Urbanist’s diary: a side street “closed longer than anyone remembers”

This is the latest in a multi-part series that follows 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.

Everyone in the neighbourhood received a letter from Ottawa’s Committee of Adjustment this week to inform us that the Committee would be ruling on the developer’s application for three variances on February 3. I went with a neighbour to check out the plans.

The plans confirm that the developer is now proposing vehicular access from Wellington Street (instead of our dead-end side street) and only underground parking (removing the need for an above-ground parking lot that would create all sorts of nuisance for us). Good news!

Except it seems the City may not yet be onside. The local councilor Christine Leadman has expressed support for a Wellington Street access, but the City staff may not agree. We’ve been told there will be a meeting with the developer this week to discuss this issue and that the City will likely request an adjournment of the Committee of Adjustment’s hearing on the proposed variances as they consider the plans.

We know the City prefers to locate vehicular access off side streets. But Rockhurst Avenue isn’t really a side street to Wellington because it has been closed at Wellington for longer than anyone remembers (a neighbour of ours says over 30 years). This satellite view shows the route that a car would have to take driving from the site of the condo to a Rockhurst access: This is not a simple turning of a corner and the local residents see this as an inappropriate shifting of traffic burden from this site to our neighbourhood.

It would also be frustrating if the City pushed hard to enforce the guideline calling for vehicular access to be from side streets –-“guideline 23” from the City’s own Design Plan Guidelines for Traditional Mainstreets” — while ignoring “guideline 10” from the same document that suggests a ratio of building height to road corridor width of between 1:2 and 1:3. Since Wellington has a road corridor width of 20m, “guideline 10” would suggest a maximum height of 10m (three storeys). The City’s bylaws allow six, and the developer wants seven. Six-story condos have been approved by the City up and down this area of Wellington.

It appears the beauty of a planning guideline is in the eye of the beholder.