Infill: what might fit?

As seen from Preston Street (off camera slightly to the left) looking along Pamilla Street (pronounced locally as Pa-milla). The brick house is long established; its back yard also abutted Pamilla. A double garage was built, with a ped door between the two garage doors, leading to apartments above.  It looks like it may have been commercial premises at one time, converted to housing in … when?… the forties or fifties?

It has … character, and interest, and adds to the variety of the neighborhood. And provides a lot of housing units between the two buildings on the one lot.

Behind the house is the parking lot of the Bank of Nova Scotia; the garage-house building looks very ordinary from behind. Note that it is right up to the lot line on all sides. The brick house has also been converted into a number of apartments with doors facing Preston, Norman, and the alleyway between it and the garage:

If we now swing around 180 degrees, the view is over to Norman Street, same corner, with Preston:

The brick semi has been updated on the Preston face, although with mis-matched windows. Four mailboxes, so it is probably two apts up, two on the main. No sign of a basement unit, even though it appears to be on a concrete (not rubble stone) foundation.  Look along Norman Street, running off to the right. Spot the white garage in back.

The owner wants to develop this side yard, that faces Norman Street. The space is fairly wide, but about 40′ deep to the commercial building wall beyond the lot. Apparently he wants to demolish the garage. And build a three and half storey new building, with three apartments. There will be three bicycle parking spaces for the seven units; no car parking.

To do this, he needs a variance to do this:

 ·         The number of required parking spaces be reduced from 4 to 0;
·         The required front yard setback be reduced from 2m to 0.77m;
·         The required rear yard setback be reduced from 7.5m to 0.28m;
·         The required side yard setback be reduced from 1.2m to 0.22m;
·         The required corner side yard setback be reduced from 3m to 0.09m;
·         The required landscaped open space area be reduced from 3m to 0m.

Read each of those variances carefully to consider the magnitude of the reductions, eg back yard from 23′ to less than 1′. Corner side yard set back reduced from 9′ to essentially zero. And zero landscaping. Fortunately, he is not proposing a commercial storefront or restaurant on the ground floor.

I am trying to get a site plan and elevation from the planner to see just what is proposed. It will need to be pretty darn good … what do you think?

13 thoughts on “Infill: what might fit?

  1. I have a feeling that a residential building there would have a hard time being less attractive than the current garage–even taking into account the reduction of setback on all sides.

    While a small house with a front and back garden would fit in, I don’t think that a 3.5 story apartment with almost no setback would be anyworse than what is currently there now–especially as it will only be minimally taller than anything around it.

  2. I agree with pete, that is a pretty ugly back yard. In general I like the idea of removing the mandate to have parking and landscaping specified in zoning. I do think it is appropriate to specify some setback with adjacent properties to let in light but not on facing the roads. So if I was evaluating I think the main problem I have with it is that he is going to be too close to his back neighbour who will be losing some sunlight.

  3. In older builtup neighborhoods like this, it’s interesting. There once was a tendency to build right up to the lot lines. At some point, it was decided that building to the lot line was undesirable (probably due to fire jumping buildings). Now developers are pushing back on the setbacks because there are existing buildings like that.

    1. And then they invented modern construction techniques. The fire-jumping concern is a red herring these days, so there’s no reason to disallow lot-line construction on those grounds.

  4. Anything is better than what’s there now, but the site represents an opportunity to do something interesting. However, Ottawa sentiment would suggest building something the same look and size as what’s there now. Certainly not something that doesn’t “fit the fabric of the community”, or “overwhelms the community” by being different, or is “out of character of what currently exists.” Remember, the NCC and Ken Gray’s are trying to ensure that no one gets excited or offended by anything they see in Ottawa. Heart disease is a big problem, but at least in Ottawa we can prevent pulses from racing…

    1. And, at the same time, ensure that no one gets bored. It’s a tall order.

      I’d love to see a building designed by Ken Grey. Someone should install SketchUp on his blogging computer.

  5. I’m going to throw my hat in the ring on this one. I’m a supporter of setbacks at the very least to allow property owners to effectively maintain the exterior of their buildings. Accessing exterior walls or foundations from the inside of a building to effect reparis is horrendously expensive. In many cases is just doesn’t happen with the result that buildings fall into disrepair.

    Either the buildings should be touching with the joints properly weather sealed or they should be setback a combined 4 feet from each other.

    Aesthetically, I just hope they don’t use the same brick they went with for the Lebreton Flats condos.

    1. Accessing exterior walls or foundations from the inside of a building to effect reparis is horrendously expensive.

      The expense should be for the building owner to worry about whether they are willing to pay or not. The city and society at large have no business worrying about that on their behalf.

      1. The challenge is when the neighbour’s objections get overridden, and they are then on the hook for the increased cost due to the neighbouring monstrosity being built to the lot line.

        Or when the construction subtly damages the neighbouring building, but without sufficient evidence to prove it and claim it from the builder’s insurance.

  6. I am re-thinking garage doors at street level. If they are not huge, and if there are other visually appealing features very near to them that don’t contribute to secret fortress feel, I don’t mind them. Evaluate the context. I don’t have pity for builders who don’t consider context. For example, the practicality and purpose need to fit into the street and other dwellings and neighbours. In Mexico, just for one example, many reasons pertain for garage-like doors one inch from street, and at times in Ottawa there is a purpose. There will never be a simple answer, but size does matter, and the purpose and the street. One new builder on a street should not over-ride other considerations, and it seems to me that is a problem we are facing toe to toe with. By the way I love the Beaver Barracks (an old boyfriend stayed there in the sixties!) and the amazing good coverage you are offering on this website no matter how one views things. I sure don’t agree with it all, but what a good site to say so. Fair.

  7. Also, re the house photo, showing the mis-matched windows: I like the effect and think it better than dreary, matched windows. But I always like hodge-podge, ad-hoc look of alleyways, and the old Ottawa, and miss it very much when the smaller older buildings are replaced by huge, characterless ones.

  8. Marg: i didn’t mean to criticize the mis-matched windows. I sometimes like matchy-matchy, and sometimes prefer variety.

    I now have the site plans for the new building proposed there, and am trying to get a better elevation (street view). This will be a post in a few days.

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