The City has recently seen a spate of high rise applications and project announcements. Claridge has a number of downtown high rises in the high 20- storey range: beside Bell Canada, on Nepean and Gloucester, and on Queen at Lyon (currently Barbarella’s and a parking lot).
There are taller applications too. The first out of the gate* was Soho Italia, proposed for 500 Preston Street near Dow’s Lake.
The Soho Italia structure is notable for several features: most of the parking garage is above grade (about 7 stories of it) clad in a perforated black metal screen; the building rises straight up occupying all of its small lot; the builder anticipates sec 37 “community benefits” and tries to proactively offer a “cultural centre” space on part of the lobby level and basement and via a large screen TV on the south side.
The lot here is so small the original undulating façade only fits on it “on average” — the ‘out’ part of the waves extend over the City street while the ‘in’ part of the waves is entirely within the lot, leaving a tiny bit of their air unbuilt and thus justifying using the City’s air space.
The builder has submitted the rezoning application and its application has been deemed complete. The application went on technical circulation last week. I suspect the Soho Italia will have a reasonable chance at approval, albeit a bit scaled down by the end (personally I’d rather the tower be made thinner and left 35 stories tall rather than be left its current bulk but a few stories shorter).
The arguments for the rezoning relate to its proximity to a main road arterial (access) and the Carling O-Train station. It is on a traditional main street, which provides shopping amenities (alas, no grocery store yet…) and needs neighbors.
Those arguments are generic to any location within the prime walking radius of any rapid transit station. If the Soho Italia wins its case, then the template will have been set for very intense development around every transit station. The land rush will be “on”.
Right out of the gate following Soho Italia will be Claridge, who has been propsecting land along the OTrain at Somerset, and Westboro Station (Claridge is somewhat late to the Richmond Road land grab, but there are still lots of sites left). If 35 stories is approved for Soho Italia, I fully expect them to go back to demand their downtown lots to be retroactively increased to the same height. Phoenix is already talking to the City about 30+ storey developments by the Bayview Station.
Immediately north of Parkdale Market is a proposal for another high rise:
When viewed from the south, the building looks very large, but from the north, or that helicopter view loved by developers and planners, it seems rather in scale with the high rises already build along Parkdale at Scott and the cluster of office buildings at Tunney’s (of which a whole bunch more are coming, not all of them to be located on the northwest quadrant of the Pasture). Did I mention it is but a short stroll to the Tunney’s LRT station?
OMB approval is written all over this, as it is compliant with the Official Plan, although not the loop-hole-ridden neighborhood plan.
A few days ago I was on a panel discussing Ottawa’s planning, and fellow panelist George Dark, who is frequently consulted by the City, noted that the City has been lax in identifying intensification areas related to the LRT. I disagreed. Each of those 10-minute walk circles drawn around the stations is the rezoning target, but the City lacks the guts to come out and say so. (Indeed, when the original transitway was built in the 80’s, the City outright promised ajacent neighborhoods their would be no upzoning, which is why, 30 years later, there has been so little development along the transitway).
Planning should be about forecasting the future, and letting people know what is likely to change. In those aspects, the Official Plan is clear: Intensification. Big time. A string of high density residential and employment nodes along the transitway. But on the mechanism for achieving that, the City is silent. Better to avoid controversy. Blame it on the OMB, or greedy developers.
I made the point with Dark and the Spacing audience last week that if the City proactively identifies the degree of intensification that will follow the LRT routes, then the routes themselves become a real problem to identify since the NIMBY forces will be opposing transit because of the intensification that follows. It makes chosing the best route difficult if some of the proponents favour a route mainly because it is far from where they live (we already experienced this on the western LRT study).
Upzoning makes locals unhappy. A courageous City would face the music, and make the plans. A timid City sets the stagework behind the scenes, and disclaims responsibility as the play unfolds. In Ottawa, the land rush is on, the greediest and boldest will win. Them’s the rules.
The losers in that scenario are not just the existing locals. Instead of the City planning for an intense node, for example at Carling/O-Train, so that most towers get a slice of the view, and there is some graduated heights, and a pleasant main street atmosphere, there is instead a winner take all situation, where the biggest blockiest tower that obscures those behind gets the prime dollars and everyone else gets second best. Soho Champagne only wins until the next guy builds another tower between it and the view.
*I ignore the Minto building beside Westboro Station, already the City’s tallest condo and a good indicator of the size and height of the proposed new condomania. It got its height not solely because of its proximity to transit, but in part as a trade-off for lower-rise development around it. The new applicants aren’t bothering with low rise stuff, they want tall.