Jay Baltz is a Hintonburg resident and member of the Hintonburg Community Association board, who has served on numerous advisory committees for City of Ottawa planning and zoning studies, and is past chair of the City’s Built Heritage Advisory Committee.
This is the first installment of a new Spacing Ottawa feature where Jay will be looking at urban development and planning issues from the perspective of an involved resident, and examine practical alternatives to what he terms “Ottawa’s broken planning process.”
Being consulted by the City of Ottawa could be a full time job. No fewer than eighty-seven current public consultations are listed on the City’s web site . One of these is the “Bayview-Carling Light Rail Transit Corridor Community Design Plan.” This obviously wasn’t named to produce a clever acronym, so Bayview-Carling CDP will have to do. The area it covers runs from the Ottawa River to Carling Avenue down each side of the current O-Train tracks, extending roughly east to Booth St and west to Fairmont Ave.
CDPs are planning studies meant to produce detailed policies to guide development in a local area. Most parts of the City don’t need their own CDP, since general City policies are enough. But in places where especially intense new development is expected and encouraged, CDPs are done by the City to ensure desirable development and appropriate intensification—the addition of residential units, jobs, and commercial space. The Bayview-Carling LRT corridor is certainly such a place.
Substantial intensification of development is appropriate here, since there is a huge amount of underutilized and vacant land along the tracks, and it is among the best served in the urban core by transit and existing infrastructure—key indicators for appropriate intensification locations. Although the CDP is still in the conceptual stage, it looks like the likely outcome will be zoning that allows buildings upwards of 20 stories in nodes around the LRT stations, and 4-8 stories or more in the rest of the currently undeveloped lands.
Although it was on hiatus for several years after cancellation of the original LRT plans, the Bayview-Carling CDP is once again moving along. Its public advisory committee most recently met on March 21, to look at concepts proposed for the area around the Bayview transit station. Concept plans that were presented by City staff had new buildings permitted on the east side of the tracks with heights of about 6 stories on Somerset St. at the south, stepping up in height as you move north through City Centre and finally reach the south side of Albert St across from Bayview station. To give some idea of the anticipated scale here, the City is currently in discussion with the DCR/Phoenix Group, who own 801 Albert St, across from Bayview station. City staff indicated that the two buildings on that site would likely be approved in the range of 30 stories, and in excess of 1 million square feet. It can only be hoped that City staff do not give away zoning rights without requiring excellence in design for such a prominent building (but that is a separate discussion).
Across Albert, though, will be the one-storey Bayview LRT station. This struck several of the public advisory group members as odd. The City is pushing intensification in the urban area vigorously, to say the least. Some pretty inappropriate and incompatible development has been not only permitted but encouraged by City staff in the name of intensification throughout the urban core of Ottawa. Yet here, the City itself is building a structure at ground zero of the transit node where two LRT lines plus the Transitway will intersect, and it fails to consider the opportunity to have residential or commercial development, or public uses, on the station site.
The City is rightly adamant that the areas around major transit nodes see substantially increased development. But when the idea that the station itself should also serve this function was raised by members of the CDP public advisory committee at the meeting, staff just looked uncomfortable. When pushed about commercial space, they allowed that there could be a small coffee shop in the station, and also pointed out that there would likely be a food court at 801 Albert. What actually seems to be at play here is that the LRT team in the City simply wants to build the stations as quickly and as cheaply as possible. So, we have the spectacle of the City imposing minimum building heights on the private sector where it believes intensification is desired, but exempting itself.
Bayview station should be a multistory building. Surely, office or residential space could occupy quite a number of floors above the station. Profit from the additional development potential could be used to offset the cost of making the LRT station an exceptionally well-designed landmark, instead of the glorified bus shed we seemed doomed to get.
The City should hold itself to the standards that it seems to expect the rest of the City to embrace. This is an opportunity for it to lead with a demonstration project, including mixed residential and commercial uses, with a component of affordable housing, just like its Official Plan calls for. In addition, how about no onsite parking, to show that completely transit-oriented development is feasible? That is how the City should be leading the way.
photo by Secret Pilgrim