Intensification follows LRT

Mid rise condo proposed in Westboro.

Throughout the LRT planning process the City and its consultants have been showing walking radii around the proposed stations. These radii are more than just the convenient five-minute walk zone around the station. They will also be where the City will encourage transit oriented development (TOD).

Most residents get the five-minute walk radius. Judging by questions and comments I hear at LRT meetings, they have much less understanding of TOD. Some clearly think it only applies to vacant lots. If there are few or no vacant lots, there’s no room for highrises, is there? They seem bonded to the present land use, not realizing how dynamic a city is.

I like to remind people of how much Ottawa has changed over our lifetimes. And it will change more in the future. Especially if the City is serious about TOD.

When the Ottawa built the  transitway  in the 80’s Council made a very bad decision. They promised neighborhoods along the route that there would be no intensification or upzoning. Except for some developments on vacant lots, the transitway environs look pretty much the same today as when it was built 25 years ago.

This time around will be different. Intensification will come to all areas along the route, except for a lucky few powerful neighborhoods that will be able to delay the redevelopment for a few more years.

Current zoning and neighborhood plans, even recent CDP’s or NIP’s, will all give way to intensification, with much anguish and squealing from the affected areas.

To get a bit of a look at the future, read this story. It takes place in Vancouver, today, one year after the Skytrain got up and running. But pretend it is 2017 in Ottawa, the new OLRT is up and running, and the time has come to encourage the Transit Oriented Development: 

“postwar bungalows, ranchers and modest single-family homes have long occupied [the areas along the LRT route].  But under a proposal now before council, over the next 30 years the corridor would transform into a series of denser “transit-oriented” neighbourhoods with multiple-unit condos ranging from four storeys in the north to 12 storeys at Oakridge to 36 storeys at Marine Drive”.

The LRT will work to increase the City’s density, and will foster transit-oriented housing, only if the City uses its powers to do so. What the Vancouver article shows is that higher density will be imposed in one form or another on low density single family neighborhoods too. Think of McKeller Park, along the Byron strip. Or both sides of Scott, especially the section between Scott and West Wellington/Richmond Roads. Or the low density neighborhoods on both sides of Carling.

Intensification does not necessarily mean “high rise”, although they will be a component of the plan. Many high rises an be accomodated in vacant areas that abound along the transitway (LeBreton Flats, Bayview Yards, O-Train corridor, CBC Lanark Avenue, etc). It can also mean rezoning large swathes of low rise single family neighborhoods for low rise intensification by townhouses, four storey apartments, etc. The key in that latter strategy is to rezone large areas so that redevelopment is spread out geographically and over time, giving neighborhoods time to adjust and get used to the new city order. The Vancouver story shows that even a thirty-year gradual intensification upsets many.

It will make today’s intensification battles in Westboro look like a picnic.

16 thoughts on “Intensification follows LRT

  1. this kind of intensification in established neighbourhoods should also mean blanket allowance for basement and attic suites to be approved as separate apartments, rather than grey market nanny suites.

  2. When thinking about transit oriented development I think it is important to think about it in detail. It isn’t just about how many people live within a 5minute walk of the transit station. How many people are within 200m of the transit station? How many are within 100m of the transit station? If there is 10,000 people 500m from the transit station but no one within 200m of the transit station you can’t call it a successful transit oriented development. It is important what kind of shops and services are available to people as they walk from the station to their home. It is important to avoid a sea of parked cars separating the walking transit user from the shops along his route home. Adding 10 unnecessary steps to every transit user in order to add a green buffer with a few decorative trees around the transit station is the kind of activity that makes a station less appealing to the walking public.

    1. I’d also like to start thinking in terms of 500m real walking distance, NOT the 500m radius circles that the city likes to draw because they are easier.

  3. Ottawa is a sleepy one-industry town that is being dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century. It was instructive that the tech industries all clustered outside trhe downtown core – because Ottawa’s business is government, and those interlopers didn’t want to play fair – they expected fast responses and flexibility.

    Ottawa’s neighbourhoods still reflect this. Change at anything beyond the pace of a glacier is disruptive and threatening.

    Ottawa’s greatest problem is that it’s an interim stopping point for most residents. They’re here to work their government job untl they retire and move back home. So there’s less of a sense of commitment to building the urban structure.

    Ottawa needs a greater sense of civic involvement, dedication, and dare I say vision?

  4. David P – Unfortunately, Ottawa is the epitome of the 20th century. ROads roads roads. Train station downtown? Move it out! Central downtown neighbourhood at LeBreton? Blow it up. Greenbelt? We can build on the other side.

  5. Unfortunately Ottawa, which grew in an ideal fashion from inception to World War II, took the poor lessons of the Greber Plan/baby boom era and ran too far with it, and kept going way too long. It hurt the city financially and socially. Suburbs exploded overnight and grew to the population of small cities by the millenium, while the long-neglected inner city stagnated until people realized this course was unsustainable without revenue in the form of higher density housing on existing services.
    Unfortunately, now-retired Boomers living downtown had grown too used to nothing happening in their neighbourhoods for decades on end and became entitled to the idea of never being bothered by change occuring nearby. Thus, special interest groups over every single proposal or development, making the policy of intensification a bitter and noisy one. My view, my property values, my right to this and that. The residents of the suburbs and inner city continue to cry out for better services with no tax increases.
    It’s clear not everyone is going to walk away happy, but it will be the opponents of light rail and intensification who are left with the biggest frowns, as those things are what is needed for a city of one million people. This is the path to sustainability – the 1970s can’t continue forever, and like it or not, that means change, transit projects, and density. Other cities have handled it, but in Ottawa the prevalent attitude will make the transition into the 21st century a ‘kicking and screaming’ affair. We’re already seeing it every week. Pick up Monday’s citizen for the usual bleeding heart stories regarding ‘lost views’ and ‘noise on my street’.
    Life will go on, but it will take time for people to realize this.

    1. I have some empathy for those upset by the Anglican development. The zoning calls for up to 20m; the new tower will be 74m. That’s clearly overreach and more than any reasonable neighbour should expect. City planning staff are out of control – 12 stories on Richmond where it’s zoned for 6, and now this – its almost as if staff are illiterate and don’t understand simple English statements.

      In this case, if the church can’t support itself from tithes,, maybe the answer is to close the cathedral. Since the worshippers aren’t willing to pay for the upkeep, the church is exernalizing the costs. Tha answer is not to triple the building height in the area.

      1. Here’s what the Escarpment Area District Plan (EADP) says about the Cathedral Hill area on page 55 (PDF p. 23):

        The block bounded by Sparks Street, Queen Street, Bronson Avenue and Bay Street (including the Cathedral Hill Conservation District) should be protected from inappropriate infill projects that may damage the existing historical character of the block. The cluster of beautiful historic churches located in this block gives a special character to this location that is not found in many other areas outside the Market. This collection of impressive heritage properties is a highly desirable asset that should be preserved and maintained.

        It also has a diagram showing that the suggested maximum height be 56 m, not the 74 m that were approved. So, just like in Westboro, the City can’t even stick to its own approved plans.

        At this point, the question is not even “what’s the point of zoning” but “what’s the point of community plans?” since in this case the community plan called for height well above the zoning only for it too to be ignored (by coincidence, that approved height is close to the sum of the existing plus envisioned heights). I would also further note, btw, that the existence of the EADP has had zero influence on either of the LRT plans we’ve seen. The N-S LRT plan proceeded to completely ignore it by placing a tangle of roads and tracks where the EADP wanted infill along the north side of Albert west of Bronson, and the current DOTT has placed the tunnel portal on the wrong side of Booth Street as far as EADP is concerned.

        1. Ottawa is full of NIMBY’s and naysayers, according to popular wisdom. I’d put City of Ottawa itself firmly in that category, as whenever they see a development that goes against their plans, they shout “NO way will our plan stand in your way”. David is right, neighborhood plans are exercises to keep the planners and citizens busy, they are full of loopholes, and then are ignored when convenient. Ottawa spends way too much on overhead and way too little on delivering product.

      2. When are Ottawans going to get over their fixation on height, and start worrying about how buildings look and FUNCTION at street level?

        With very few exceptions, who cares who tall the building is? Care about how ugly (or unugly) it is as you walk past it… or whether you can even comfortably walk past it at all.

  6. I disagree. Although your hard-nosed economic approach has much merit. The churches built in Ottawa clearly exceeded the ability to pay of the parishoners. They were funded by land sales from land grants, eg “The Glebe”. All those land developments changed the landscape for neighbours. No more rabbit hunting in the next 40, it became farms or homes or gas stations, etc. Selling off more land is wise. They are handling it better too, because they are now planning for a income stream instead of one-off capital infusion that once spent is gone forever. The land development will maintain the cathedral forever; the parishioners contributions will cover staff and good works, such as Cornerstone Housing.

    That is not to say I am wholesale endorsing the high rises, or the (lack of) streetscaping.

    1. We’ll agree to disagree then. The cathedral is no longer a viable concern. Its clients (worshippers) are unwilling to pay the cost of keeping it running. The proposed solution is to steal views from neighbours despite promises made via zoning.

      When a business can no longer make a go of it, it closes. If Anglicans are unwilling to support their cathedral, close it and sell it to someone who will use it (or the underlying land). Use the proceeds to perform good works.

      Indeed, that’s what the United Church is doing in Westboro; closing churches, selling the land, and taking the proceeds and putting them into community works.

      Were I a resident whose view will be lost by this development I’d seriously consider suing the owner of the property. In this case, that’s the Anglican Church.

  7. David: no one “owns” the right to a view. The only way to (somewhat) “guarantee” the view is to be the front row adjacent public parkland, and even that can change. If someone can sue for an altered view, where it would end? Could I sue because someone built a condo in Gatineau that blocks the hill silouette? Reminds me of the lady who appeared at a building proposal near Bayview, it would block her mechanisville home’s view of downtown. That’s right, she felt no development should be permitted near Bayview, on Lebreton Flats, or anywhere between her and the downtown. Presumably this means downtown couldn’t develop either, because a new building might block her view of something she liked. We’d have to ask her permission to build anything.
    As for zoning, zoning primarily describes a land use currently in place and permitted uses. Zoning is not a great planning tool, and residents mistake it as the ultimate planning tool at their peril. The Ontario govt’s planning directives are at the top of the hierarchy (and they say, “intensify!”), then the OP, then the sub-plans, sub-sub-plans, and lowest of all: zoning. And then there are “good practices”, such as preserving heritage structures by developing land around them, or building higher at gateways or near transit (TOD). Alas, there is no simple one rule that is immutable forever.

  8. This discussion has veered off a bit into zoning, but fair enough.

    Some comments have described nearby residents as complainers etc. because those residents dislike the fact that their views will be compromised or their perceived quality of life or even property values reduced by new developments resulting from a change in zoning.

    But let’s back up a moment here. If someone does “due diligence” and checks the surrounding zoning before acquiring a property and moving in based on that zoning, they would seem to have a reasonable case to be annoyed when the zoning gets changed in a way that affects them. They have taken decisions in good faith that the zoning would restrict development in those properties. So for someone else to mock such people when the zoning gets changed on them, I think, is a bit nasty.

    More fundamentally, what is zoning for? What is the point of even having it if it gets changed so often? Why give people what is essentially a false sense of security or certainty? By constantly changing zoning at the whim of developers, the entire planning process and civic government comes into increasing disrepute. It fosters fatalism, cynicism and ever decreasing willingness for people to participate in government.

  9. David: you ask what is zoning for? I feel its original purpose, to separate incompatable land uses (no cement factory or auto body shop beside your house or school) was valid. But in the way of all bureaucracies, it has gotten more and more detailed, more complex, more … silly. Codes now regulates how wide your eaves are, what type of glass you have in your window, whether your house is 22 or 23 feet high, etc etc.

    I have argued here before that I think zoning should be drasticly curtailed, simplified. Have a residential zoning of four floors & below and let anyone build townhouses, singles, doubles, apts, whatever. Along main streets, permit any building to have a ground floor business. And lets not rule out a photocopier while permitting a hair salon, and other such silly distinctions. Zoning needs to be totally rethought. And that doesn’t mean replacing it with even sillier “neighborhood association agreements” like they have in the US which regulate your lawn area, grass length, etc etc.

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