray paint that was slapped on to tidy them up in time for the opening of the War Museum. Again, the glass roof is miraculously unsupported, but it is a marketing picture (selling the project for approval to regulators) and is not intended to be 100% realistic.

Moving on towards Chaudiere Island, the screen grab below shows the dense pattern of high and medium rise buildings proposed. These will be a mix of commercial buildings (offices, hotels, retail)  and condos. The prime location, with immediate water views and views of the downtown, mean these will be higher end buildings. There is no social housing component that I am aware of. Will any of these units meet the City’s housing affordability standards? (Claridge does on the Flats; at a recent Windmill open house I couldn’t get an answer to that).

5 islands themselves, photoshop, closer up

 

As yet, there is no public info as to the proposed palette of materials for the building exteriors. The current Flats projects are mostly brick exteriors, albeit in less-than-popular [NCC-mandated-] yellow and brown. Windmill’s other projects in Ottawa are often brick-free, for eg The Current (home of GCTC, at Holland/Wellington) and The Eddy (Wellington at Spadina). Even their high-end downtown Cathedral Hill condo is mostly clad in metal and panels, with some black brick accents, and stone at the street level. When I look at a number of buildings in Ottawa with metal panels that fade over time, and so-called long-life exterior panels that seem to be delaminating after a mere five years, I am somewhat concerned about the exteriors.  I also suspect that some of these artist impression concept drawings violate Ontario’s new restrictions on how much glazing can be on condo exteriors.

All the concept drawings show Booth Street put on a road diet to two lanes, with some of the existing road asphalt converted to bike lanes and wider sidewalks. There is a third lane shown through Chaudiere Island, presumably it is a left turn lane:

 

6 chaud bridge closer in

and closer to the historic metal bridge over the main channel:

6b closing into the chaud bridge

 

Here’s the bridge after the road diet, with two lanes of traffic, and a green bike lane on each side. It is painted green in this illustration simply to emphasize its presence, since in practice Ottawa doesn’t do green lanes except at selected intersections. I hope these will be cycle tracks similar to Churchill Avenue (set back from road by curb and utility poles and plantings), rather than asphalt lanes designed only by a painted stripe that motorists view as invitations to convenient curbside stopping.

 

7 bike lanes on bridge

 

The bridge isn’t wide enough for both bike lanes and sidewalks, so the walks have been cantilevered off outside edges, which apparently doesn’t affect the bridge’s  ‘heritage’ designation (the same is proposed for Bank Street over the canal):

7.1 canteliever of ped lanes

 

On the north end of the metal bridge span, the roadway continues to split into two narrower bridges with a void in between them. Terraces de la Chaudiere is clearly recognizable on the left, and new buildings on the right:

8 far side of the bridge bike lanes

 

 

Windmill is proposing a number of buildings on Chaudiere Island and the Gatineau shoreline. They have artist’s impressions of the building sizes (the exterior designs are for marketing purposes only) and the spaces between. Here are few screen grabs of these elements:

15 another view of mixed heights, mod bldgs

 

The Gatineau side is not the subject area of this blog, but it too is quite dense with a series of tall buildings and shorter ones. Considerable care appears to have taken to maintain view lines and easy access to the shoreline, with multi user pathways along the channels and river.

16 highrises, gatineau side

 

Artist impression of a residential courtyard: The NCC Flats project has similar courtyards, albeit without a stream but with an occasionally-working fountain. This illustration could apply pretty much equally to either the Isles or the Flats:

16b sidewalk view, their photo

 

In summary, the Isles project appears to me to be very similar to the Flats project already under way. It appears to be more dense, with buildings closer together than the LeBreton Flats project. In fairness though, Claridge and NCC are apparently in talks to increase the density of the existing Flats plan, and one eight storey building just completed started out in the plans as a four storey, grew to six, then eight.

The water itself is a form of open space, and occupants of The Isles will pay for a water view. As shown before, the Flats apartments also have wonderful water views, but are set further back from the waters edge where it is warmer. In an urban environment, the road allowances, such as Wellington and Booth, also become open spaces between buildings.

photoshop closer up, islands

 

I’m optimistic The Isles will develop into an attractive urban environment, reasonably well integrated with the adjacent Flats project  (provided the NCC doesn’t insert more of their often-sterile / dead green buffers between the two — I hear rumours of yet another green space on the southwest side of Booth/Wellington to enhance motorist views of the War Museum, which would further push these two communities apart).   I’m even optimistic that, in the long run, Booth Street through the Flats will be tamed — probably long after I’m dead — after the City’s insensitive rebuilding of Booth starting January 15th into a four lane Bronson-style highway to nowhere, sans bike tracks.

I am even cheerful that the proposed building heights for both the Flats and Isles top out at the low twenties (for now). Compare to Preston-Carling area where Claridge’s now-under-construction ICON building, at 45 stories, will someday be topped by Richcraft’s Carling Station  condos going to Planning Committee in January to approve 58 stories, with a second tower in the low 50’s and the “little” 18 storey building which is growing up to 30. Arnon, owners of the property on the west side of the OTrain Station, will surely seek the same heights.

The Flats and the Isles have come a long way from their industrial past:

30 historic aerial photo from windmill

 

 

A note on picture sources: the sharp images generally come from www.Windmilldevelopments.com site and their planning applications. The fuzzier pictures are screen grabs from their photoshop-animation movie shown at a recent open house in Gatineau. The whole movie should be on their website in late January or February. I copied the whole film off the screen at the open house, but the quality is too atrocious even for my You Tube.  

 

 

 

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* The Isles site does not include the big Victoria Island where the Carbide Mill is and Aboriginal Experiences site nor the Aboriginal Embassy site

Building LeBetter Flats, part 4, Distillery & the Isles

That the general public’s view of the current LeBreton build out is less than unenthusiastic is beyond dispute. What is unsetting is how uninformed those views are since they are the too often the product of drive-by planning. As shown in Part 1 of Building LeBetter Flats, actually walking the site, even with landscaping only partially done, yields a much better experience.

More amazing is the quick public grab onto the proposed project by Windmill Developments for the adjacent islands in the Ottawa River and the Gatineau shoreline.  It will be wonderful *, more like the magic Distillery District in Toronto. Even more amazing is to hear members of the Ottawa planning committee refer to the Distillery District as low rise and intimate.

The Distillery District in Toronto does have a number of restored old industrial buildings, just like The Isles will. That the folks who developed the Distillery are also investors in The Isles is good news. The Distillery also has a lot of new buildings, some mid rise, and some high rise. Very high rise. Here’s a few photos that may surprise you:

IMG_0821

above: entry plaza on the right framed with modern flat iron building, note highrise above, and historic building to the right. Trees along the curb line are a nice touch, but Ottawa forbade this design on the Flats.

below: a few steps further in shows the modern approaches, with historic buildings just beyond, as well as another very high rise. The palette of colours (red, green) and materials (brick and glass) is more appealing to traditional tastes than the NCC’s mandated palette on the Flats of yellow and brown brick, and non-red pavers:

IMG_0824

 

the aerial view below shows just how close the high rises and modern buildings are to the old historic buildings. Such is the power of an excellent street level experience, that many visitors don’t recall seeing any highrises at all.

 

distillery, grist mill lane, pointy bldg

 

Ironically, there was a condo sales office adjacent that I popped into and my jaw dropped, their big project was a close cousin / clone to the Claridge condos already on the Flats in Ottawa. Same architects at work, if I recall correctly.

So what are the Windmill folks proposing for The Isles in the Ottawa River?

Well, it is dense. It does reuse the existing [historic] buildings (the Flats has no historic buildings left, product of the clear-cut urban renewal school of planning now out of fashion). It has tall buildings. In fact, it looks rather like a continuation of what we have now on the Flats, but with a more interesting ground level experience.

This screen grab shows the major blocks in The Isles:

1 name the parcels

 

(viewed from a helicopter over the Flats, the War Museum is just off picture at the bottom left; Booth street runs between the Chaudiere West and Chaudiere East parcels, over the Chaud bridge to Gatineau. The Portage Bridge is shown on the right.

Here’s the heights of the proposed buildings in the project. Chaudiere Island itself has six towers the same heights as the current LeBreton Flats towers, on podium structures also of similar heights. Some of the low buildings are mill structures being repurposed.

2 heights of towers

 

Here’s a photo  that shows the conceptual arrangement of new buildings (in natural cardboard colour) and the existing buildings (in white cardboard). Double click to enlarge:

IMG_1786

 

If we shift the view to include more of the area to the right, of the Flats beyond the War Museum, we can compare the density and scale of the Isles to the NCC’s Flats project as currently built out:

IMG_1787

 

 

next: exploring up close the developments proposed on the Islands

 

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* it will be wonderful …. I am not including, of course,  the “stolen land” segment who want some pre-lapsarian revival there, or to the we need more parkland group.

LeBetter Flats (part 3): when the Senators go marching in …

Stadium - Nice fit (cropped)

I hear that the NCC’s proposal call for the next phase of building the Flats was carefully worded to not exclude a major stadium as a land use*. While we may think the current Canadian Tire Place is still “new”, it is ageing. Apparently major arenas and rinks often only have a 30 year or so lifespan before they are functionally obsolete suboptimal. Built in 1993 as the Palladium, it will be 30 years old in 2023. So its not too soon (according to stadium aficionados) to be investigating a new stadium. And that requires a site.

The Flats are located in a highly visible area, at the crossing of the Confederation and Trillium lines (transit mecca !) with close transit links to Gatineau. Within walking distance of downtown hotels. Surrounded by acres of high rise condos. All features to warm the cockles of a planners fantasy.

Note that the NCC proposal call is for west of Booth Street only; as Claridge still has all the rights to the current approved plans on the east side of Booth. In the opening picture, the blue number 1 marks the site of the current yellow and brown condos on both sides of Fleet Street. Booth is clearly labelled, as is the park for BluesFest and the War Museum at the blue number 2.

[double click to enlarge picture for greater visual enjoyment. Grab a napkin to mop up drool or dry tears. Feel free to print and post the picture on your cubicle wall]

The photoshop picture  simply takes the existing Canadian Tire building and a minimum of parking space and relocates it onto the Flats. The scale is correct. A new building might not look like the “old” existing building, but this way it’s actually easier to imagine the building relocated.

The new stadium just fits in, avoiding the historically-designated aqueduct and Wellington Street. There is still room for high rises between the aqueduct and Albert Street. You can see how easily people could leave the stadium and cross the canal right away at the Broad and Booth crossings. The new Pimisi Station on the Confederation Line will be located running west from Booth, immediately below (south) of the line of buses shown waiting for a green light at the Booth intersection.

Other attendees would exit the stadium and walk west roughly where the transitway is presently located, to access Bayview Station and the OTrain Trillium Line, which might, by 2023, run over the Prince of Wales railway bridge and connect to or parallel the Gatineau Rapibus transitway.  This link is just barely cut off the left edge of the photoshop image below:

Stadium - Nice fit

 

One of the problems with this Sens stadium being built on the Flats is that the Sens probably don’t want it for a few more years, and the NCC is likely to want to develop the Flats sooner than that. Assuming they can move that fast. There is, of course, still the strip of land between Albert and the new Confederation line ripe for high rise heaven all the way from Bayview Station to Bronson Avenue, which the NCC could develop in the meantime. But I think they’ll want the area west of Booth for their next urban nirvana scheme.

So lets push the new Sens stadium further west, to the last phase of the Flats development. This probably fits the NCC and Sens timelines a lot better:

Stadium - Bayview (cropped)

Now the new stadium is west of the Preston Street extension, which opens for a short life on December 21st of this year, but which will be abandoned again in 2016. For fun, the new stadium is shown to scale, but over top of the Confederation Line which runs through the basement. Note the tunnel entrance portal. So the stadium would need to be higher out of the ground than shown here.

Attendees to the stadium would mostly exit on the west (left) side directly into the Bayview Station which will house both the Confederation Line (east-west rail) and the Trillium Line (north south rail). The new Pimisi Station would still be within easy short walk to the east (right; where the busses are shown in the picture).

This stadium site respects the NCC’s “view plane”, a Greber-ism that ensures that JAM parkway motorists surmount the hill that takes them over the railway tracks to that “Oh Wow” moment as they first see the view of the downtown and Parliament.

This stadium location allows the NCC to build out the section of the Flats west of Booth all the way to Preston, which is lots of space for a workable community. And there is some additional narrow space along Albert west of Preston right up to Bayview Station. This would connect the Flats and stadium visually with the two approved 48+ storey office towers on the other side of Albert from Bayview Station. What ever could go wrong?

Here is a larger view:

Stadium - Bayview

 

Could either stadium location on the Flats survive with that little parking?

I think it could. Look at TD Gardens, in Boston:

Stadium - boston without green line

The TD Gardens is the rectangular white building in the centre. Its surface parking lot is on this side of it. Not very big. There are office buildings and residences right up close to the structure. I didn’t see any large parking garages. Notice the freeway entering the famous “Big Dig” tunnel that hides the noisy road through downtown Boston. And the railway tracks running north out of the station and over the Charles River. Under the Boston Gardens is the Boston North railway station.

And also under the Gardens is the metro Green Line. You can see a bit of it running off to the left. Leaving a game — it was Boston vs Sens** — one would expect the subway line to be jammed with people. In fact, the crowds surged down stairs to generous sized platforms, trains whisked in constantly, waits for trains were minimal, there was no jam at all. Wonderful.

In Ottawa, we are building “storage tracks” for extra trains at Tunney’s for east bound surge traffic at events like Canada Day and BluesFest. Extra west-bound trains will be stored on the far side of the downtown core.

Here’s roughly where the green line goes under TD Gardens:

Stadium - boston with green line

A stadium with even less surface parking is Madison Square Gardens in NYC. It has remarkably few basement levels, and accordingly has a higher above-ground profile:

Madison Square Garden Cross-Section

 

Note that locating a stadium west of Preston extinguishes the opportunity for a new Museum of Science and Technology in that area.

What happens to the old Palladium stadium out in Kanata?  I’m afraid it will likely die of old age before the City gets a rapid transit link out to the site. And that transit was a necessary catalyst to get those surface lots redeveloped as office space. Remember, that location was to be the centrepiece of a major real estate play, just like the Flats location is. Maybe it will become a mega church: the Praydium. Who knows.

Just for fun, here is the existing Kanata stadium and its parking lots dropped down onto the Flats, and smothering a few adjacent neighbourhoods too:

Stadium - Bad fit (cropped)

If people can walk from those parking lots to the building, they certainly could walk to a stadium on the Flats.

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* I had the photoshop pictures created about two weeks ago, and then wrote this story a few days ago for release as part of the LeBetter Flats series. Then on Wedn. the news broke that the Sens were looking at the Flats. Well, I snooze, you lose.

Don’t forget to click back (use the blue text just below on the left side) to parts 1 and 2 of this LeBetter Flats series. Part 1 has views you have never seen before of the yellow brick condos; Part 2 is more of interest to fantasy planners. Next: the Isles.ca. And then: what a city famous for planning is doing on its downtown redevelopment site, with lots of pretty pictures to eat your heart out. And no stadium.

You can get all stories from WestSideAction.com by putting your email address in the “subscribe to”  box at the top right of your screen when you scroll back up to the top of the page.

photoshopping by Cosmos Darwin. 

 

** Sens lost.

 

LeBetter Flats (part 2) Some obvious misses …

The existing development of the Flats now underway, could have been better.

Today, let’s look at a number of obvious “misses”.

Then, in subsequent days, we’ll look at Windmill’s The Isles.ca project; then what could go on the next phase of the Flats; and then what another city, somewhat renowed for its planning, did with their urban industrial conversion to new urbanist mecca (with lots of pictures….).

The NCC and City actually get along, sometimes. Other times, they are competitive. Even spiteful. The City was not in a good mood when it hammered out a development deal with the NCC for the Flats. For example, accepted best urban design calls for trees along the curb, setting the pedestrian sidewalk back a bit from the motor traffic. It also serves to visually narrow the road right of way, calming traffic. The City absolutely forbade the NCC to plant trees between the sidewalk and curb. Thus the harsh streetscape not just at the Claridge condos but out by the War Museum. And this restriction continues for the next Claridge buildings and the development along Booth. The City does not impose this elsewhere in the city, just in this special place. And in contrast, the city plan for its street — Albert — is well landscaped with tree traffic splitter islands, inner and outer boulevards, bike tracks, etc  (this is the 2018 build, not the bus-intensive temporary layout you see going in now):

IMG_1838

 

I have talked to senior NCC planners several times to encourage them to get this restriction on their streetscapes removed, but thus far they have shown zero interest.

The City wanted some conspicuously “public”,  “affordable” social housing units. No developer wants to handicap a new development out of the gate with the cheapest, most problematic housing setting the stage, so that building was put into one of the latter blocks to be developed. A block facing Booth Street. But the building needs to meet the long-term elevation of Booth once the LeBreton LRT station is built, and that would be about sixteen feet higher than it is now. And the City wouldn’t build the new Booth without Federal money (it’s their project, they can pay for it...as one city rep told me) , which eventually it got through the LRT joint funding agreement. Within a year or so, Booth will be at the new elevation, and the social housing component won’t be held hostage by either party. Unless they can find a new squabble.

Until then, the new condos sit in bleak isolation. So close to the LeBreton transit station, but a hellish walk to get there, running a gauntlet of parked cars and trucks, on sidewalk-free mud-rich Fleet Street busy with dumptrucks:

IMG_1835

 

Myopically, planners think this OK because residents can walk out on the north side of the buildings and walk uptown along Wellington, as if everyone works downtown, or only wants to go downtown, never anywhere else, and don’t mind the cold northwest winds, and certainly not go anywhere by [ughh…] bus.

Out in the sticks, developers usually “front end” parkland, if only for initial grading and greening, so that buyers have confidence they won’t be in a construction site forever, and the kids will have somewhere to play and the dogs to poop.  On the Flats, parkland is being developed one building parcel at a time. Did no one consider the utility of a bike path being built in 100′ segments, not to be completed until the very last building is built? Or that buyers might like to see growing trees, not just transplants?

If the NCC and City had wanted to, they could have developed the aqueduct into a linear park at the beginning, and trees would be 20 years mature by time the latter buildings are constructed, and buyers would feel they were some place. Instead, this downtown site looks suburban bare, like a converted farm field.

Or worse. Here was the office tower / embassy component site, right in front of the buildings, looking like Beruit / Bagdad / Aleppo on a good day. It took a lot of confidence to buy a home facing a debris-scattered pit:

D:DCIM108DICAMDSCI0245.JPG

 

Fortunately, the NCC is now filling in this pit and landscaping it. But why $3 million now, for a “temporary” landscaping feature to create a “bold drive by experience”, when they couldn’t put trees, landscaping, or a path in advance of residents for fear construction might disturb it later? Does it really take an annoyed cabinet minister to get tired of the view to demand something better? Can we get cabinet ministers to use transit?

And this is avoiding comment on how well the city develops and [doesn’t] maintain its share of the bits of finished parkland.

Now planners could point to the park in front of the War Museum as developed green space. On paper, it meets the checklist: trees, check. Grass, check. Paved paths, check. Benches, check. Animation, check (if only for two weeks of NoiseFest). But compare the boring, flat, minimally developed space with say, Confederation Park, or Major’s Hill, and the inutility of the park for use by the residential public becomes obvious. Like the Fallen FireFighter’s Monument, it is designed for occasional use, to be a nice drive-by, and utterly unused most of the time. Maybe, once the Flats is more built out, and if it is built with lots of residences, and maybe a hotel or two, the park could be augmented with shrubs and people-user-friendly features.

Where is there a play structure or tot lot or pathway bench for the residents of the new buildings? Perhaps they are supposed to load their kids into the car seat in the underground garage and drive somewhere else for little Chloe to eat some sand?

The Flats was, like all good new urbanist projects, to be mixed use. Alas, the site reserved for the offices / embassies remains unwanted, depriving the area of ongoing activity and customers for commercial space. Other major redevelopments offer incentives to early commercial tenants or find some user for the office building. But here, the NCC handed off the site to another department, and heavens, no department dare talk to another. Silos are sacred. In a few days,when we look at another project similar to LeBreton, we’ll see in some detail how well they promoted — and attained — a vibrant mixed use right out of the gate.

Claridge rented out one store front in the first building for a while, but the tenant disappeared. A subsidy or below-market rent may have been necessary until enough people moved in to support a shop. Community building isn’t necessarily self supporting before the residents are all there. Another developer is putting its vacant storefronts in Ashcroft Canyon to good use for seasonal and pop up stores.  If you are looking for a condo, the Flats area still feels isolated, barren, inactive, dead. The closest business, the Mill Street Brew Pub, is geographically close but feels distant.

Not unexpectedly, the NCC wants to minimize the land take for streets in the new neighbourhood. This includes  Booth. So they agreed, some time ago, for a maximum width for Booth. Which the City is reconstructing (work starts in early 2015) almost entirely as a road (not a street) for fast commuting. No treed boulevard. No bike track. No “complete street”. Just ugly. Worse than Bronson, except newer.

And the NCC is going along with it. A much better street could be achieved by increasing the right of way just a bit, to allow for a centre boulevard, a plant strip along the curb, bike track, sidewalk, and a friendly street frontage, while preventing the city from turning all into commuter lanes. Instead, senior NCC planners looked agape at me when I reminded them that THEIR plan for the Flats called for storefronts along Booth, curbside parking,  as a traditional main street with storefronts, with apartments above. Somehow, Booth remains disconnected in City and NCC planners’ minds from the principles of good planning and the long term goals of redeveloping the Flats, to say nothing of mismatching their agreed-upon designs for The Isles development.

Another missed opportunity comes at Bayview Station. The City and NCC identified that this station was on a high point of land, with great (potential) views of the downtown and Ottawa River. But after identifying the view potential, and after acknowledging the dramatic place-building opportunity they had, the City decided its LRT stations must reflect our mayor’s frugality (as if capitalizing on a view costs money…) and be simply applied engineering solutions, so the design was tweaked to ignore (if not actually spite)  the views and place making opportunities. The City absolutely refuses to talk to the NCC about doing better here, because of its policy to focus only on the big “asks” for the major stations, like downtown and the western parkway.

In turn, the NCC continues to focus on motorists’ views — but never transit’s — along the western commuter expressway and the protected view plane for motorists from Greber’s Prince of Wales railway bridge overpass/hill, and even the motorist view plane from Holland Avenue to Tunney’s Pasture, and ignores the tens of thousands of future daily users of the Bayview Station where the Confederation and Trillium lines meet, and the LRT network that will extend (someday) to Gatineau. That transit users are human, or even tourists, still escapes their 1970’s-car-centric thinking.

There are signs of change at the NCC, and with some intervention, Kristmanson and Watson could still authorize slight changes to the Bayview platform to make it a significant public place with a focussed view line to the downtown. If only.

Aside from stations, the new Confederation line track runs through the Flats. Lots of new buildings will overlook it. Is there any effort to “green” the tracks? In European countries especially the track right of way is landscaped and well considered. Other than specifying some trees and shrubs be planted along the right of way, no one here views it as a visual asset. We landscape streets and roads, and maintain verges and rights of way, but the rail rights of way are largely ignored, perhaps a legacy of their industrial past or a product of city and NCC planners and managers not being transit users. Any bets our LRT corridors will look this nice?:

grass tram2

 

Could the NCC miss anything else? Why yes. The Flats master plan calls for a major pedestrian and cyclist north south alignment that runs roughly from Rochester to Broad Street alignment, across the aqueduct via one of the historic bridges, out to the Museum park (the paved walkway is already installed there) and then over top of the War Museum via the pathway already in place there, and then over the [being rebuilt now] ped bridge from the back of the Museum over the water channel to the Isles development site. Whew. Will be great when its finished. Except … the City has “forgotten” to provide a crossing of the Confederation Line tracks and the NCC has neglected to insist on one. Oops. The time to install a crossing, especially if it is an underpass, is before the tracks are laid, not after.

The Flats still has enormous potential. More buildings means more life. More buildings change the scale and foster acceptance of development. More varied users add life all day. The NCC is finally adding some more green amenity space. The Pimisi and Bayview Stations will appear over the next three years, dramatically altering the perception of the Flats from being no-where to being wonderful. Planners have to focus on the future community, and the city fabric, and less on the area as a place to drive-through-to-somewhere-else.

And we must avoid the temptation of some grand mega-building or mega-institution dropping out of the sky to solve all our problems. Which is the subject coming up next, when the Senators come marching in.

 

 

LeBetter Flats (part 1) Yellow, Brown … silver too

The NCC’s current LeBreton Flats project comes in for a lot of criticism.

I think it’s mostly drive-by criticism, with all the scatter gun impreciseness and alienation implied by the term. For some time now I ask people criticizing the yellow brick buildings on the Flats if they have actually walked around them.

Naah. Couldn’t bother. We even had a prominent real estate developer criticize them at at community planning meeting and He hadn’t actually been out there. Talk about shoot from the lip.

Here’s some pictures that show the buildings from the street and the grounds, but not from the JAM Commuter Expressway or Albert Street.

IMG_1592

above: The indoor pool looks out through high windows onto parkland.

IMG_1593

above: the buildings have a surprising number of acute angles, two large modern arches, and a lot of variation within the modern exterior vocabulary. Garage doors are concealed from the street. Blue tile walls announce entryways.

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While neighbourhood planners wanted lower buildings (5 storey podiums with 10 storey towers) the city and NCC settled on 7 storey podiums and 14 storey towers. The courtyard arrangement has been au courant in world planning circles for the last decade and is still going strong. It is the style adopted for the Distillery in the Toronto and the Isles.ca on the Ottawa River (more on that in a few days). Not unexpectedly, Claridge wants to trade-in some of the next planned buildings for much taller ones.

I think one major reason for the negative reaction to the buildings has been the remoteness of the site with little surrounding context, and the unusual yellow and brown brick (a colour palette mandated by the NCC, not the developer). The modern style was jarring at first, and some people still find the style (for example, beside the Chateau Laurier) harsh, but numerous other similar style buildings have popped up all over the city (Westboro, Bank Street, Lansdowne Park). They sold quickly, so at least one segment of the population likes them enough to risk their family finances.

There are no historic, industrial, converted, or older buildings nearby. The War Museum is also relentlessly modern. All the new buildings on the Flats have green roofs.

The two storey ground floor units did not sell in the first phases; and were converted to two smaller units that did sell. These ones are shown facing Fleet Street pedestrian walkway with its sad temporary landscaping:

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I don’t think the ground floor walk out units were especially well handled, either. The patios and windows lack privacy, although that might improve as the living green fences mature:

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A number of other condo buildings have faced the same issue (the all concrete construction is too expensive for the townhouse-style units and buyers are willing to travel to elsewhere to buy cheaper stick-built towns). Promised townhouse units also disappeared from Mastercraft’s Soho  Champagne in favour of walkout ground floor small apartments. Domicile’s towns as part of the HOM project are still on the market a year later, now with revised pricing.

Claridge is trying two storey units again on the Flats in their latest building, as well as stacked townhouses in a hybrid combination of wood and concrete construction:

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The wooden stacked towns shown in the distance, under construction, are supposed to be repeated several times on the adjacent streets, giving a low rise core to the centre of the neighbourhood, with taller buildings on the perimeter.

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It takes several years for residents of new buildings to settle in and start to take ownership of the building exterior and its grounds. We see fresh evidence of this in the first yellow brick building, where residents have just added a more urban edge up to the sidewalk:

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Residents have personalized the patio spaces:

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However, too many of the public landscaped spaces still look uncared for and sad. I think they will improve as residents involve themselves in landscaping and grounds committees. Many of the initial home sales were to speculators / investors, and tenants may not be so involved.

The newest buildings on the Flats are pretty much being built out to the approved master plan of several years ago. A four storey building got rezoned to six, then eight floors. Materials and finishes used as accents in the first buildings get more employment in the subsequent buildings to provide a theme and variation, a consistency of palette with difference in application.

The triangular building shown below is brown brick on two sides, silver metal on the third. Notice how the balconies grow larger as one goes upwards.

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Invisible to the drive by critics on the highway, but very visible on foot, are the coloured glass tiles on certain accent walls. The first buildings used pale blue tiles (shown on a picture above) ; the newest one offers glossy black glass tiles to contrast the metal cladding. The worker below is touching up the glass tile wall:

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I am not a fan of the brown brick. Nor much of the yellow. But the architecture itself is coming together to make an interesting cohesive whole.

 

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One of the brown brick buildings now under construction is actually yellow on its fourth side:

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In a clever attempt to give variation in building size, one wing of a larger building looks like a much smaller building, with different exterior metal cladding from its brick counterpart, but connected to its elevator and services via a series of thin bridges:

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Once landscaping is in, they might actually create the impression of different buildings of different sizes and age. The initial yellow building created an image of big, blocky mega structures. But this impression is not supported by walking around the buildings and by the variety of building shapes now constructed: trapezoid, triangular, acute angled, arched, quarter-circle curved, stepped, etc,

And the residents have been busy:

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While I think the buildings on the Flats look better than they are generally considered to be now, and will very slow win grudging acceptance, the NCC / City development plan is still deficient. More in part 2.

Hickory Bridge off to a late start

 

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The OTrain multi-user path north of Carling OTrain Station isn’t plowed this year (the picture above is of a prior winter). Maybe that is due to the recent start of the Hickory Street bridge.

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The bridge crosses the OTrain cut, connecting Hickory Street and the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood with Adeline Street and the Carling OTrain Station and the Preston Street commercial strip. The bridge is partially funded by Domicile and Starwood Mastercraft, builders of the condos on the Champagne side. Subsequent developers will also be dinged for contribution.

Ironically, the unplowed section is the most popular with walkers. To get around the construction fence necessitates and steep and icy scramble over a slope, both down and up again. No grit. No plowing. No temporary gravel path. Just goat trails.

Welcome to your challenge, Mountain Goats.

Here’s the view from the Carling side:

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Trees and underbrush have been removed by chainsaw crews working at 3 in morning, to avoid disturbing OTrain operations. The picture below shows the missing trees, and the generous scramble space left for pedestrians around the fence:

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Over on the Hickory (west) side, equipment has arrived indicating that a fair bit of excavation is planned:

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The second drawing in the picture below shows the depths of the foundation work, so we can expect a significant hole to appear where the OTrain pathway is now. Looks like walking won’t get any easier this winter.

 

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The city elected to with a arch structure for the bridge to play on the Little Italy Millenium Arch design just a block east, which is also similar to the Qway overpass arch. No word on red-white-green lighting, yet.

Late in the game, the city decided to add a steel bar safety railing, to deter suicides. These bars will be up to 8′ high. The bridge was designed to permit widening of the OTrain cut underneath for double tracking, leading up to the Carling Station.

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The design of the intersection of the bridge path with the OTrain path hasn’t yet been done. It should be done as part of the OTrain path extension project (concurrently underway). Ideally, the intersection would be of a common design for the Hickory, Young, and Bayview intersections.

While this bridge won’t get the amount of attention the Corktown and Airport Parkway bridges did, it may generate similar volumes of traffic as the condos are built and Otrain frequency improves.

Winter plowing on Otrain (Trillium?) path

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It is very nice to see the OTrain multi-user pathway being plowed this winter.  The part that is paved, from Young to the Ottawa River, warms up nicely in the full south sun which yields a nice walking and cycling surface. Odds bits of grit and dog poo provide traction.

On the south side of Gladstone there is a large steel billboard. The platform used by the paperhangers extends out over the pathway.  While intimidating, it seems to be above everyone’s head even when cycling. There used to be a bit of reflective material on the protruding end, but this is now gone.

However, plows must be significantly higher than cyclists, and they could hit the platform, so a temporary barricade has been put up to ensure our snowplow drivers aren’t decapitated. Could Jimmy Pattison be the new ISIS?

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It puzzles me that this billboard can’t be relocated or the platform folded up to make a more permanent solution, but they city collects rent from Pattison for it so maybe it values the money (how much, curiou$ people might ask…) more than cyclists’ heads.

A bit further south, the snowplowing ends. At Young Street. Along with the pavement.

This is rather ironic, because until this winter it was only the point from Beech south to Carling that was plowed in the winter. Here’s a shot from a previous winter:

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However, that section is exactly the one that isn’t plowed this winter. It used to be plowed by the city as it provided walk in access to the Carling OTrain Station.

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next: Hickory Street