Infill, Part 3: Katherine Hobbs with a crucial difference

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Editor’s note: Katherine Hobbs is the City Councilor for Kitchissippi Ward and is a member of the City of Ottawa’s Planning Committee. She has authored the following piece as a contribution to our ongoing discussion around the City’s “infill development” policies and practices.

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At Planning Committee on Tuesday we approved an infill project at 73 Crichton Street in New Edinburgh (shown above) with my support. At the previous Planning Committee, we also approved an infill project at 71 Hopewell Avenue in Old Ottawa South, that time with my dissent. Why the differing vote?

Both projects were contemporary additions to old streetscapes in established neighbourhoods and both were recommended for approval by city staff in accordance with the zoning by-law, though the latter only reluctantly so. In contrast, they present a study in what works and what doesn’t for small-scale residential infill.

The Hopewell Avenue project was a study in what residents don’t like about infill residential construction. It was suburban contemporary with front garages, side doors and height above the norm for the street. Planning staff recommended approval in spite of it not following the Urban Design Guidelines for Infill development because the project met the requirements of the Zoning By-Law, and an appeal from the developer to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) would have almost certainly been a victory for the developer. It was clear that staff were heartbroken to recommend approval, but their hands were effectively tied.

In stark contrast, the Crichton Street project is the kind of infill development the city is after. While there was some community opposition, there was also significant community support. This project was also contemporary in nature, but in a creative way and meets the intent of the Heritage Conservation District guidelines. The owners of the building took advantage of a uniquely wide side yard in the neighbourhood (4.7m, compared to 0.3m next door) to build an addition to make room for their growing family. The design tucked the addition at the back of the side yard, 3m back from the original building front. The addition is a single storey rising to two storeys at the back. The project clearly meets the goals of sensitive infill in an historic district as it doesn’t seek to mimic the original building, but rather complement it.

What’s perhaps more important than all of this is that this was a revised proposal. A previous application was denied by council and appealed to the OMB by the property owner; but rather than pushing it through, they went back to staff recommendations and altered the project: reducing height, changing setbacks, and reducing size. In short, they engaged with staff and the community and found a balanced solution.

I’m proud to have voted against Hopewell Avenue and for Crichton Street. They are a striking contrast in what is wrong and what is right with infill development: an insensitive, non-compatible development without any consensus versus a small scale, complementary and sensitive addition that will strengthen a community by making room for a growing family. It should give us all food for thought at what can be accomplished through infill development.

Please share your views on infill development by attending one of the City’s public sessions. The next one is in Kitchissippi Ward at Connaught P.S. at 7-9 PM on February 17th. Learn more at ottawa.ca/infill

7 comments

  1. You are bang on about this one Katherine but I hope you help insure the process will lead to meaningful language in our Official Plan and not just the development of more time-wasting “guidelines” that don’t mean a tinker’s dam to any cheapjack developer with a lawyer for a brother-in-law.

    As commentators like Jay Baltz have often pointed out, the City has a terrible track record of completely wasting the time of all the dedicated community members who show up at evening sessions for processes that go on for MONTHS, helping to give input on CDPs, NPIs, design guidelines etc etc etc – which are then totally unenforceable as soon as a builder gets a lawyer and threatens to go to OMB.

    Far, far too much of all the community consulting boils down to just a big patronizing pantomime, a dog and pony show put on to make the citizens feel they have some real say, Waste of staff time, waste of your time, waste of our time. We must do better.

  2. What is inherently bad about “height above the norm”?

    I don’t get the fixation with height, I really don’t.

  3. WJM, in this case it was because it was an addition in a Heritage Neighbourhood – changes the rules a little bit.

  4. Infill housing is the insertion of additional housing units into an already approved subdivision or neighborhood. These can be provided as
    additional units built on the same lot, by dividing existing homes into multiple units, or by creating new residential lots by further subdivision or lot line adjustments. Units may also be built on vacant lots. “
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infill#Infill_housing

    The 73 Crichton Street project is not infill. It does not provide any additional housing units. It’s the renovation of a single family house.

    The 71 Hopewell Avenue project is an attempt to provide 3 family houses where 1 used to be, a true example of infill. Sure it’s not an architectural or urban planning masterpiece, neither are the houses flanking it, but it does offer 3 units with the modern conveniences people expect. Libraries and public transit are enough to attract some people to central areas. For others, you need to provide the same modern housing conveniences that you get from suburban houses.

    The point I’m trying to make is 73 Hopewell Avenue is what home buyers want. It’s not the most architecturally stunning building ever designed, but it doesn’t break any by-laws, and will help draw more people downtown to reasonably priced housing thereby reducing infrastructure pressures made worse by urban sprawl.

  5. I like Jim Dixon’s forthright talk. He is colourful and correct.

  6. I’ve lived in that neighbourhood.

    Just down the street.

    I still don’t get it.

    Yes, I know that there is added sensitivity to height in heritage neighbourhoods. I just don’t understand why, in the absence of any viewplane issue.

  7. Dear Ms. Hobbs,

    It would be interesting to hear your views on the approved development plan for the convent property in your ward. The proposal was inconsistent with the official plan, the secondary plan, and the traditional mainstreet guidelines. The development makes a mockery of the planning process and the official plan.

    As discussions about this site continue in our ward, it would be very useful to hear clearly from you what your view is on the development (not on the levy). Would you have been proud to vote for or against this project?

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