Category Archives: intensificatioin

Building a Better LeBreton, part 9, Walking Portland’s SouthWaterfront streets



The South Waterfront neighbourhood is very well landscaped. Intensively landscaped, with interesting bits of planters, plants, gardens, courtyards, and squares tucked into the smallest corners. The contrast to Ottawa’s LeBreton Flats couldn’t be stronger.

Some of this may be due to a milder climate in Oregon. Or a project that has had vegetation in the ground and growing for longer. Or maybe a much more generous budget for greenery. The Flats look good on paper, and on the ground the “right elements” are laid out, but the execution makes me wince and thus far is poorly maintained. The City has totally neglected its parkland space along the west ridge of the Tailrace. Where is the tot lot or sandpit? Or park benches? Does the NCC and CIty really believe a usable bike and pedestrian path network can be built in 100m segments opening years — decades?? — apart?


above: sidewalks are broad and generous, not limited to two metres width. Better than normal inscribed joints cut the cement. Trees grow by the curb, which the City of Ottawa strictly forbids on the Flats (are there any other neighbourhoods in the City where that restriction is in force?). Note the close proximity of trees to curbs — Ottawa insists on 18-24″ from the curb to the plant zone, and the tree set back further than that. That setback may be to push the tree back from the salty snow, or it maybe catering to the convenience of motorists by giving them a generous car door opening zone.


above: townhouse units, apparently two stories high, line many of the side streets. These barren porches shown here reflect a limited understanding of how to make those spaces work — other buildings were much better implemented.


above: a turning circle in front of an apartment building. Note the benches. Has anyone ever seen a bench around the condos on our LeBreton Flats? Or a play structure? Or large flower pots?


above: a more established block, with vegetation screening the patios from the mews lane (combined walkway and local car access — note the pedestrian feels comfy taking the centre of the right of way). These patio spaces are like front porches of old: semi public, semi private spaces, set back just the right distance and elevation from passersby.


above: the condos closest to the waterfront were obviously very high end. Notice the large patio and large balconies, and the public bench with a backrest and no anti-street-people “armrests” in the centre.  The landscaping showed every sign of being maybe one year old and not yet established or spreading.


above: drainage swale


above: generous patios behind a grassy, naturalistic landscape, fronting onto the riverside park. The mixture of naturalized grass and concrete walls looked well done to provide for the plants and control humans from trampling the vegetation.



above: two very nice block-sized parks were already in place in the centre of the built up area, being the roof vegetation of an underground car park for the medical building. Along the waterfront — shown above — construction of a sophisticated array of lighting, benches, gathering areas, planters, separated bike and pedestrian paths, dog walk zones, etc. was still underway in August 2014.



below: generous size balconies on the lower floors cater to those who value private outdoor space and can pay for it. Upper floor balconies tended to be smaller, altho all these ones are more generous than one usually finds in Ottawa:



A “main street” through the neighbourhood has busier vehicular flow and storefronts all along the various facades. Curiously, many ground floor levels didn’t match the sidewalk elevation, requiring ramps and creating awkward spaces. Can’t we design buildings with ground floors to match the planned walkway grade? Note also the recessed parking bay, power boxes in the tree wells, and awnings.



below: a side street / mews with a very lush planting and interesting tableau in a very small area. The underplanting is new and hasn’t yet grown to form a full groundcover. I did not notice any guards to prevent people from peeling the white bark.



below: A courtyard nestled into the crook of a multibuilding complex combines planting, shade, a sunny patio, outdoor animation. Cleats on the centre planter deter skateboarders.



below: low rise building above condo store fronts. Several buildings had what I thought were “temporary” ground floor uses, like college gathering areas, architects’ open commons office areas, etc. This reinforces the need for flexible zoning so that spaces can evolve, maybe from residential when the neighbourhood is young, to commercial space later on as the area populates and people learn to seek out local sources.




below: a fully occupied  commercial strip along the main street. The businesses (hair salons, eateries, dentists, lawyers, realtors, architects, financial advisors, montessori school) seemed to have custom, people obviously use those large balconies, creating a nascent “real” traditional main street. Architects’ drawings are nice, actual animated streetscapes are nicer.




below: these people are sitting on very large wooden storage boxes outside the montessori school. I suspect they house toys, strollers, or whatnot. I notice throughout the states that daycares and grade schools may offer secure or weather-sheltered stroller and bike storage. Note also the broad canopy over the sidewalk, making it partially sheltered from rain or snow.






below: there was a daycare facility in a repurposed building near the entry transit plaza. It had giant roll up garage doors so that kids played indoors in fresh air. Note also how close the daycare is to the sidewalk and traffic and other people, not fenced off or segregated. Looking inside the window, you can see another open garage door to the side play yard.




below: one side of the medical building had this enormous PV solar array, 60 kW. It looked to me that the arrays might be motorized, to tilt to the optimum angle to catch the sun, although all of these are in the horizontal position where they act as brise-soleils for the south facing facade. The building resuses its own wastewater, with minimal discharge to the sewers.





Windmill developments uses pictures from Portland’s South Waterfront to illustrate what they plan for their Isles development in Ottawa.

I wondered as I wandered the South Waterfront whether the increased density generated the money to provide the lush landscaping and quality exterior spaces. Would a higher density Flats make for better public spaces? Or is the Portland environment a product of the affluent sponsors and market value of the development, ie it is a more expensive place than the Flats.

Of course, no self-respecting new urban place can be without the requisite farmers’ market:



For those long suffering readers than are confused by my walkabout, note the following map: the first story arrived over the i5 ped bridge shown in light gray at the top left, where we had great views down into the South Waterfront aerial tram terminal. Streetcars arrive from the direction of the Ross Island Bridge, proceed straight down SW Moody, loop over a parallel street (follow the faint gray arrows on the map) and come back up by the parks to circle around the H for Hospital building back into the plaza. We walked the high-rise lined streets between the Carruthers park and the River, with a brief look at the low rise buildings (did I see yellow brick?)  at the bottom of the Moody loop:


map of south waterfront, portland


This concludes the overview of Portland’s South Waterfront district. I hope it gives you some ideas of what the Islands project by Windmill might look like, or the next phase of LeBreton, of what LeBreton could have looked like if we had chosen to go with more high rises in phase 1. I hope this helps the discussion of Building LeBetter Flats here at home in Ottawa.

I have lots of other pictures of Portland parks, the SW Waterfront green space, etc but it is time to move on to other subjects.

Next: extending the OTrain Trillium line south…




Building LeBetter Flats, part 7, the view from Portland

Portland, Oregon, is often referred to as a city that has gone further with “Smart Growth” than other cities. It promotes transit by train, streetcar, bike, and aerial tram. It has numerous award winning downtown parks and redevelopment sites. IMO, its planning reputation and branding sometimes exceeds its delivery.

One site in particular is comparable to LeBreton Flats in terms of location (just outside the downtown core, on former industrial lands), although Portland’s South Waterfront is twice the area (402 acres vs NCC’s <200 acres). Portland’s has room to expand as it takes over adjacent industrial users; the NCC’s site abuts additional development lands: the Islands development area, the Gatineau shoreline, and Bayview Yards.

Here’s two aerial views at the same scale:

Side by Side Portland Lebreton Flats


Portland leads redevelopment with transit infrastructure. South Waterfront construction began in 2004; the streetcar connection to downtown arrived in 2006; and the aerial tram opened in December 2006. LeBreton led with road development (the Parkway / Wellington), the 2009 north-south LRT line having been aborted by the City.

This transit oriented development in Portland can be explored first by “arriving by transit”. A long pedestrian bridge crosses the i5 (opened in 2012) that connects the area to the established communities on the other side of the freeways and upslope from the river edge flats. The aerial tram, opened in 2006, carries over 1million passengers per year, many of them students or hospital users, as the uphill station is the main campus of Oregon Health and Sciences U and the lower station is the start of their campus expansion.



Looking over the edge of the bridge to the freeway(s):




The aerial tram was largely funded by the University, and student/staff passes account for many users, ie the U pays for operations too. Non-U folks can buy a $4.35 round trip ticket. The tram rises 500′ in a run of 3300′; each car carries 57 people for the 4 minute trip. Cars leave on demand (if full), or at 6 minute frequency. The upper campus is severely underserved by roads, being on a mountain top, so the connection to the urban transit network via the aerial tram is very valuable.

The freeway ped crossing is directly under the tramway. At the South Waterfront end, there is a single elevator and a stair down to the ground level transit plaza. Just before getting there, here’s a glimpse to the pedestrian’s right side,  into the South Waterfront redevelopment area:



(below):  From the top of the bridge stairs there is a view directly down to the transit plaza. That is a working shipyard immediately to the left, building barges. That 33 acres site will soon be redeveloped for more condos, which I think is a bit of a shame since our very-urban office-dwelling society is deeply severed from industrial work. The NCC, of course, is busy in Ottawa since Greber times to destroy all evidence of industry.




The transit plaza has oodles of bike parking close to the tram/aerial bridge. Cyclists were using the bridge elevator. The dark gray lines border the single streetcar track that arrives from a parallel road one block beyond the building, and circle the building through a pedestrianized plaza. On the near side of the road, streetcars continue  onwards through the redevelopment neighbourhood to the right..

The bike parking facility offers valet parking and bike maintenance while you are at school or work or getting operated on in the adjacent hospital:



Portland maximizes exposure to its transit facilities with very large red “Go By …” neon signs at various points around the city. These are examples of conspicuous city branding.




(below) an example of shared use space, with pedestrians wandering over the streetcar tracks. I cannot imagine our traffic engineers approving, since there are (blind!) turns in the track, one might trip on the rail, etc. etc.




(below): look closely at this entry-plaza point from the i5 ped bridge down onto the transit plaza and gateway to South Waterfront district. A bidirectional bike track arrives from the left, and crosses the road at a crossride while a portion of the track continues onwards to the right (the bike traffic from the right approaches from the far side of the road). Note the presence of a bus shelter; simple bar railings keep the cyclists and transit waiters separated. There is a raised crosswalk marked where pedestrian paths cross the bike track, but the two are adjacent and not fenced off throughout their parallel lengths. The cycle tracks are depressed just where they go behind the transit shelters, discrete and effective means of lane control.




(below): this somewhat dizzying photo captures the rest of the sidewalk and bike track off to the left of the above picture. The cycle track is separated from the walkway by a gray brick strip, but in the higher conflict zone approaching the bus stop and crosswalks, the track is channelized. The streetlamps are in a classic streetcar era format, in a later story I’ll show you the same design that used to be on Somerset Street.




Here’s a closeup of that shipbuilding operation doing its thing, building a Columbia River barge:




(below): a closer view of the transit plaza. A tram is in the station. Each car carries 79 people. Plaza users have an open view into the shipyard (no giant board fence or tree screen).




I was really interested to notice the cycling signage. It is clean, slick, modern. It is of a scale suited to pedestrians and cyclists.


IMG_1764The scale of the new signage system contrasts with the former signage, now painted out, which is of the freeway or motorist scale currently used in Ottawa:



I really liked the new signage both for its appropriate scale and modernity. I cannot imagine we would use something like it because we are tied to the Ont Traffic Act and dominated by motorist standards and mindset at City Hall. But we can be inspired by what others do.

(below): Looking off to the right from the foot of the i5 bridge crossing, the separated cycle track merges onto the road via a buffered transition zone and becomes a bike lane on the quieter local street. If you squint hard enough, you can see the cycle track rises to the level of the crosswalk (also visible in previous pictures). The whole plaza struck me as extraordinarily well thought out, and very very Dutch.



Here’s a streetcar coming around the building alongside the aerial tramway station:




next: buildings, parks, sidewalks … seeing more of how Portland builds a better Flats.


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: :

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 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.  





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

Industrial Chic: where-ever you can find it

Thanks largely to the NCC’s penchant for eliminating Ottawa’s industrial heritage, we have extraordinarily few industrial sites to convert into condos, lofts, or trendy retail.

A few years back, retail pioneers took over industrial space on Elm and Spruce Streets. The trend then spread to the adjacent City Centre building which has many great industrial features: high ceilings, cheap space, lotsa concrete surfaces. I used to joke the only thing it was missing was Stephen Beckta.

A similar trend has taken over the industrial garages on Beech Street, east of Preston. The baseball bat factory gave way to architect’s offices (certain similarities in function there…) and some food establishments that probably depend a lot on the lunch crowd from NRC next door.


Latest on the block is Beechbone, an offshoot of Whalesbone. Currently open just 11 to 4 on weekdays, it’s rather like an oversize food truck. Only two inside tables, plus some outside picnic tables,  it offers fresh seafood take out.



As for converted lofts, our own “distillery district” or warehouse district … not likely unless someones makes new “old” buildings. The recent sneak peek at a twelve storey condo project in the ‘hood was pulled back by the developer for some re-cladding when the preview audience panned the [somewhat annodyne] modern exterior in preference for something grittier and more reflective of the neighbourhood heritage. This doesn’t mean “faux historique”, of course: just look at the Urban Kaos-designed red caboose building at Breezehill and Somerset to see a neat spin on industrial chic.

The new Tamarack building proposed beside the Grace Hospital has a facade that is alternating planes of old industrial and very modern.

tamarack grace


I like the old industrial bits best. What do you think?

New developments on Bronson

Two new developments are coming forward on Bronson Avenue. One very big; one very small. One by a big Toronto developer; the other by a local.

The small one is for a demolition and infill on the west side of Bronson between Christie and Gladstone. The proponent has tentative plans for a three storey infill, consisting of a ground level business, with two floors of apartments above. Both apartments are three bedrooms and the layout is conducive to family living. There is also a proposed basement apartment. The building is snuggled up to the north side of the lot, with the driveway to three rear parking spaces and many of the windows facing south.

394 bronson site plan


Don’t squint too hard at the site map set into the bottom right corner of the picture above, as it is for somewhere else, in Orleans, not Ottawa.

This type of small scale infill generally receives support from the local community association. It has been our theme for some time now that it is important to preserve low rise zoning in the established parts of Little Italy and Chinatown so that smaller developers can acquire lots and redevelop the west side in an incremental and organic way. (Big developers should be playing in the vacant brownfields).  In contrast, the City has been following a “plan for very high rises” approach, which requires land assembly. A number of the resultant proposals, eg Taggart’s on Norman Street, are sorely out of scale. Neighbourhood busting is the result of vacant lots and boarded up houses awaiting demolition.

Mind, the City is not all sweetness and light on the small Bronson project either. Recall that the fight over a road diet for the Bronson traffic sewer lead last year by Rescue Bronson. The group “lost” the fight for a complete street, but did force the City to greatly enhance the landscaping, some of which occurred on adjacent private lands. So the City proceeded to rebuild Bronson in that dreadful four lane format leftover from the ignorant ’50’s. But it hasn’t removed from the books its earlier idea to widen the street. So our newly reconstructed Bronson, set to last another century in its current format, requires new buildings to be set back another 3m so that the road can be widened some day. Welcome to planning in Ottawa.

The second development proposal for Bronson is from the Brad Lamb corp of Toronto. They are hinting at a proposal for 196 Bronson, the Ottawa Construction Association HQ at the top of Bronson Hill. That large land assembly was accomplished in the usual way: acquire adjacent single house, abandon it, dilapidate it, board it up, wait til neighbours complain of vandalism, offer to tear it down, expand parking lot. The land assembly now includes significant frontage on Bronson and runs through the lot to Cambridge Street. It is the turquoise bordered square below:

196 bronson zoning map


West of the site is St Vincent Hospital; on the opposite site of Bronson are two apartment towers and the Bronson Centre (former Immaculata HS). Immediately north are heritage-zoned properties, actually home of Heritage Canada. The height limit on the subject land is currently 14.5m.


Interestingly, there is a similar sized land assembly further south on Bronson, at Carling, where Montreal developer Samcon is proposing a condo.

For this lot, however, Brad Lamb has rejigged his SOBA project, rearranging the blocks a bit, to propose this:

196 bronson brad lamb view 1


196 bronson brad lamb view 2


Presumably the taller portion is on the Bronson side and the lower on the Cambridge side, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s the other way around. From the top of Bronson Hill, the views to the north, east, and west will be stunning, and it’s a short walk downtown to make up for the lack of amenities along Bronson.

No word yet if the ground floor will be street-enlivening commercial space or just parking garage, such as Charlesfort likes to provide on the ground floors of its downtown condos (see Bronson at Powell).

Recall that Bronson functions so badly that the City discourages commercial development along the road, most recently trying to close out an already-open doctor’s office because it might aggravate traffic congestion. Highrises won’t cause any congestion, however, because the City says so.

Presumably the garage entrance will be off quieter Cambridge, since the City prioritizes commuter traffic over local access. This will give new residents a sort of video-game experience with the wheel chair bound residents of St Vincent Hospital, co-located on Cambridge.

News Headline: Developer listens first …

On Tuesday evening a most strange and wonderful event occurred on the west side. A developer called a meeting of neighbours and area residents, and then listened. And listened hard.

Mizrahi Developments builds luxury custom homes in Toronto. Some of these homes are in a mid-rise condo format. They have bought the Joe’s Audio and Bella Restaurant site on Richmond Road at Island Park Drive.

The site is zoned for six stories, with planning direction to go up to 9 at the corner to make a gateway statement. The planning therefore envisions a nine storey building right at the corner, with a six storey portion further to the east, closer to the new Thiberge Homes condo (designed by Hobin) opposite the Metro grocery store.

A flaw in the CDP plans is the extensive site contamination, which is estimated to cost $1 million up to $2 million to remediate. Thus Mizrahi suggests something in the 12 and 9 will be required to get enough sellable space to cover the remediation cost. Mizrahi “guarantees” that they won’t be asking for further upzoning as the project progresses. They claimed to be laying their cards on the table.

After that, they are listening. Have they met the Councillor? No, just a meeting to introduce themselves, barely two hours before the public meeting. But the public is getting the first say.

How about the planning department? Haven’t looked them up, yet. Will mosey over on Friday, maybe.

The Community Association? Nope, not yet.

The builder introduced the sort of projects they build in Toronto. Which is custom homes. Some of which are custom homes in a condo format, eg Hazelton Avenue project pictured. Their projects employ “timeless, classic” architecture, like limestone exteriors, house-like windows (NOT curtain walls), moldings, panelling, etc.

133 hazelton

No, they don’t have any proposal for the site, yet. They just figured out how much sellable space they need to make the project work, and what do the neighbours want or what are they concerned about?

How many units? Dunno. Depends on what people want. We don’t provide pre-made boxes, and certainly not small units appealing to investors. Somebody comes and wants 3600 sq ft on the third floor, we design that. Or  2400, or 1600 ft. Any of their provided layouts are starting points to spark conversation, but homes are custom built.

Will they be affordable to young buyers wanting to move into the west end but unable to afford a traditional house? After a bit of polite waffling, they reiterated they build large, finely finished custom homes. So, no.

How much parking? Dunno for sure, but certainly more than one space per unit, probably two. All indoors. As will be the guest parking, the commercial parking, the garbage areas, and the loading dock [compare that to Claridge’s new condo tower on Preston with no indoor loading dock or indoor garbage loading area].

Where will the exit be?  – we hope not onto the quieter residential streets behind. Agree, it won’t be there, that would be unpopular. We’ll put it on West Wellie directly.

What about construction noise and dirt? Mizrahi promised the site will be so clean you can walk by it with a baby stroller and not get the wheels or your shoes dirty or even damp. The construction hoarding will be generous and attractive [compare that to the pathetic stuff Ottawa allows elsewhere on Richmond and the city, as featured in a previous posts,; and ].

What about over-viewing adjacent homes? They will work with each and every homeowner to address their concerns, and the developer claims a great track record in ensuring privacy and quality outdoor space for both the condo and neighbours. Better by design.

You’ll block sunlight! Where? – we’ll work with you to prevent shadows. (I must confess I was getting somewhat sceptical at this point, but the audience was lapping it up, although most of the public grossly overestimates shadow effects).

What sort of retail? And will the sidewalks be wide enough, ie wider than at the adjacent condos along Richmond? (this last comment was interesting, given they are employing the same architect as those condos further along Richmond and at Our Lady of the Condos site). You want wide sidewalks – we like them too. We’ll make wide sidewalks (no word on yet on whether the city planning dept agrees to bigger setbacks). Main tenant will be Bellas.

What about the parkette at the very corner? Will it be saved? Yup, saved. And improved. You tell us what you want to see there, we’ll put it there. [I’d suggest a restaurant patio at the corner on the building site, a glass fence, and a fountain in the park to mask car noise].

By this point, the audience was running out of steam. Questions increasingly became prefaced with “gee you’re great why don’t [other developers , insert name here] do what you do?”

Off on the side, someone was busy taking notes of all the concerns and objections. Once the project comes forward, there will have been some compromises, but because they will have been discussed first (after all, there are bound to be conflicting positions among the neighbours, depending on which side they are on, the city planners, the community assoc, etc) the major objectors will be defanged and the project will be introduced with considerable goodwill.

It was a beautiful sight to see the consultative approach at the early stages of a project. Objecting once the developer has spent hundreds of thousands on a first set of plans is not a good strategy. And its a set up to fail to object at Planning Committee. And it is good strategy for a developer to get out of the starting gate with a proposal that is geared to meeting community goals and avoiding objections. It might even generate pre-sales. It seems to be a consistent approach that the firm takes, witness its web site video: and their other web content.

It’s a good strategy. It would be even nicer if more developers and communities tried it. Because it takes at least two to tango, and the new and old make up the community.


The main quibble I could have with their presentation were the inevitable objections that it will generate too much traffic on already busy (failing, in neighbour-speak) streets. It’s not obviously a fallacy that building the condo a few blocks further away will somehow mean no traffic on the street in front of this site, and the building can’t educate everyone about the difference between their site which originates the traffic and the streets that carry all the traffic, but I’d like to hear one try.




Building a liveable Ottawa

So, on Tuesday night I trotted off to the City’s launch of its OP (official plan) and TMP (Transportation master plan) tweaks.

My, so many fine words. So many nice drawings. Lots of display boards. Mind you, there are some pretty fine words in the last plan too, like the promise that public spaces would be designed for pedestrians first, cyclists, transit, then motorists. To those fine words, every neighbourhood has their own response. Ours is: Bronson Avenue !

Some observations:

  • the traditional traffic analysis uses “level or service”, rated A thru F, for motorists. No measure of pedestrians, cyclists. New measure will include pedestrians in a “level of comfort” measure. Good, but separate does not equal Equal. I’d rather have a pedestrian and cyclist level of service directly comparable to the motorist one, using the same A thru F scale,  and a combined “liveable street index” also rated A thru F.
  • the cyclist presentation made a valiant first attempt at showing that roads of different speeds could have / require? different cycling facilities. This was a big deal in the presentations given by guest speakers we have had for the last few years from cycling nations in Europe. Except, I think they would be appalled at the continued expectation in our standards that cyclists will continue to share the roads with fast moving vehicles. I’d love to see our proposed facilities compared to Dutch facilities for each roadway speed. For example, the Dutch demand that cyclists be on a separated path once road speeds hit 50kmh. So, no bike lanes on Scott. Or Albert. Or Carling.
  • Alas,  the typology of cycling facilities related to road size and speed was not carried over to pedestrians, who are supposed to be satisfied with a 5 or 6′ concrete sidewalk glued to the curb, even if the adjacent road has a speed of 70kmh and is major truck and bus route. Who exactly wants to walk in those conditions? Walls of noise, dirt, pollution  slush and spray … Would you let your 8 year old walk to school in those conditions? Where is the index that says a glued-to-the-curb works for 30kmh residential streets, but a 40, 50, 60, or 70kmh requires a physical setback, buffer zone, or elevation difference or safety wall between the walk and the speeding vehicles? Do any of our Councillors actually walk anywhere? (kudos to Hobbs who continues to be car free).
  • i failed to notice any distinction between “greenfield” new road locations where there is often plenty of room for cycle paths and walks to be set back from fast roads, and existing urban conditions where it is expensive or challenging to achieve that result. Will  future Bronsons be rebuilt with sidewalks, then bike paths, then reduced numbers of traffic lanes, to fit into the available space, or will we continue merrily on with the car-has-already-ruined-this-place-just-carry-on mentality that characterizes Watson’s Ottawa and its 1970’s car-first priorities. In short, the principles need a “shall” statement preceding them.
  • After a lengthy opening address on the evils of car dependent urban form on human health, I didn’t notice any bold measures to curb the car and its unhealthy effects on Ottawa residents. We don’t need advertising campaigns, bus ads, and other proactive feel-good stuff. We need concrete action. Where are bold measures, such as mandating parking charges for all land users (ie, an end to “free” parking)? The City could start today by ending free parking at all its facilities. Get those pay-and-display machines out to Plant Bath and Nepean Sportsplex now! Might even make a profit, too.
  • I did notice and appreciate a semi-promise to avoid double-left-turn lanes at intersections.
  • I did notice and appreciate a higher target level for modal split. At the same time, promises of ever more spending on more roads and more greenfield development following the same models we now use, that increase density but don’t make Barrhaven or Riverside South genuinely walkable. Our new suburban neighborhoods like like a collection of garage doors with backyard-facing housing behind them.
  • I remain unconvinced that density targets alone will increase walking and healthy outcomes and active transportation and complete communities. Density may be a feature of successful neighbourhoods from the first half of the twentieth century, but they are not the only factor. There is urban form, the age and income mix, etc. Will building $700,000 condos on the 30th floor of an infill generate the same happy results as the 1920’s built form?? All evidence I see says NO.
  • Hume insists that within a few years zoning will match the plans. That will be helpful. What does that do to the Centretown plan and the Bayview-Carling plan, both of which have Dark-inspired key features of having the zoning mismatched to the OP and CDP so that Sec 37 monies can be extorted from the builders (and thru them, lest anyone be so naive, from the buyers of those units who have been deliberately excluded in our fair city from buying ground-based housing, supposedly to reduce sprawl but also to protect existing neighbourhood voters from low-rise intensification).
  • Hume also promised a development charge review. I’d like to see those predictable charges replace Sec 37. And the City could appease a lot of neighbourhood opposition to change by promising that the first year or two of additional revenue earned from any development would be spent in the immediate vicinity of the project. Then the city gets to keep the remaining 99 years of revenue all for itself. Yup, I’ll take a bribe today.
  • Ottawa boasts of its urban boundary. And its huge size is supposed to bring all of the surrounding area into one comprehensive urban planning zone. But just as for the greenbelt, the city-boundary has already been jumped by commuters and government road building to permit motorists to commute from ever-farther distances. Drive till you can buy that single family home! We are now exporting the worst forms of low-density suburbia to surrounding towns like Kemptville and Arnprior. The short-term greenfield economics seduces those small towns that every day look more like Barrhaven c1979. The best way for Arnprior or Kemptville to have live-work-play complete communities is to have a $5 or $10 toll on the road to Ottawa at the City boundary. Live in Arnprior if you work there, but not if you are then going to drive all thru my city.
  • the city is going to change the measure by which is provides roads from the current sizing of asphalt lanes to the peak hour (7.30 to 8.30am) to sizing them for the average of the peak period (ie, the three hour window). This will reduce the amount of road by 15%. And I have a bridge for you to buy, cheap. Many urban roads are so over-capacity that I don’t think it will make any change at all. This might have an effect on new roads to Bradley Estates, but for the rest of us, I think this is fine words with no real impact.
  • there was no acknowledgement of the world-wide trend to reducing speed limits (and thus reducing the road widths and geometry required to sustain high speeds) to make cities liveable  So Mr Hume thinks we will all be happy living in denser housing adjacent speeding traffic and or congested traffic (yes, the two do go together)  on narrower roads with minimal standard sidewalks glued to the curb??  Waiter, the reality cheque please !