Planning Exercise (ii)

There is a large parcel of land owned by the Feds. It runs from Somerset Street to Gladstone, on the east side of the OTrain corridor. At the Somerset end, it has the address 1010 Somerset Street; at the Gladstone end it is 943 Gladstone; in the middle it has an Oak Street address. Most of the site is covered with a giant brick and concrete warehouse dating from the Second World War era. Before that, it was open field, my father tells me he attended the Ringling Circus there when he was a boy in the ’30’s. The circus arrived by train.

Most of the site is in Federal ownership, although there is a curious sewer right of way that runs under the warehouse, and the City is uncertain about whether the Champagne Street and other rights of way were sold to the feds, closed, or just “loaned”. The search for the paperwork is ongoing.

Part of the warehouse was declared unsafe a few years ago, and one bay was removed, leaving the building with a hole in the middle like a kid’s front teeth (see photo above). The inflatable building in the distance is the working area for stonemasons as it not permitted to work in the building. The Feds plan to close the building within three years, demolish the warehouse, decontaminate the site, and sell it. It has already decided that the site is too small for a new Fed office complex.

For several years the Preston BIA has been looking at the Gladstone end of the site for a permanent year-round farmer’s market. It remains to be seen whether some of the old warehouse can be repurposed. And the Plant Pool Recreation Assoc. has been lobbying for any new site plan to locate its park space adjacent the Plouffe Park playing fields so the park can be expanded westward to connect to the Otrain green corridor/bikeway/multipurpose path. And the folks in Hintonburg/Devonshire School Council want a ped bridge over the tracks at Laurel for better access to the Pool and a safer walk to school for children.

For the last few months, “masters in urban design” students from McGill University have been constructing a urban village proposal for the site. This is a conceptual plan, it gives us ideas and is part of the neighborhood setting the agenda and expectations before the land is marketed. It is extremely unlikely it would get built as is … it is a planning exercise. The Preston BIA hosted an unveiling of the project last Friday.

Working from the bottom (Gladstone end) of the village northwards, it begins with a year-round farmer’s market building, similar to what Vancouver has or similar to St Lawrence Market in Toronto. The two gray buildings (in the picture below) at the southern end of the site hold underground parking, the market uses on the ground floor (some indoors, some being shops facing the thin N/S street), with other uses (probably condos) above.

The market buildings would be six to ten stories high, with the higher buildings closest to the west along the Otrain corridor. A future Otrain/LRT “Little Italy” station is already planned for this location by the city.

The yellow-outlined blocks are low-rise apartment housing arranged around courtyards. The main North-South street through the site is a woonerf – open to limited car movement for deliveries, taxis, the pizza guy, but also serving as a pedestrian mall or extension of pedestrian space for cyclists and walkers and children.

The artist colony in pink consists of apartment buildings with workshop spaces/ateliers and live/work spaces for artists. People can wander through the galleries, see artists at work, including maybe someone welding sculptures on the square. These buildings would be constructed with recycled bricks from the demolished warehouse, to give them instant patina and to get away from the all-built-at-one time look that plagues many infill projects.

The northern end, along Somerset, would have some office space and possibly PWGSC’s ceremonial services in the basement, and some civic uses with condos above. The students suggested a library or concert hall as the civic uses. (Note: there is an existing theatre already for sale at the south end — The Gladstone.)

They did not extend Plouffe Park into the site, as requested by the Plant Pool people. They felt there was enough “programmed” space available, and favoured instead having Euro-style courtyards with unprogrammed space. By jogging the public spaces the way they did, they also permit more units to face public spaces (increasing unit marketability).

They did, however, convert the existing parking lot at the Plant Pool into park space, by having the city construct a underground parking garage immediately to the west. I fear this is pixie dust wishful thinking. The City wouldn’t build parking under the new pool, or above it, and insisted that the cheapest way to provide parking — why do they even provide parking?? — was to rip out the tot lot and mature trees in favour of a no-user-charge parking lot. I can’t exactly see the City rushing out to buy the adjacent privately owned properties in order to build a parking garage, with or without a “cultural attraction” built above. Besides, those treadmill users would find it much too far to walk to the building.

Overall, they propose 1900 residents, in 850 units. There would be 700 parking spaces for residents and 630 for commercial uses. The commercial spaces would be in a single-level underground parking garage extending under the entire site.

The residential parking spaces would be on second and third floor parking garages above the street. What this does to “eyes on the street” and community safety was not addressed. And no amount of “faux fenestration” (ie, fake windows) will improve that dismal street experience. Simply moving those spaces into a second level underground garage would have similar costs ($30,000 per parking space) and would un-poison the streetscape. It would also reduce traffic on Oak Street by limiting garage access to the north and south ends of the site..  

Their plan would require rezoning the site and increasing the floor area ratio from the current 1.5 to 3.3; and permitting higher buildings. They estimated the site is worth $150 millions plus remediation costs; they felt this could be easily recovered with the proposed 14,000 m2 of commercial space and 7700 m2 of retail and the 850 condos selling at $350 sq ft (although units in this neighborhood already go for $400+ sq ft).

The housing units proposed are mostly market rate condos. They did not propose any subsidized housing in the conventional sense — no CCOC, no Ottawa Community Housing, no Salus House or Cornerstones –but did propose a large artist village of live-work units. It was not specified who would provide the units, or meet the ongoing subsidies (don’t tell Jim Watson about this), or select the lucky artists to live-work: just picture the cute image of artists working away in the recycled brick colony, with tourists gathered ’round to gawk. Absent will be those who are poor through bad luck, illness, or lack of skills.

Shown below is their sketch of the Gladstone end of the project:

10 thoughts on “Planning Exercise (ii)

  1. Note that the students were from McGill. We in Ottawa, despite two major universities, do not have any urban planning or design faculties, so exercises like this are comparatively rare. I think that is much to the detriment of the city at large since there is no independent source of fresh ideas whose focus is to make the built environment a better place (rather than just making a quick buck or building the cheapest cubicle warehouse possible), and when students do visit from afar on occasional field assignments (be it from McGill, Queen’s or Toronto), they are almost inevitably hampered by a lack of significant local familiarity and knowledge amongst themselves. Ottawa, as the capital, more than most cities could really benefit from the permanent presence of a planning and urban design school, but unfortunately we don’t have one. It’s also notable that the Preston BIA commissioned this study, and it appears that the City and the feds had little involvement in it.

  2. What a great idea! I love it, and what it would do to the quality of life on Preston. It will also help my property value, but I like living here, so I’m not moving 🙂
    This seems like it would fit into the Feds plan of selling assets to fight the deficit. it would also make money for the city through lots of property taxes.

  3. The McGill students have done a project in Ottawa for several years. The last ones were in the Hintonburg area. Having run out of assignments there, Michael Frojmovic asked me for suggestions, I passed them on to the Preston BIA and presto! the assignment blossoms and the neighborhood gets a free planning study and ideas generating. Students from Carleton Architecture did a planning study earlier this year for the Otrain corridor multi-use pathway.
    All these studies give us in the neighborhood ideas and suggestions to chase the city on and makes for more intelligent and informed input for city planning studies such as the Carling-Bayview CDP.

  4. Congrats to the McGill students. If I may, I would like to point out an important potential oversight. The redevelopment of this site should include a N-S multi-use (ped/bike/skate) path along the east side of the rail tracks, that will eventually connect the Ottawa River pathway to Dow’s Lake and the Canal pathway.
    There is an existing path between Prince of Wales (Dow’s Lake) and Young St (just south of the 417) along the east side of the tracks. I think it’s fair to assume that all properties north of the 417 along the east side of the rail tracks (a few south of Gladstone, the PWGSC site, and the City Centre site) will be redeveloped in the forseeable future. If not already protected by easements , I hope this corridor finds protection through OP policies and the CDP for the area. Until then, it should be included in any visioning or planning exercises for the Oak St PWGSC site.

    1. the construction of a cycling path underpass under somerset st by the otrain is the neighborhood’s No2 infrastructure priority for the ward for 2011. The segment of the path from Bayview Station to south of Somerset is a contendor for budget this year. Feel free to tell the mayor and councilor you support the O-Train corridor cycling path.

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