On a Clear Day, (Dead) Councillors can see forever …

Back a few months ago when there was snow on the ground, I typically played around with it a bit when sent out to conduct my onerous shovelling obligations. For the first pass, I would make my six-foot-short sidewalk have perfectly vertical snowbanks on each side. Nice straight sides, looking like the whole bank was sculpted at once. A mini Corinthian Canal:

Corinth Canal, photo from Bing. The Ottawa one was frozen.

Later, when the crisp edges started to blur, I would convert the sliced-through snowbanks into a gentle glaciated valley, with the sidewalk at the bottom and then the parabolic sides.

This is a useful metaphor for Ottawa’s sight lines and view cones.

There are a number of view planes that the official plan identifies as being protected. Contrary to what many people seem to think, no one else “owns” the view they have today, and some future development might obstruct it. There goes that argument for opposing anything above the height of your favorite window.

The view planes of the downtown (shown above) show what is in the foreground of the viewplane, and what is beyond the viewed object, in which height is also controlled so that some new building isn’t lurking just beyond the picturesque. Note for example view 16 from the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway where it crosses the O-Train. The motorists have a nifty view of Parliament Hill,  and chunk of the Market beyond it can’t have anything tall enough to be seen. Views 17 and 18 along Colonel By Drive are also of Parliament, and help explain why the Corktown ped bridge over the Canal doesn’t also cross over Colonel By (which would have been so practical and safer, but which would have interrupted the commuter’s glimpse of Parliament).

Of course, the NCC  isn’t protecting the view for commuters. It’s for the occasional visit of the Queen or Mr Obama, should they glance out the window of their limo. Which also explains why there are no view planes for transit users, since heads of state aren’t likely to arrive by OC Transpo. Some earlier versions of the Bayview Station for the east-west LRT consciously manipulated the passenger view of the downtown and Parliament to maximize the WOW factor (ascending the escalator, Billy Commuter sees unveiled the distant downtown framed by the high arched ceiling of the station, etc etc). Nice design aesthetics for the transit stations aren’t talked about much anymore. Jim thinks Chevy users can make do with side views of the road shoulder.

Here’s a  list of the protected views as given in Ottawa’s OP. Mostly they are for motorists.  http://www.ottawa.ca/en/city_hall/planningprojectsreports/ottawa2020/official_plan/vol_1/07_annexes/index.html

The LeBreton Flats viewplane is readily seen by West Siders. As the ORP climbs uphill from Sliddel intersection, the road curves and carefully-planted trees mask the view. Then, at the highest point, cresting the hill, the panorama unfolds. (Pause to suck in breath here).

This view is preserved as the road user transitions onto Wellington at the intersection of Vimy (this T intersection will someday become a + intersection when Preston is extended out to it; the turn lanes have already been installed). Notice how the Claridge buildings at the far right corner of the sight triangle on the Flats are pushed south to preserve the sight line. The plan for the Flats has a sharp edge all along the south side of the view plane, like one bank of the Corinth Canal, except made out of condo buildings six or seven stories high with the occasional tower punching higher. The north side, of course, is the flat park in front of the War Museum.

So, LeBreton is a clean example of a sight line with sharp vertical edges.

The proposed Domicile development in the Vanier area is bringing forth the issue of view cones again. Here is the Beechwood cemetary view cone:

Having drawn the view cones on a map, one would think that’s it, the rest of the city is fair game. But no, in the Beechwood Avenue case, Domicile’s opponents are arguing that buildings shouldn’t be allowed near the view cone. They want a view cone with parabolic sides.

Just how wide do they think this view cone has to be, and why didn’t they argue for a wider one when the views were being preserved? Or are people supposed to buy the land, do the planning and building plans, and then hope that they are not within whatever extra-width view plane the most-vocal group can demand? 

 And don’t forget that there is a background area too. The Beachwood protected sight line runs from Beechwood (the narrow end) to encompass Parliament Hill (at the wider end). But one cannot build further behind the Parliament target, because that would break the silhouette of the protected view against the skyline. So that no-building-zone extends beyond Parliament for some considerable distance. And the sightline cone continues to get wider and wider as it extends beyond. Once the terrain drops down to LeBreton Flats, the height line of the tallest planned building is below that of the existing buildings on Confederation Boulevard, so the sight line in effect continues over LeBreton Flats. Is that background behind Parliament Hill enough, or will Mechanicsville residents be able to oppose high rises in their area because if you extend the view cone far enough they are in the background too?

This isn’t just an argument of interest to developers. It affects all our home prices. And our children’s ability to ever afford a home. A larger cone  removes more land from redevelopment, restricting the developable land in the city, increasing scarcity, which increases land prices, which increases house prices everywhere, which makes housing less affordable, which increases the demand for high taxes to subsidize more housing for someone. Which means housing gets less affordable for more people because more of our money goes to taxes.

Sight lines are not trivial things. With vertical edges, everyone knows the rules. With (presently undefined shallow) parabolas extending the sight lines outward no one knows where the sight lines really are.

Will council open up the definition of sight lines? Whichever definition, they’d better define it precisely and firmly.

2 thoughts on “On a Clear Day, (Dead) Councillors can see forever …

  1. Not that I agree with the BANANA-types at all, but neither the ability of future generations to buy nor people whose incomes fall short are of any interest to them whatsoever.

    Every move made to restrict the supply of housing necessarily drives the prices further aloft. Those of us in the rental market have been squeezed as much as, if not more, than those in owner-occupied (very little ability to raise additional funds, lower incomes in general, and higher levels of detachment from the workforce) while the rising costs of property, building, and legal costs make the construction and conversion of rental units fundamentally unattractive.

    I make no bones. I want a rank oversupply of housing on the market. I want condo-developers to build too many units. I want that irrational exuberance to take over the market. That way they will have little choice but to cater to the rental market. Perhaps most importantly, I do acknowledge that I want all of that for the same reason that low-density neighbourhoods fight against even three-storey developments: to preserve their way of life, and their property values: the benefit.

    Of course, in matters of local politics the renter does not really figure into the decision-making process. We’re popularly considered to not pay property taxes, we’re considered to be a nuisance, and, where possible, places for us to live are fought against in all but the worst locations and most dilapidated neighbourhoods. Make no mistake, we’ll be priced out of Vanier in due time. Especially when the whole “sightlines” argument is put on the table. There are already enough factors at play that keep the number of units low and the rents high. Ottawa’s rental market affordability index (rooted in the Rental Market Survey) is always pitiful.

    This is why I’ve come to see the OMB as an ally. Their intentions may indeed be a greater support of the construction and development industry, but on the way, the more developments they ram through and the more they “violate” zoning and the unit-restricting wishes and ambitions of many individuals (who often express this through community associations), the more units they get built in the local market. Yes, these units are more often than not ownership units, but they will only be able to remain empty for so long before someone (the individuals owners, the builder) feels the need to recoup some of their investment.

  2. Different market than Vancouver, but 12% of Vancouver condos are empty (presumably offshore owners buying them for investment purposes who don’t want the hassle of renting). So despite the oversupply of condos, it has not really alleviated the rental market, to the point that Council there created an incentive program to build new rental buildings – of course this is because half of Vancouverites rent, so there is a “renter” constituency (I suspect that the numbers would be similar for the old City of Ottawa, but not the amalgamated mega-city)

Comments are closed.