Building a community ?


view of new wing from the courtyard 

View of the new wing of Claridge’s condos on Lett Street, on LeBreton Flats. There are exterior details to go in yet, like balcony railings and exterior trim, which will make the building look better. The units on the first several floors are essentially complete: drywall up, kitchen cupboards in, painted. But it will take a long time to finish the upper floors in the tower and complete the hallways, lobbies, and make the grounds safe. Initial occupancy is Feb 1, 2011. Builders generally permit two to three units to be occupied (moved in to) per day. Even if everyone wants to move in right away, this rations out the moving over two to three months. 

view of the taller tower, from the courtyard 

View of the taller tower 2, which is less finished. The landscaped courtyard in the foreground is shared between phase `1 and phase 2. The two phases are joined together to read as one large building consisting of a six floor podium and two towers — one glass, one brick.


view from the courtyard east towards the downtown, the amount of greenspace is amazing, the kayak course is in the foreground (and down!)   


Walking around the site, there are numerous indications of life this year: some balconies have plants, many have furniture. Ground floor patios are furnished. One balcony had a kayak on it, I wonder if the owner kayaks on the whitewater course so close by. In another unit, I noticed a baby playpen, so families are being started. A while ago, I saw a little sign advertising a First Birthday party for someone. Yesterday, there were people sitting out in the common areas, enjoying the shade and the views. 

While I am not a fan of the architecture, especially the first glass tower (which could have been moderately improved if everyone used the same types of shades, as is done at Westboro Station condos) the podium level apartments and the second tower (the brick one) are more likeable to me. The trees and greenery help. 

view from the east (downtown)

There is a single storefront to let on the front (Lett Street) side of the building. Despite the seagull shown there waiting for fries and other garbage … the space is empty. It is unlikely to be rented soon other than for office space, as there simply isn’t enough people there to support a convenience store. There are 125 condos in the first phase (almost all sold and occupied) and 175 in the second phase (easily 80-90% sold if I go by the red dots on the display boards in the sales office building). A convenience store requires more population than 300-600 people. 

unlet storefront on Lett

While some surroundings of the new buildings are attractive, the NCC is thus far leaving the entire block in front of the building / to the west of the building, as an open pit littered with rubbish and blown in garbage and water ponds. I fail to see how this encourages people to make this area their home. To the north, the green field installed last year will soon be torn up to install the Fallen Firefighters Memorial.  To the south, between the Fleet Street side and the aqueduct, another building will be constructed, probably starting in fall 2011 if the condo market holds up. The new building will vary the architecture a bit more, with two yellow brick condo towers of six and eight floors and a connecting row of apartments that look more townhousy than tower-like. 

At the current rate of build-out, it could easily take Claridge 20 years from start to finish for the six buildings that will make up phase 1, running over as far as Booth Street. Then there is phase 2, running west from Booth along Wellington … the 2020 completion date for the whole Flats project between the tailrace and Bayview has been abandonned. It will be built out bit by bit, as the market permits. Not likely in my life time… 

There is one rental building proposed, to run along Booth Street. The ground floor of this building is to consist of the “retail core” of the neighborhood, with Booth, by then a four to nine lane arterial, serving as the Main Street. In order for this rental building to be constructed, Booth has to be rebuilt up and over the aqueduct, over the LRT/transitway, the LeBreton station built, and the Booth/Albert intersection widened to a nine lane monstrosity. Since the rental building is the “affordable rental” part the City demanded, it was clever of Claridge to tie to the City actually constructing the elevated Booth Street. Claridge doesn’t have to provide the building until the street is built. 

photomontage of the finished phase 1

4 thoughts on “Building a community ?

  1. I disagree about the viability of a convenience store. While I’m not in a position to argue the requirements, I’d assume that those numbers are for an area where there are alternatives–which there aren’t in Lebreton Flats. There used to be a convenience store at 170 Booth at Albert, but it closed a few years ago. There are others within walking distance to 170 Booth, but they’re all in the direction away from Lebreton Flats.

    Furthermore, it wouldn’t just serve the condo residents. It also serves their visitors, staff and visitors to the war museum (which has a cafeteria and gift shop but no vending machines), water pumping station staff, watercourse kayakers and onlookers, Bluesfest patrons, and–most importantly–the construction workers building the rest of the development (and, evidently, working on the Booth Street bridge and Transitway).

  2. Preston has been dug up for years. During the big dig, I asked the convenience store operator at Elm Street how it affected him. Diasterous. Fewer walk ins, no bus driver drop ins, and NO construction worker trade … he claimed they bring their drinks and food with them and brought him no business. The unlet Lett storefront might work as a tuck shop if Claridge lowers the rent enough but I don’t think construction workers are a key clientelle. I’d love to be wrong, as a corner store with a few outside tables for coffee or ice cream bars would add vitality to the streetscape.

    In the first phase of LeBreton Flats, in the 1980’s, storefronts were located under the apt bulding at the corner of Booth/Albert (about 5 storefronts) and Rochester/Albert (one storefront facing Rochester, two or three facing the courtyard/driveways). The Rochester one was never rented except to social agencies (I presume on favorable terms), the south facing ones never had tennants but became storerooms for Ottawa Housing, and the Booth ones are often vacant or transient. It’s not income that matters: the same planners built Springfield Mews adjacent Rockcliffe Park, with similar design units and higher density, with a cute storefront that was to be a community pub or gastro pub and indeed it functioned for a little while as a gourmet resto. Commercial success seems to be something our city planners have difficulty building in.

    Like so many things, there are virtuous/vicious circles … success attracts more complementary and competitive businesses. I thought some parts of Vancouver’s famous urban developments also lacked commercial vitality, based on my last walkaround, but they do a much better job than we do. So there is hope.

    One of our problems here is council is too generous with commercial zoning. Somerset and other main streets struggle to get critical vitality because huge hinterland areas are also zoned commercial. Walk along Somerset today and see vacant storefronts while adjacent housing is converted to new, cheaper storefronts for marginal businesses. The city is now busy approving the conversion of houses on the sidestreets off Preston to storefronts and other commercial facilities in the guise of mixed use development that will really just delay main street improvements with a viable residential hinterland.

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