False choices at Our Lady of the Condos — part i

The site with so much marvellous urban redevelopment potential is back in the news. Our Lady of the Condos is a former convent site running between Richmond Road and Byron.

Is it just me, or does this site take on Lansdowne proportions whereby anything aggravates a vocal opposition, so that civil dialogue and compromise becomes untenable in a take-no-prisoners make-everyone-miserable sort of way?

Ashcroft is asking for a driveway across the Byron linear park to access Byron Avenue. The alternative is to use Shannon Street. The city traffic engineers become bad guys here, supposedly wanting a full-fledged city street to replace Shannon lane. Instead of this glorified private driveway…

… Shannon would be widened all the way to the edge of the houses on the left, with a two lane road, one parking lane, and a six-foot sidewalk on the south (right) side where it would nicely duplicate the asphalt path a few feet further to its right. The description of the traffic “problems” arising from this configuration are almost comical in their earnest inflation of the easily fixable into the catastrophic.

Ashcroft’s alternative is a laneway (road, if you are an opponent, as all terms here are subject to selectivity) across the linear park to meet Byron. They show their road like this:

The road is now shown in brick, a shared space for cars and pedestrians. No raised sidewalk, no on-street parking, although there are some rather ugly wing walls.

Now it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that this is an apples vs oranges comparison.

Why can’t the Shannon lane be brick, without parking, without a sidewalk? (If the City insists on sticking to its cater-to-the-motorist road standards, then sell the lane to Ashcroft, which will pave it in bricks and maintain it forever).

Indeed, where are the imaginative solutions to this access problem?

First step is to accurately identify who would use the access route and how many vehicles a day that might be. I don’t for a minute trust vehicle numbers for retirement homes that are based on resident behaviour. My own parents live a retirement residence, it generates almost no traffic by the residents themselves, but the large-ish parking lot and surrounding streets are chock full of parked cars from the staff, and visitors, and the resident mini-bus comes and goes as does para-transpo. It’s busy, make no mistake.

And who will live in this retirement residence? Will people from Cornwall be the target audience? I think its most likely to be the current residents of the west end. These are the same people who are busy objecting to growth, inadvertently condemning themselves to be exiled from their neighborhood when they out-grow their single homes and discover a shortage of suitable retirement homes. Mind, there may be space in Barrhaven or Cornwall.

We cannot count on the Councillor to come up with a compromise solution, because it would be her death warrant. Hobbs is no doubt aware of the fate of Leadman who proposed compromises at her penultimate planning committee meeting. Hobbs doesn’t want to go into the next election labelled as the woman who “sold public parkland to greedy developers for a busy road” etc etc. So she is doomed/destined to be visibly against crossing the park. Hobson’s choice becomes Hobbs’s choice.

And in the rush to focus on the south side of the property, we cannot forget the consequences if neither option is chosen. It’s to reduce the public parkland space within the convent grounds by expanding the internal roads; or to direct all traffic onto Richmond which means another sidewalk crossing and a rather deleterious change to the shared pedestrian-motorist arches that lead from the Richmond into the grounds.

Pilate, if you recall, outsourced the decision to another party, albeit a scarcely disinterested one. Council could do the same, calling their current Mr Fix-It, George Dark. It might get Council off the hook; it might get the neighbours and community associations to come to a minimally-acceptable joint solution; but it never solves Hobbs’s problem going into the next election.

We have managed to turn an opportunity into a divisive crisis.

13 thoughts on “False choices at Our Lady of the Condos — part i

  1. Is that proposal for Shannon Street actually from the city traffic engineers? I had assumed that it was Ashcroft trying to scare everyone into voting for the access road to go through the pathway. That is frightening that this would be considered a fair solution.

    I’m in favour of going through the Byron pathway despite not liking any of the available options. While it would be sad to have another street bisecting the pathway, the real problem for users of the path is dealing with the additional traffic. If Shannon Street gets used, pathway users will still be crossing the path of most of these cars but instead doing it at some bizarre doubled-up intersection. Hilson and Byron can already get pretty bad so stuffing more turning cars into this little area will cause more problems and send cars onto the small side streets in the area where there aren’t any sidewalks for pedestrians to take refuge on.

    Thank you for a thoughtful post, Eric.

  2. Are we talking a driveway or a road? Is Ashcroft asking them to sell off a part of the park so that they have frontage on Byron or are they suggesting that the city build a new road across the park. It comes down to the pedestrian experience. Will the pedestrian be stepping off the curb to cross a road or will the cars have to cross a sidewalk to get on to Byron? If Ashcroft wants to pave their driveway in brick, I’m all for that, but lets call it what it is, a driveway and not a lane.

  3. Can we say no to both options? I’m not in favour of making significant changes purely for the benefit of the developer who wants to stuff their site to the brim. I don’t oppose intensification if the adjacent road can handle the traffic, but if it can’t then I don’t see why the city should have any obligation to change their property (parks and lanes) to suit the developer.

    Ashcroft should negotiate with the school board for access across their parking lot. It would cost them money, but they’re a profit-making enterprise. They need to bear the costs of changes to allow more access to their site.

    1. BTW, I was picturing a short tunnel under the school’s playground and parking lot that exited directly onto Hilson.

  4. Why not an internal circuit (maintenance and clearing paid by condo fees) with ingress and egress routes on Richmond road? After all, it’s the development on the site causing the problem – so it should be the development site’s land used to address the problem.

    If there is a need for a second, emergency route, well, put the emergency route on Shannon. But since it’s emergency access only, it can be closed with a barrier that would be moved away only if fire or ambulance services need access.

    Of course, that would mean Ashcroft would lose hundreds of square feet, and it’s hardly reasonable to expect developers to foot the bills for the infrastructure to support their work… at least, in Ottawa it’s considered unreasonable.

  5. Why not an entry from Leighton Terrace which is just to the east of the development. I can think of two options which would be less disruptive than massive changes to Shannon or the cut across the Tramway Park.
    Option 1
    The South end of Leighton Terrace connects to Island Park then dog legs to the north where it connects to Richmond. The area right at the dogleg is adjacent to the developers property. It should be possible to create an emergency egress route at that point.
    Option 2
    There are at least two properties on Leighton Terrace that back onto the developers property. I suspect the current owners may be unhappy with the construction noise, loss of the convent wall etc. The developer could buy one of these properties and create his own entrance road with minimal inconvenience to the public.

    The acrimony Eric speaks of is, I think, largely due to for-profit private sector developers who say “let me do this so I can make a lot of money” and then wants the public to contribute more of its resources to his project to further enhance his profit. This is not capitalism as I understand it, but preferential socialism for the rich. Lansdowne represents a big transfer of public resources to the benefit of the private sector with the public assumption of risk that should properly be the concern of the developer.

  6. Is this access going to be serving a lot of traffic, or not? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who heard the assurances from Ashcroft et al that traffic from the development would be insignificant when they were campaigning to ignore the spirit, if not the wording, of the CDP.

    Naturally, the neighbours don’t agree, but leave that aside and go with the assurances of low traffic. If the traffic levels are to be so low, why then does Shannon need to be transformed into a full two lane road with a sidewalk? Ashcroft can’t have this both ways. Either their initial traffic claims are correct in which case Shannon does not need all this upgrading, or their claims were wrong, in which case the entire southern end of the project should be sent back for a redo.

    More to the point, we have yet to actually hear why Shannon needs to be widened so dramatically. As best I can tell, it’s just being sort of assumed that that’s what would have to happen, but without any rationale being provided. I suppose they have in their minds some horrible scenario of two cars – or maybe two trucks – coming nose-to-nose and one of them having to – gasp – put the vehicle in reverse.

    I think it’s all very absurd, personally. Even if you subscribe to the auto-centric mindset at play here, all that two cars need to pass each other is about 15 feet. That would constitute an ever-so-slight widening of Shannon. Shannon is actually an opportunity for the City to test out a woonerf concept in a place where it would make some sense – a concept, I might add, that the developer themselves suggested for their other access off Richmond.

    One could almost come to the conclusion that Ashcroft and the City were deliberately trying to wind people up.

    1. Almost? As the title said, “false choices”. Shannon could readily be made into an attractive wider-but-still-narrow and cute lane/street, IF we wanted to.

      With respect to using Richmond as the main entrance for the rear properties, I gather the city planners are unenthused about the volume of traffic that would cross the sidewalk and use the shared road/ped arched gateways, ditto for the Leighton option, it puts the traffic crossing the designated parkland and greenspace that runs N/S thru the site (rather than thru the designated parkland and greenspace that runs E/W along Byron).

      I still maintain there must be additional options other than what the developer/city is offering.

      1. I say “almost” because I don’t actually believe anyone at Ashcroft or the City gave any consideration to having Shannon as something other than a full fledged two-lane roadway. Not because they dismissed it, but because it never even occurred to them that it was possible, so ingrained is the car-centric mentality amongst our developers and officials.

  7. From the Ottawa Sun story (URL above)
    “But, when Ashcroft hatched its convent project, it moved the seniors’ residence into the complex across the street and kept its additional height at 111 Richmond. Those additional two storeys were granted specifically because that building was to serve seniors. It is now a regular condo building.”

    Eric may choose to differ but to my mind seeking two additional storeys for a low traffic seniors home and then moving the seniors home across the street but keeping the two storeys on what is now to be a normal condo site smacks to me of an “overpowering manifestation of Nasty Developer Greed.”

    The city either has laws and by-laws and regulations or it does not. If it does not it needs to let people know that they live in bureaucratic anarchy so the public can vote in a different crown. If it does have by-laws and regulations then it seems that those should be enforced. I am not sure why this concept should be so hard to understand.

    I seem to remember Ashcroft as the developer of the Central Park part of the Experimental farm and if memory serves they pulled some form of fast one there too.

    I think that if you have a developer like this you pull their license and let them go do their thing in a place more suited to their style – such as Mombassa.

  8. The city was snookered when it granted extra height for a seniors condo and then “neglected” to put that condition into the rezoning. I see this carelessness all the time: approve a pencil thin building, then allow it to baloon out (soho italia); or the downtown building that was given extra height so that a national museum could go on the bottom, oops, not doing that but keeping the height anyway. And so on. And notice that its not one developer, its several (ashcroft, starwood, claridge in the above examples) but the other party, the city, is the same for all of them. I am undecided whether its carelessness, ignorance, or deliberate. But Council shows no interest in fixing it. They talk “shrink wrap” zoning but those Irish Condoms were notoriously leaky.

  9. My memory is not good enough to remember all the details of the site rezoning, but it is possible that the city traded off the seniors residence becoming a regular condo at 111 Richmond in return for putting the seniors condo at the back of the Our Lady of the Condos site (instead of a regular condo, which presumably generates more traffic), in which case they weren’t snookered, but we commentators later on are forgetting the terms of the tradeoffs and focussing on what we dont like.

    Similarly, I hear many bitches about the removal of the concrete wall behind Leighton Terrace, but I seem to recall that was a recommendation of the sacred-CDP in their dream of what could be put there. Not unexpectedly, the Leighton folks want parkland behind, but only on their terms.

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