Starwood Mastercraft was an Ottawa builder decades ago, got more active in Toronto, and is now back in Ottawa building condos on Parkdale (north of Scott), Lisgar (old Canus plastics site), Champagne at Hickory (a few feet west of the O-Train, near the dog shelter). They also bought the site at Preston and Sydney and are proposing a condo tower there.
As predicted, they are asking for a 35 storey condo tower, which would be the tallest in Ottawa. Taller than Tower C, Place de Ville; taller than the Metropole on Lanark/Scott. Like the rush of downtown applications by Claridge for 28 storey condos on tiny lots, the Starwood tower takes up the whole small lot.
After last week’s speculation on the Starwood lot, they now read this blog. So… if they send along their elevations and a bird’s-eye view of the neighborhood, I’ll share it and we can all get a peek. It would be a neighborly thing to do.
When they were getting the rezoning at Hickory (one big block north of Carling) the City planners were careful to explain that the neighborhood plans called for a decreasing height from Carling as you go north into the built-up neighborhood. The local Civic Hospital Neighborhood Assoc argued this meant the units should be lower than the existing 7 storey building at Carling, or lower than the Arnon-proposed 16 storey commercial building at Carling — although the Arnon building might have more floors if goes residential via Charlesfort Developments. Starwood pointed to the approved-but-not-built 18 storey Preston and Sydney site as evidence there was an incline in height as one moved north from Carling.
I guess I wasn’t the only one who thought that once the 18 stories was approved at Hickory, the rule-of-the-incline might invite those south of the Hickory site to ask for more height. Starwood apparently shared that thought too, and snapped up another lot south of Hickory (ie the Sydney site) and passed on the acquisition of the dog shelter site (which according to rule-of-the-incline would have to be lower rise than the first Starwood towers at Hickory as it was north of them…).
The Hickory project proposed by Starwood is for two towers on a podium of townhouses, with landscaped roof decks, landscaped perimeter grounds, and two community benefits: a paved bike path along the west side of the O-train cut AND a financial contribution towards the cost of a ped bridge over the O-Train at Hickory. You can find that story on previous posts, too. I kinda like that plan, and said so.
Now the normal approval process for a new development is for the proponent to trot off to City Hall with his preliminary plans and have a talkie with the planning department, to review things like zoning, setbacks, lot coverage, official plans and other bothersome details. This is certainly the procedure the city claims businesses are to follow, when I took their Introduction to Planning courses last year.
Once the developer gets the feedback from professionals who know what is allowed, and no doubt get some hints about what might be changed to encourage intensification, then I would expect him to consult with the wider community.
Although Christine Leadman, late Councilor for Kitchissipi, loudly berated developers for not coming to her first. Perhaps her exhortations were heeded … or maybe they did things differently in Starwood’s Toronto under the late unlamented Miller regime. For I gather the developer has been off to see the Mayor. Good to see the public consultation process start with the top public persona. Then it was off to see Mr Hume, he of the Planning and Development committee.
And what sort of advice will they get when both these fine gentlemen turn to their professional planning staff for advice? Why, nothing. Because the developer hasn’t (yet) seen fit to brief the planning staff, those people who understand and guide proponents through the Official Plan rules.
Yup, for Starwood, it seems planning approval starts in the political offices rather than the planning offices. This of course is not an end run around the planning procedure, and I am certain he isn’t hoping the politicians will be influenced before the staff gets a chance to have their say. No, I am sure it is just public consultation that somehow got a bit disconnected between the political briefings and the planning dept. briefings. Surely they are down at city hall right now having a sincere chat with the planners.
What will be reaction of the Preston Street businesses to this proposal?
The BIA wants a village mainstreet, of low rise, 3 and 4 storey buildings with businesses on the ground floor and residences above. Recall that they grudgingly accepted the previous owners successful increase of the Sydney lot zoning from 4 floors to 18. That proposal was for a thin thin building, like a vertical pencil, two units per floor. There was a public right of way between the new and the existing coop building on Sydney. The thin building was pulled out flush to the sidewalk, rather than rising in setbacks, so unit holders would have unobstructed views towards Dow’s Lake, should the lots closer to Carling be developed some day. Will the Preston business owners be as happy with a much chunkier, much larger, 35 storey building that wants reduced or no set backs on any side, and that presents a 340′ wall straight up from the sidewalk?
Or will they find it convenient to ignore the Preston village concept for the glitzy high rise? Most of the business owners along Preston don’t live in the neighborhood. They commute in by car. Surely it must be tempting to think that the land your business sits on might support a mega-highrise. Even a tiny 60×100 lot is eligible for the jackpot. Retirement winters in Hawaii become a reality. Maybe pop over for a quick game of cards with Obama?
They must also feel a bit warm towards the idea of so many potential customers living right on Preston.
I can’t image CIBC will find it the highest and best use of their land to continue to run a drive-in-bank at the corner. And there’s the empty ESSO lot at the corner, freshly decontaminated. And the Dow’s Honda site — the auto business is a bit dicey these days, and that site, right beside the O-train station, begs for redevelopment for three or four 35 storey towers (or maybe taller, as they are north of the Starwood proposal…). And there’s the old gas station lot (now a sleepy-servant parking lot) nearby that could easily support another 30+ storey tower. Gee, that makes six – 35 storey towers at the corner of Preston and Carling, and we haven’t yet even started to explore the potential of sites a bit further back.
But, enough speculation, I think the BIA and business people will stick to their original vision of low-rise sidewalk-friendly development, with a heavy Italian theme.
They wouldn’t trade their neighborhood plan in for the Starwood offer a community benefit to arise from the rezoning, would they? A benefit such as a free storefront space at the base of the tower for a Museum of Italian Culture?
The problem, as I have argued here before, with community benefits being traded off for a higher rezoning, is that the developer doesn’t pay for this out of his pocket, it’s more akin to a tax on the new residents who pay more for their starter home condo because they (and they alone) gotta put some cash in the pot for someone else’s Community Museum. And once wads of money are waved around, you gotta be careful that the beneficiaries don’t sell out their values for cash (or retail space, or a daycare, or a few lower-floor units at the back given over for “affordable housing”, or some reno money for the adjacent co-op). I’m not picking on the Italian businessmen here: the ones adapting their plans could just as well be the City, or a community association, or a non-profit housing provider, or a cultural group, or a business group. The result will be more bitter than previous lost zoning battles, it will be flavoured with suspicion that someone sold out.
CBC Morning broke the high-rise condo storey on the MSM this morning. They got Diane Holmes and myself on tape. Neither Starwood nor the architect, Rod Lahey, was available.
For more info on the Sydney site, go back a few posts to the one entitled Purely Speculation.
For info on the proposed developments on the west side of the O-Train corridor, use the blog search button for terms like “125 Hickory Street”, Hickory Street, StarwoodMastercraft, Starwood, “855 Carling Avenue”, Arnon, Domicile.
No doubt, more posts will follow in the next few days.