Christ Church Cathedral and their planners/architects held a public meeting last Thursday to explain their proposed real estate development on the Sparks/Bronson/Queen block. the project was well covered in the Citizen Dec 2nd: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/Christ+Church+Cathedral+gets+promised+land/3915157/story.html
and by a Nov 23rd blog post here: http://westsideaction.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/heritage-in-context/.
I attended the public meeting mostly to see how the idea went over with the crowd.
First up was the Dean of the Cathedral, who explained what the Church does, how much it needs money, and how real estate development would support the ongoing good works of the church. This was well presented and set a positive framework for the rest of the meeting.
Not surprisingly, objections came from the audience on several grounds. Residents of 151 Bay, a condo the east, will find their river and westward views blocked by this new development (and, as the architect pointed out, any development on other sites between the cathedral site and their condo). No one spelled out the cruel truth: many people buy condos for the view, but you don’t own the view. The only guarantee of a continued view is to be the front row building, not the one behind a (currently) vacant lot.
Residents of the Gardens towers (85 and 95 Bronson) will have their northward view blocked by the “narrow” end of the new condo. No doubt they hoped they were the front row building when they bought their units, but alas, redevelopment comes. The architects have gone to a lot of effort to preserve the views from the Gardens, rightly identifying them as the most well-connected (affluent) neighbors who can kick up a fuss.
Earlier, I had suggested to the cathedral team that they offer special rates or first buy opportunities to the Gardens residents, who might be in the market for a new condo in five years or so when the new building is built.
The developers raised the prospect that their new condo tower, currently proposed for 18 stories, could be made thinner by making it taller, eg 24 stories. This would be a re-shaping of space on the site, but not increasing the sellable space.
Predictably, there were calls from some in the audience to widen Sparks Street (current traffic volume: 60 cars) to handle the increase in traffic. In fact, the City is considering closing the west end of Sparks beyond the Cathedral itself.
Someone else wondered if there would be “affordable” units. The answer, at the end of a long multi-segment sentence, was a gentle NO. The church needs the revenue it gets from selling the units for as much as it can get. It will then use that revenue to maintain the church building, and also to support the affordable housing units (eg Cornerstone housing for women) that it supports elsewhere in the city. See http://westsideaction.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/cornerstone-project-launched/ . The poor will always be with us, but that doesn’t mean they get the million dollar views.
Another attendee called for the new building to include family-sized apartments, so there might be children playing on the streets and in the courtyards. The architect agreed that more families like urban living, and promised there would be some larger units available. I suspect the questioner missed the answer. Most developers offer a range of plans, from the very small to the very large, to gauge the market. If large units don’t sell, they are remarketed as two smaller units. Other buyers combine small units. So large family size units are usually available from the builder, but at $450 per sq foot what young family can afford a 1200 sq ft family-sized unit?
Back in the 80’s, the City required developers to include three bedroom family units. The aforementioned 151 Bay dates from that era, and has many three bedroom units. There are few children, however, as buyers knocked out the third bedroom walls to enlarge the living room, or took the builders option of french doors to a “den” or dining room. I am unaware of any children-rearing families in 85 Bronson either, despite there being some very large units. Down on LeBreton Flats, though, there is considerable evidence of babies and toddlers in the Claridge condos. Any prudent developer will offer larger units, including three bedroom family units; the real issue is whether any family will/could buy them.
The saddest part of the evening came when someone from St Peter’s (Lutheran) Church, located at the eastern end of the same block, spoke up. He was overcome with bitterness that the City seemed to be cooperating with the Anglicans to redevelop their site, when 30+ years ago St Peters and the City had a falling out on the demolition of a historic/old/falling down/sabotaged/misnamed/grand (choose your options, I won’t be going into the details here) house that St Peters wanted for a park, which it has since then rented out as a pay parking lot. Unfortunately, his bile was directed both at the Anglican cathedral folks and the City. Was I the only one wondering why they weren’t developing that parking lot into their own mixed use building? Cooperation might be more profitable than wallowing in bitterness.
As the meeting broke up, I thought the audience had a resigned air, as if no one quite liked what was going on, but lacked clear grounds to get excited and opposed to it. The church was very fortunate that no firebrand opponent appeared to channel the opposition.