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:
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.