The City and the Province have policies promoting Smart Growth. Have they been forgotten in a weird sort of beer binge?
What gives at the Beer Store on Somerset Street?
The quasi-monopoly Beer Store network must be doing quite well, as it is proposing a severe under-use of its land at 515 Somerset Street, opposite Dundonald Park. Recall that the current store, dating from the 60’s, an ugly, squat thing, itself replaced a row of family housing in favour of a suitable-for-the-suburbs sized parking lot that is conspicuously underused. So underused, that like the location on Bank at Lansdowne, the lot is used for monthly parking rentals. At least the current store has windows and doors onto the sidewalk, albeit locked and barred doors; there is the potential for them to be reused. Despite the overwhelming walk in traffic, the store format caters to the drive up motorist*.
The beer vendors and bottle recyclers propose tearing down the existing store, and building a new one. It would occupy the same footprint from sidewalk to back lot, and on its east (Kent street) side; but would be much larger, extending westward to approximately double the building size along the sidewalk.
But do not rejoice that this will be a bigger, better Beer Store. Rather, the increased frontage will be one or two for-rent commercial units (CRU’s in the developer’s jargon). Note that new Beer Store will be in the back, with entrances facing the parking lot only. Not even the pretense of being a retail unit on a traditional main street, this design is totally parking-lot centric. And note the Barrhaven-style high-speed drive in ramps proposed on Somerset, instead of urban curb cuts and vehicles slowly crossing a busy sidewalk.
Could anything be worse?
Well, yes, it could.
In addition to transplanting a car-centric suburban building format, they propose a store front design of total anonymity, a generic could-be-anywhere facade better suited for Merivale Road or Carleton Place than a traditional mainstreet.
The third elevation or drawing in the list shows the parking lot facade; the street facade is shown at the bottom; the street frontage is offensively bland and all the “architectural effort” went into the parking lot face. The rental storefront also has its main door facing the parking lot.
Can anyone at the Beer Store mega-corporation spell cheap and tacky?
And this is proposed for a busy traditional main street, running between Bank Street and the entrance to Chinatown.
The site faces a large, well treed park. It backs onto stable residential blocks. It is zoned for traditional mainstreet development, not a mini-mall. It cries out for a three or five storey residential development above side-walk facing storefronts. I’d even love a building that had a second floor restaurant with a large front balcony — a beer garden! — facing the park. This site cries out for innovative development, something that redefines Somerset and gives it a kick up in its currently-sagging appearance.
One impediment to smart redevelopment might be that the Beer magnates have already awarded to the contract to a mini-mall builder. Is it too late to get Domicile, Barry Hobbin, or innovative social housing providers like CCOC, someone keener and imaginative into the scene?
Will Councilor Hume, of the Planning Committee, who rarely sees a high building or rezoning he doesn’t like, push some more fizz to this site?
More height please. More density. More imagination. More people on the street, living closer to the downtown. More tax revenue.
Will Hume please advise the Beer store that while they may be within their ‘rights’ to propose a mini-mall, the city can dredge the planning rules for a 101 reasons to deny or delay the application. And then sandbag them for years.
* at least there isn’t a drive-thru beer store proposed.
10 thoughts on “More Height, Please Mr Hume, and more Density Too”
Christopher Ryan wrote a great piece on the history & architecture of the Beer Store on Somerset Street: http://ottawastart.blogspot.ca/2013/10/christopher-ryan-brewers-retail-slaking.html
I would be very, very encouraged if this project was sandbagged due to bizarrely poor design, but is there a precedent for that in Ottawa? The process allows for boring, poor design, and the process is King…
The proponents are seeking relief from the side setbacks required by the zoning. In other words, the zoning says “the side of your building can’t be any further than 6m from the property line” and they are seeking to get an exemption to allow them to build with a setback of 27 m, to allow for the oversized parking lot (they aren’t asking for any reduction in the minimum amount of parking required in the bylaw, even though just about every other developer does, and the Beer Store’s actual parking usage is demonstrably far less than required).
The relief for the various setbacks is being sought through a minor variance application, which is heard by the Committee of Adjustment, which is an arm’s length body that doesn’t report to council, as opposed to a rezoning request which would be heard through Planning Committee (the distinction is the reason minor variance applications won’t show up on ottawa.ca/DevApps).
So, evensteven, since the zoning requires a continuous frontage in order to enhance/reflect the desired character of a Traditional Mainstreet, there certainly is grounds for the Committee to refuse the application–especially when the Beer Store (through a different developer) is redeveloping its lot in the Glebe with residential uses above.
Eric–just one nitpick with your post: this proposal already has fizz, that’s the stuff above the first storey that doesn’t add anything to the development.
Charles: I actually read the application and saw the “6m to 27m” request and thought that that was a pretty “significant variance”. However, I lack a sense of how often these requests are rejected – “Main Street” or no.
Also, if they reduced the parking to maybe a single row of cars and extended the store fronts to make up the difference, presumably they could come close to meeting the zoning regs? But. It would still be a one story strip mall (undoubtedly constructed from the cheapest materials available). Maybe just having a continuous set of store fronts would go a long way to satisfying most people. However, I would STILL say there should be grounds for the city to say: “not good enough”.
Shoot, I think in an historic neighborhood (maybe ALL neighborhoods!) there should be a mechanism to enforce AESTHETIC standards on development applications! Would there be disagreements about what those standards should be? Maybe. Hopefully. Would there be heated discussions on who should appointed to such committees that oversee such a process? Maybe. Hopefully.
Amen brother, couldn’t agree more. So much potential there, but not….. this. Dear god. Let’s hope Planning Committee members see your post or are somehow enlightened by your perspectives when considering this project.
Barry Hobin? Please, for the love of god, no. He’s overexposed and unimaginative. He may well be the best architect in town, but that’s like calling someone the best planner at City Hall – hardly a mark of quality.
A good post, Eric.
One thing: in the fourth paragraph, do you mean Lyon Street (not Kent)?
Please visit http://www.NewOttawa.ca. It’s a campaign calling for more creativity and innovation in developing our Somerset Ward, downtown Ottawa communities.
The thing is people have to be open minded that might mean is some areas there is no height limits.
Apart from the new LCBO in the scabrous condo at Bank/Mcleod are there any Beer or LCBO stores anywhere in the province that aren’t stand-alone and single-storey? I know about some malled stores and the grand Vintages basements here and there, but these two monopolies share a structure/location mind-set that is so pathetic it just drives you to drink. Oh, wait…
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