Urbanist’s diary: human scale and a ticking clock


Detail from "City of Ottawa Urban Design Guidelines for Development Along Traditional Mainstreets"

This is the fifth of a multi-part series that will follow environmentalists Chris Henschel and Allegra Newman as they share their first-hand experiences dealing with an intensification project directly affecting their own residence near Island Park Drive.

This week gave birth to both rumours and official documentation of Springcress’s plan for the condo. One of our neighbours heard some good news in a phone call to the City about the developer’s parking plans; I’m still trying to confirm this before writing publicly about it.

The Developer also made a formal application for variance for the building. He is seeking three variances (italics added for explanation):

• To increase the building height limit from 18m to 22m above average grade (from 6 stories maximum to 7 stories maximum;

• To reduce the required front yard set-back from 2m, above 15m in height, to 0.5m (reducing the depth of the ‘step-back’ designed to reduce the ‘canyon effect’ of large buildings);

• To reduce the required corner side yard set-back from 3m to a height of 15m and 5 m above, to 0m (no setback from property line on the west side).

These applications are problematic because they are all focused on increasing the ‘mass’ of the building and diminishing restrictions that are in place to reduce the visual impact of buildings on the surrounding neigbourhood. For example, Ottawa’s Urban Design Guidelines for Development Along Traditional Mainstreets recommend to “Set back the upper floors of taller buildings to help achieve a human scale and more light on the sidewalks” (Guideline 12).

Furthermore, the draft Community Design Plan for Wellington Street recommends for this part of Wellington that the maximum height be changed from 6 stories to 4 in order to help new building fit in better with the residential character of the neigbourhood.

I must ask the developer why he is proposing variances to bylaws that are specifically designed to make new developments fit better into the neigbourhood. Seems like a bad idea.

The Committee of Adjustments is scheduled to decide on these variances on February 6 – the clock is ticking on these development plans!


  1. Why is the developer doing this? Could it be because it costs less to design and construct a box and also these alterations will add to chargeable footage to capitalize on?

  2. Chris

    Generally variances SHOULD be hard to get. There is typically a list of about six things that need to be met. I.e. existing conditions which place the property owner at disadvantage to similar properties. Variances are not there to allow getting more money by developing more space. I can send you the list we use, but I’d be curious what needs to be met for variance in your area. Here, variances are essentially never granted for some landuae related things. Due diligence prior to property puchasr should have shown any limitations… “but we can’t do xxxx” is not really an excuse

  3. I suspect it has to do with the size of the site. He’s probably done his calculations of the minimum number of units he needs to sell and he can’t do this without trying to bend some of the rules…

  4. Hi Peter,

    It would be great to see your list.

    Here is what is stated on the Ottawa Committee of Adjustment’s webpage:

    When considering an Application for Minor Variance from the existing municipal Zoning By-laws, or any other By-law that Council may direct, the Committee must consider the following “four tests” as set out in the Planning Act, namely:

    * Whether the variance is minor
    * Whether the variance is desirable for the appropriate development or use of the land
    * Whether the general intent and purpose of the Zoning By-law is maintained
    * Whether the general intent and purpose of the Official Plan is maintained

    In considering an Application for Consent, the Committee must have regard to the same matters as for a Plan of Subdivision. The Committee may impose conditions to the approval of a severance as in its opinion are reasonable.

    The Committee of Adjustment and its application process are separate and apart from the other municipal development approval process and as such has its own application forms. However, different approval processes can be occurring at the same time.


Comments are closed.