With all the hoopla about exciting new developments on the west side of downtown Ottawa, we’ve lost some focus on the ongoing work in progress. Yes, the Phase I project by the NCC-Claridge partnership. Recall that the NCC and City chose the heights and courtyard arrangements; the NCC chose the materials and colour scheme and modern style; Claridge came up with the buildable designs.
Not exactly beloved by drive-by architecture critics, there is now a substantial number of homes built and we are about 30% into the tripartite agreed-upon plan. But I gather it’s now nap time for Phase I of the Flats, and it may be four years before Claridge builds the next group of apartments and townhouses.
(above: two storey ground floor “townhouse units” actually got built at 300 Lett Street; unfinished stacked townhouses are shown running off to the right)
Why the delay?
I can speculate on several reasons:
- there is an inventory of about one year’s worth of sales yet to be absorbed by the market, so there’s no real reason to build more
- Claridge wants to focus buyers on its Icon project at Preston-Carling
- the Zibi project by Windmill on the Domtar site will bring some of the office and commercial projects on stream in the next two years, which will make the LeBreton site seem way less isolated and maybe even trendy
- the Zibi condos on the Ottawa Islands will be premium priced, and on the market in about four years, which will make the LeBreton project competitive (both will be similar in architectural style, and we may come to appreciate that Claridge builds with brick)
- the Pimisi LRT Station will be up and operating, making LeBreton seem much more central and well connected
- the proposed plan for the area of the Flats west of Booth will have been announced, adding sizzle to the area market
- the NCC may have finished its 3 million dollar “bold, drive-by experience” temporary landscaping project at Wellington-Booth (kitty corner the War Museum), so the area will look less like Syria
- Claridge hopes that the remainder of Phase I planned build out can be changed to include taller buildings and higher density “because it is so close to a transit hub”
One of the above factors upsets me. It’s the last one. It seems sometimes that Ottawa, and especially the NCC, cannot stick to their plans. Phase I of the Flats project had a variety of building sizes. The City went in wanting 5 stories mostly, with the occasional 8-10 storey tower, if I recall correctly. The NCC got 7 storey podiums with additional 7 storey towers on top (making 14 in total). Ground floor units were to be “townhouses” but mostly these became small apartments with walk-off balconies or patios instead of the child-friendly variety of housing types. The variety of heights got lost in the shuffle: the four storey apartment building became six, then built as eight, leaving a rather uniform skyline instead of a declining height gradient towards the pump house on the aqueduct.
The next blocks of buildings to be built were to be mostly stacked townhouses in a modernist brownstone style, ie the lowest height and lowest density units in the plan. I don’t expect to see them to ever see the light of day. And this is a shame, because a number of tradeoffs get made by the stakeholders in creating the original plan. More density or height here, in trade off for townhouses here, for lower height along the path, viewlines, letting in light, etc etc.
Being able to radically change a plan mid stream means that the concessions of some get ignored since the offsetting bits of the plan are thrown out.
It makes me wonder if we would be better off saying that plans – be they for the Flats, or Domtar, or a neighbourhood CDP or secondary plan, should be in place for 20 years minimum, so that everyone has certainty. Not changing plans midstream adds some rigidity. It also adds some credibility to the Plan, which the previous Council was eager to toss overboard.
The City could still update its OP on a five or ten year cycle, but those component areas recently planned would have some ongoing fixed life expectancy. If Peter Hume comes back to City Hall in the bureaucracy, I expect a lot more plans to be jettisoned as so much meaningless paper.
above: the current view, to be frozen?
Note: a reader has pointed out the phase 1 plan for the Flats dates from 1997.