900 Albert, air rights over the OTrain

The Trinity Developments proposal for 900 Albert calls the three 55 storey towers and retail podium “phase 1” of their plan. It is a stand alone proposal, not dependent on approval for a phase 2. The expanded phase 2 project proposal would build another 55 storey tower and more retail podium, including the obligatory suggestion of a new Ottawa Public Library. These would be on an elevated structure over the top of the OTrain Trillium Line corridor, shown in blue below:


The corridor land is owned by the city, and designated as a transportation corridor. It is not park space nor do I recall it being designated a greenway. Getting any one at the city to maintain the space is an exercise in frustration. It does, of course, function as a possible link for flora and fauna from the Gatineau Park – Ottawa River valley – to Dows Lake and the Rideau Valley. Recent CDP’s in the neighbourhood were allowed to mention the corridor as a pathway link for a MUP. And mention was permitted of a “view plane” along the corridor to the Gatineau Hills, although the city adamantly refused to define or delineate the view plane in the plan. Plans are just the fine sounding but almost meaningless patter of salesmen-planning staff promoting their product, as evidenced by the arrival of city plans after the developers have decided what they want. Post facto planning, etc.

Equally vacuous is the propensity of local residents to call any empty lot a green space. The OTrain corridor it is mostly gravel and the transportation folks will never allow any trees or greenway near their precious guideways. What greenery is there now will diminish in time, not grow. There is to be a clear cut zone extending outward and upward at 45 degrees from the rails or maybe even the edge of the right of way, so that no vegetation can fall onto the wires or the rails in the event of an ice storm.  Note also the city has already sold air rights at Carleton U for a structure that spans the tracks north of the Carleton Station and agreed to a future building that spans the tracks and the Station in the centre of campus. So there is an air rights precedent.

Here’s the site plan should a phase 2 go ahead (red, phase 1; blue, phase 2):


It is unclear if the tower goes over the gravel space now occupied by the MUP, or over the tracks themselves.

In any case, the entire existing ground level would remain as is, with a walking path under the roads to the Bayview Station, a separate cycling path, and alignments for the OTrain station tracks and additional tracks going north across the Prince of Wales bridge to Gatineau. The space would be about 21′ high. Presumably it wouldn’t look as awful as the space under previous-generations of elevated freeways. It would be daylighted and finished (year round outdoor skateboard park and basketball court, anyone?). The city and developer will have to be pushed to make the space attractive and safe. Certainly windows and doors to the building will be required in the space, not blank walls.

Approval of air rights development, by the developer or by the city or someone else the city sells to, is not certain. Lots of people at the public meeting to view the plans expressed strenuous opposition to the loss of “green space”.


Since the earliest days of planning the Bayview Station area, residents have argued that Albert Street must be considered a “street” and not a road / freeway, and the elevation should be considered a simple hill the road climbs and not some elevated embankment. The final look should be like Somerset or other streets that run up a hill, with sidewalks, storefronts, etc. The Trinity development proposal certainly does that.

More controversially, it also does that on the WEST side of the Albert Street overpass over the OTrain tracks. Squint carefully at the top left corner of the illustration above, to notice a service road coming off of Albert right near the western bridge abutment. This is the exact spot where the “goat trail” currently erodes the slope where pedestrians hop the guardrail and slip and slide down the embankment to cross the field behind Tom Brown arena. Never say pedestrians aren’t determined to establish their own desire lines and follow them.

The western service road would be elevated on pillars. It would provide a psudo-street-level surface along the west side of whatever is built on the air rights portion. Here it is labelled as Library drop off road, and also services the elevator lobby to a building above. It then cuts around the south side of the complex to the parking garage ramps. This whole service road is problematic and needs a total reworking. If not, this potentially Transit Oriented Development will look like it is wrapped in car spaghetti.


On the eastern portion of the site, over near City Centre building and its elevated road ramp up to the second level, the developer proposes a lively corridor along the former Wellington Street right of way. This would be at the same level as the gravel lane through the site now. In the city plans, there is mention of a pedestrian / cyclist bridge over the OTrain to reconnect with West Wellington near Pantuso garage / Suzy Q Donuts.


The illustration is way too fanciful. Firstly, a portion of the flat surface along the building beyond the Cafe is actually loading docks, with 53′ tractor trailers conveniently absent. Second, a cycling corridor along this lane would have to be fairly straight and level, not wandering amongst flower beds. And the space will be required by the fire department for emergency access, so any sculpture and kite fliers have to make space for large fire engines to manoeuvre.

Conceptually, the landscaped right of way is correct. In practice, it will hard that it not turn into a back service lane with garage ramps and loading docks and the perception of unsafety.

Keep in mind that the City Centre building and its ramp won’t be there forever. Already over a half century old and badly cracking up, the site is now approved for a bunch of 30 storey towers and mid rises too.  Note too that the main north-south entrance corridor through the Trinity buildings is designed to be extendible through the Equity / City Centre site all the way south to Somerset Street viaduct (this is shown in another illustration, below). If some Equity developments on the City Centre site put front doors onto the pedestrian laneway shown it would be livelier and safer.

Looking up the Albert Street sidewalk along the front of the Trinity buildings, notice that the 1.8m sidewalk has been widened to 7m. The trees, of course, are pure planner’s porn, they are unlikely to be there is those numbers or size. Looks nice, but you can only fantasize about them. A big danger of the wide sidewalk is that coupled with the widened road (four wider traffic lanes, plus two turn lanes, plus a cycle lane or cycle track, plus the imaginary green median) will make for a very wide open space that invites motorists to speed up. Major effort will be required to keep the space closed in to calm traffic. I also don’t expect the turn lanes to be so short, not with a major grocery store in the complex, and mini-Lowe’s or similar tenant, and Shopper’s type drugstore, a Goodlife gym, etc.

Another key to traffic calming will be buildings or plantings on the north side of street, close to the curb line, but this is city land and my expectations are conditioned to be low.


At the public meeting, there was intelligent input as to how the building complex might integrate with the neighbourhood. We need active frontages on the south and west sides. We need to calm Albert Street. We need stunning architecture given the site’s prominence and visibility from the downtown core. The architect did not blanch at the mention of a Marilyn Monroe level of grandeur (click here to see two stories on those buildings:  https://www.westsideaction.ca/absolute-marilyn/  :


The building needs a highly attractive and busy weather sheltered connection to the Bayview Station. Bike rooms cannot be in obscure places, but must be easily accessed and offer convenient connections to the MUP and cycle tracks. Real, genuine priority must be given to transit access for all users and neighbours and not just be just another roadside development that happens to be adjacent a transit hub.


The Tom Brown affaire


Residents at the open house seized upon one drawing in particular that showed high rise buildings where Tom Brown arena is today. This drawing shows the phase 1 towers outlined in red, but not the air rights tower over the OTrain, it shows the City Centre site redeveloped as approved, and it shows four additional towers over there to the west …:


Trinity brushed it off as merely an error, or a mis-borrowing of an illustration from the City.

I’m not so sure. Recall that Tom Brown is already elderly, and the site has prime redevelopment potential being so near the Station and thus a potential source revenue to the City. Prior city plans for the area hinted at intensifying the arena site.

And finally, recall that the Trinity – Senators proposal for LeBreton Flats includes a major event space (ie Sens arena) but also a SensPlex type development. If there are four or so new rinks just a few hundred feet east of the Bayview Station on the Flats, what need is there for a single sheet at Tom Brown?


Trinity is supposed to have a website up soon: 900Albert.com.

You may wish to also send your comments to your councillor and community association.









4 thoughts on “900 Albert, air rights over the OTrain

  1. I am going to raise two points. Planning and taxes. Is the result of running the LRT through empty lands coming to the fore? Was serving the developers who want their land-values to go up the only criterion for route selection? Recall that early comments on the route selection were all about inadequate service to existing population centers (except downtown of course). How were we so foolish not to see that we will help make others rich with our tax dollars now, while we all have to suffer through inadequate bus service for our foreseeable lives? Too late for that now. This is like trying to stem a flood with sand after the water gates are opened. No it is building a new town in an old town with tax dollars form the old town. Is it fair? Is that how the US LRT systems were put in place?
    This is certainly not the vision of the actual neighborhood groups, is it? Do they want to live in the shadow of these towers and pay for their infrastructure? If at least the city had some sort of cost sharing in force, to now charge future developers for the increased land value created by the LRT. Bernie Sanders would put it more bluntly.

    1. @Ben Novak – I don’t think it was some kind of conspiracy that the city favoured routes near undeveloped parcels. It’s right there in the stated objectives of the project, to facilitate transit oriented development. The city wants to save money by having developers build high-density areas and the best way to encourage and enable that is to provide fixed rapid transit (i.e. not buses). The more we can grow within the city the more the city will save on not adding new services out at the outer edge of the city. Intensification is a win on the cost side, and the increased taxes from a 55 storey building instead of unused air rights over transit tracks make it a big win on the revenue side too.

      You could argue that the city’s decision raised the property values and the city should get some of that. But it would be hard to argue that and not do the same for the reverse situation when the city approves something that reduces property values. If the city approves a road widening, or intensification to replace a car dealership with a tall tower then all the residents losing a bit of sunlight and privacy could sue for their share of the city’s increased property taxes. It’s just a mess.

      Probably about the only thing that could work is if the city expropriated the land before announcing the plans. Pay market value (pre-LRT plan), and then sell the land back once the LRT route benefit can be factored in by developers. Kinda like what the NCC did with Moffatt farm. But that would have a bit of a stench to it, like NCC/Moffatt.

  2. From 2011, thoughts on the O-train as a green connector from some rabble rouser at the time:

    7. the city-owned right of way along the O-Train is quite wide between Gladstone and Bayview Station, I’d like to see it all treated as parkland. This means rough landscaping it all, demarking the boundaries to prevent encroachment by dumpsters, dumpers, and vehicles. And to prevent adjacent building sites from encroaching onto the public realm for “staging”. Given the wide open nature of the area, with no overhead wires, I’d like to see the area planted with big trees — burr oaks, chestnuts, walnuts, and other large-growing trees. If the city can’t afford to do it, supply a few planting beds and let the community plant tree seedlings. I wouldn’t like to see the city ‘cheap-out’ by leaving the O-train corridor as a untended unloved industrial track wasteland, to be clear-cut every decade or so to keep down nature. This is a prime green connector between the Ottawa and Rideau River ecosystems, we should be proud of it.


  3. Eric is correct any, attempt at a greenway or more “lush” park land in the O-Train corridor just won’t work unless a lot of money is spent. This is an old rail yard the top soil was covered by steam cinders and thousands of metric tons of gravel. This is done because even a little bit of plant life too close to the track can stop a train cold when the flanges (train wheels) crush and liquify the plants and cause almost an immediate lack of traction on the track. Plus, to have most of the nice trees and bushes that people seem to want, to actually survive and grow, you would either have to add a lot of top soil and or remove a lot of gravel and steam era cinders. This is very expensive! An EA would also have to be done to check for toxicity levels and proper removal/remediation of the under lying sub soil.

    More importantly is the question of air rights over the tracks. The TTC in Toronto tried to do this with development around and over Summerhill Subway Station back between 1979 and 1982. Summerhill Station, like its southerly neighbor Rosedale Station, were both outdoor stations at the time. The development from these projects now covers the area up to and including Summerhill Station. The TTC thought by covering the tracks with development (granting air rights), this could go a long way to supplement their operational budget without having to raise taxes, a win, win for the tax payer.

    A whole series of groups resented this because the Hong Kong MTR (Mass Transit Railway), the rapid transit operation that the TTC was planning to copy and use as an example of this type of development, were often very brutal to the people who lived around their projects and to the decenters of this type of corporate welfare in Hong Kong. Especially, when the MTR still got money from the Hong Kong Colonial government for operations and capital works on their Subway System. The corporations building the actual construction sites received sweetheart deals from the MTR that got paid through their public money, not the money they made off the air rights over their tracks, that was put into a separate account. There were also many financial irregularities with many MTR senior staff. A certain coalition of local Toronto groups did not want the TTC to become a developer and felt that would lead to a massively corrupt TTC. The court case went all the way to the Ontario Supreme Court, twice. The second time the TTC tried to set up a private/public real estate arm independent of the transit operation. This to went the to the Ontario Supreme Court the result was the same. A transit company is not a developer, it can not except money for property or air rights over their property, while still receiving operating and capital grants from the public purse. The final case rapped up in 1986. Now maybe, O.C. Transpo through the City of Ottawa, could except payments in kind, community buildings, libraries or parks, like a weird form of the Planning Act’s Section 37 agreements but, it would have to be done by the city, not O.C. Transpo.

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