Urbanist’s diary: developer takes a walk

Costly business: was it poured concrete that killed the condos?

This is the latest post in a multi-part series that follows environmentalists Chris Henschel and Allegra Newman as they share their first-hand experience dealing with an intensification project directly affecting their own residence near Island Park Drive.


Neighbourhood residents got surprise news today: the condo project is dead.

In anticipation of a meeting that was planned for tomorrow to discuss the project, local residents had launched a vigorous email campaign to affirm their opposition to surface parking and the use of Rockhurst Drive as a point of vehicular access to the site. We got responses today from City Councillor Christine Leadman, the architecture firm Barry J. Hobin & Associates, and planner Alain Miguelez at the City of Ottawa, all indicating that Springcress Properties had pulled out of the project and the purchase of the property. Site constraints and economic risk were cited as the reasons for pulling the plug.

I am scratching my head a bit wondering what exactly lead to the decision. At first we thought perhaps was the developer being caught between the community and the City on the ‘side street’ access, Mr. Miguelez’s email suggests that this issue was resolvable. Was it the opposition to surface parking and the cost of digging an additional underground level? Councillor Leadman’s email suggests this was too costly for the developer. Was it fear that the variances wouldn’t be approved? Recent projects in the neighbourhood suggest that this barrier may not have been too great.

I am also left wondering what will come next, if anything? Apparently many developers have shied away from this site. My neighbour reports that another developer told him that the site is too small to make a profit on any poured concrete building.

So perhaps we will get a row of nice, three-story wood-frame townhouses that contribute to infilling, while also meeting the Design Plan Guidelines [http://www.ottawa.ca/residents/planning/design_plan_guidelines/completed/traditional_mainstreets/traditional_mainstreets_en.pdf] for height on traditional mainstreets (guideline 10)?

Mr. Miguelez’s email response to us was very thoughtful, highlighting his vision for a pedestrian-friendly Wellington Street, but also acknowledging that Rockhurst wasn’t really a side street to Wellington, as the guidelines intend. We also learned from him that the City was going to propose a ‘carriageway’ access (driveway) from Wellington that could have served both this site and any future development next door. It seems a creative solution because it would still have succeeded at reducing vehicular access on Wellington.

After getting the news today I reflected on what has happened here… I think there are two good things that have come out of this.

The most important outcome is that City staff accept that a Wellington Street access for this property makes sense. Second, a developer that may not have been able to afford the cost of meeting the desires of the community has decided to pass on the project; not bad as long as we can be as successful the next time around!

And of course this issue has brought a neighbourhood together. Not only was it nice to get to know some new neighbours, but it was fun to work together. And it’s an impressive bunch! A good indication of this is the twenty original emails we generated to the City in 24 hours. This puts us in a good position when the next project comes knocking.

photo by Matthew Rutledge

4 comments

  1. The province is considering increasing the height allowed for woodframe buildings (BC recently did this). Maybe that will make a project here more feasible.

  2. Interesting! To what height? Developer told me that 4 storeys is possible (technically) if you use a concrete base (ground floor?).

    chris.

  3. Of course what seems like an interesting proposal from the developer (the ‘carriage way,’ doesn’t solve the problem for everyone. Depending on how it is done, we could have all those cars to both lots driving down straight at our dining room window and up to the border of our property… this could be one of the worst options for air/noise pollution though the lights from surface parking would probably be worse.

  4. Right now 4 floors is allowed, I’ve heard they are looking at six like BC has. It’s tied into the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario. 

    In some European countries they are building up to eight or nine storey wood construction

    a couple of good articles about mid-rises

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/encouraging-mid-rises-a-tall-order/article1427929/

    http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/designingottawa/archive/2009/05/13/a-fiery-defence-of-wood-frame-construction.aspx

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