Listening to the repetitive clanging of machines boring through bedrock it can seem that the condo developments along Richmond and Wellington Roads are never-ending. But along with the noise and dust, urban infill can also mean exciting possibilities, and can be used as a creative opportunity for changes within a community. Most recently, development options are being proposed for the Soeurs de la Visitation convent at 114 Richmond Road. This large, cloistered, very green looking area stretches from Richmond Road to Byron Avenue and is a mystery to local residents who have only air photos and glances at buildings and hundred year old trees to identify the heritage and natural value of the site. Immediately adjacent to the site is Hilson Public School with its treeless schoolyard separated from busy Richmond Road by a chain link fence. These two properties, side by side, green space and concrete. According to the current proposal the green space will be developed and the concrete will continue to be a children’s playground. Imagine if this could be different.
Ashcroft is proposing a multi-building development on the convent land and is currently in the phase of seeking community input and support for the project. A large gathering of concerned residents attended a meeting in February to learn about the proposal. Many concerns were raised over height (Ashcroft is proposing a 8-10 storey building on the site), loss of local green space (the site has many hundred-year old trees that will not be preserved with the current proposal) and access (current ideas propose cutting a driveway through the Byron Tramway, a local bicycle and walking path).
The Soeurs de la Visitation site is an exciting one with the potential to contribute something wonderful to the local community. In order for this to happen, and still allow the developer to build a successful project, creative solutions must be sought that address both the citizen’s concerns and are in the best interest of the developer.
One creative and innovative proposal that has come to my attention (beginning with comment #24) is the possibility of a land exchange agreement between the developer Ashcroft and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board to exchange a portion of the green convent lands to the south of the existing convent structure for the school yards to the north of Hilson Public School along Richmond Road. The swap would see the valuable green space become Hilson’s school yard, and the land along Richmond become developable land for Ashcroft.
Land exchanges are frequently done in urban land use planning in Ottawa. In fact, it is written in the Greenspace Master Plan that: “Lands or interest in land can be traded to achieve mutual interests, and net differences in values can then be settled.”
A land exchange in this circumstance has numerous advantages for both local citizens and the developer and would address many of the concerns raised at the public meeting.
A land exchange on this site would provide
- · A healthier and safer area for schoolchildren to play
- · Retaining of significant and historic green space on the site.
- · Greater development potential in a more appropriate location
- · A better transition to the existing community and a new greenspace for Westboro
- · Better access points for the proposed development (off of a signalized intersection)
Obstacles to this proposal are time and an unknown level of interest from both the developer and the Ottawa District School Board. Unless everyone agrees quickly to this proposal there is a chance that Ashcroft will think it is easier to go ahead with the planned proposal instead of exploring other options.
The next community meeting is being held this Wednesday March 10th 7pm to 9pm, at St George’s Church (415 Piccadilly Avenue). Ashcroft will be presenting preliminary concept plans at this meeting and listen to feedback from the community.
Innovative and creative solutions can make intensification work in an established urban area. Finding possibilities within urban planning where everyone wins are the key to building communities that are liveable and exciting. Let’s hope Ashcroft and the OCDSB sees it this way too.