Our Lady of the Condos development

Last night I had the pleasure to attend the public meeting held by Ashcroft to unveil their proposal for developing the Soeurs de la Visitation site on Richmond Road, just west of Island Park Drive. This is a five acre site, still occupied by the cloistered convent buildings even if the nuns are leaving.

The meeting was well attended (about 300 people) in a very hot church basement. The Ashcroft slide show was a thorough review of the planning process leading up to the proposed plan. They then went through the plan in a lot of detail. It was good consultation, with a concerned and well mannered audience.

My first impression was they were putting in a lot of buildings, but the site does remain 50% open space, and the building massing and stepping up in height was well handled. The site plan consists of five or six buildings and twelve courtyard spaces, each one handled with thought and care, not just empty spaces. I have some doubts about how pedestrian friendly the front courtyard will be given that it is for use by cars and pedestrians on an undifferentiated surface (ie people and cars mix — no sidewalk! It may be all the planning rage in Holland but Wonufs didn’t work here either…).

Questions from the audience were generally thoughtful, with a few grandstanding ones thrown in. I am not surprised that someone would prefer they get their view of the convent buildings while driving by at 40km, but I was surprised they would actually admit to that in public. Instead, the heritage people claim it is a cloistered building to be viewed close up, and for heritage honesty they kept the public views from inside the site, up close. Of course, this conveniently left the Richmond Road frontage clear for the largest building and commercial spaces as part of the Main Street facade.

Also on the heritage aspect, I was disappointed to learn that the Sisters have painted over all the decorated walls and pictures with gray paint, presumably for some religious reason that escapes me. They are apparently planning to strip the building of some of its heritage stair cases to resell. Hmm. But then they aren’t the Soeurs de la Charite.

One speaker encouraged the audience to express by show of hands if they thought it was too dense a development, and got only about 50% show of hands. Whether others disagreed with the notion, or his method of voting, was unclear.

The proponents made clear they were providing a variety of housing types for a variety of markets, with a generous dose of old-age units. I thought this was a progressive program and well in tune with reality, but it generated little positive spin amongst the audience (and one speaker who thought all those “paying” people would object to rowdy parties on the lawn that, apparently, he hoped to partake in).

Access to the large development was contentious. No one wants more car traffic on their own street. Yet most people still want to drive cars …  I thought one way to reduce the impact of a new driveway across the Byron streetcar right of way/linear park, would be to reverse the proponents plan. It calls for an at-grade road across the park and entering a parking garage ramp under the first building. Instead, why not put the down ramp out along the Byron road allowance, perhaps eating a bit into the park, then take it under the park into the garages of the development, allowing the Byron park to continue over top of the underground ramp with little or no interruption. This would completely remove the pedestrian/cyclist – car collision possibility and preserve at least 50% more of the Byron park than the current plan.

It remains to be seen how economic the plan is, whether the community will go for it, and what jockying for positions there might be as it is an election year. But I thought the process was off to a good start, with a considerate proposal that attempted to address many neighborhood concerns.

One tendency I do regret is that it is human nature to compare the current site to the current proposal, without considering economics, and without considering how well the proposal will fit into a future city that continues to grow. If we don’t want sprawl … where do we put people? If we don’t develop the “vacant” sites, do we demolish existing neighborhoods to build anew? If we load up developments with a huge wishlist of “features” for the neighborhood, when does this become an unfair tax on the people who want to buy the units. And make no mistake, those buyers are our children, our parents, and ourselves.

10 thoughts on “Our Lady of the Condos development

  1. Thanks for this report. I went to the presentation, but there wasn't even any standing room, so had to leave.You make a good point in your last paragraph.

  2. Lookin at it on Google Earth, at local densities, you could get between 26 and 52 houses on there, with then some store frontage on Richmond. Assuming $150,000 to build each house (using an economy of scale), this would probably lead to a profit of $3.5 – $7 Million. And I am certain that the property cost more than $7 Million. And you would be tearing down the convent. So that is not practical.I would love to see something different for the back half, like a London style set of three story terraces. These would be almost 5x the density quoted above, with the possibility to put a little park in the centre. That could give you approx 150 residences (breaking each unit into three)? You would still need a hefty profit on each one.

  3. I like your idea for the Byron crossing but that would be expensive and to be realistic, there is not a lot of cycle/ped traffic on that stretch of the walkway. I like the idea of at grade crossing like they do in Washington as it interrupts the cars and not the cycles/peds.

  4. Hello Eric,Thank you for your email and input on the project. Your idea is interesting and I will certainly float this out to staff. It would be interesting to see if there would be enough room for this entry. A similar concept was proposed for the Westboro Station and it required more land than anticipated and was not acceptable to the residents and the Parks & Recreation staff. Through the presentation it would appear that the back access is necessary for service vehicles to enter the area at the back including taxis, emergency vehicles, deliveries, etc. Rod Lahey did state that this also may be doable from the Richmond Road entrance/laneway.Your comments regarding the "return on investment" ratio is valid but would argue that the guidelines established for the site was provided to all bidders. Ashcroft chose to overpay for the property. This should also not reflect on the community. Intensification is designed to fit on a property within a community and not according to the price that is paid by a developer for the land. Elements such as heritage, perservation of a green corridor to link Byron and Richmond were all elements of these guidelines. No surprises.The entrance element is significant and very imposing on the streetscape. The drive by notion is certainly not an argument I support but at the same time the use of the entranceway to create more density is opportunistic. Unlike what was stated last evening it was not part of the original established guidelines. In addition, there was much discussion or should I say bartering with Heritage staff to consider this as an option.The presentation was done well but not strong on the real details. These slides were not seen by City staff or myself prior to the presentation. It was also the community's first opportunity to see the actual proposal after the three other meetings which had no plans. The community wishes to have a meeting and this would be in keeping with input that will be generated as a result of the public meeting.Intensification is certainly moving forward and I am supportive of it. I am not supportive of over intensification. The impacts are substantial in the community with no relieve being offered by the city. The uncoordinated approach of intensification has had more negative impact on the community than a benefit. It is time to turn the tables and start focussing on making intensification acceptable within communities so that we are not challenged every time a development comes forward.Christine Leadman

  5. It would be great for the street if they do storefronts along Richmond. It would help to close the gap between Hintonburg and Westboro, making the whole thing more accessible.Bring on the density!I still can't believe the city wants to put a train line down Byron – good idea, but wont the (fairly well-to-do) resident along byron fight that fiercely?(Or does westboro get its own underground line?.. I wouldn't be surprised)Personally, I'd like the see the Carling line transpire… it's a straight line across the west end, with high-ish density on either side. Makes more sense then the parkway.

  6. Thanks Eric — like this report. I know there will have to be a lot of issues and details to deal with – but in general I like the concept the developers put forth. It is Green – provides a community use for the heritage building…I Esp like the idea of a longterm and seniors home right in our area — Better than pushing them out of site down Carling or Heron road – where there is no where to walk no where to go.PS I was way less happy with the Super Store bring the ugly big box to our area. That was a development I WAS opposed to. This has an urban village walking feel to it – (They just need to push the side walk on Richmond back a little)

  7. Thanks for your thoughtful posting, Eric. But I really take issue with your description of the meeting as "good consultation." The City of Ottawa long ago outsourced its consultation process for development/re-zoning applications like Les Soeurs to the developers and proponents. Wednesday's meeting was not a "public" meeting, it was a sales pitch by Ashcroft, dominated by presentations by their architect, planners et. al. That they invited a City planner to be there was, in my experience, unusual (and you might have noticed that he didn't speak until asked a question from the floor.) If you didn't have the time or inclination to line up at the microphone, there were no forms available to make written comments. There will be no record produced summarizing the questions, comments or concerns raised by community members, or what was said by the developer. Let me be clear: I'm not blaming Ashcroft for this. They are simply doing what the City requires. But the process is deeply flawed: having the proponent run these meetings is an obvious conflict of interest. He/she is under absolutely no obligation to make even the most minor changes to their plans. And they only serve to heighten community distrust, suspicion, anti-intensification NIMBYism etc. about every proposal that comes alone. I think people unconsciously or instinctively know they're getting nothing more than a sales pitch and their input is window dressing. And ironically, I expect it's a process that developers hate going through too: who wants to stand up at the front of a room and be harangued all the time? So what's the alternative you ask? Well, as a start I suggest checking out Montreal's "Office de consultation publique" – http://www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/ldvdm/jsp/ocpm/ocpm.jsp?laPage=mandat.jsp – for a vision of how these things could/should be done here.

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