Planning for salvation

There have been no end of critics for the Our Lady of the Condos site on Richmond Road; or for the Franciscan site in Overbrook (  The Dominican fathers on Empress have talked about selling their property. Now there’s a second chance (second coming?) for Hintonburg-Westboro too.

The Salvation Army operates Grace Manor on West Wellington. Immediately east of the modern low-rise Hobbinesque nursing home is an elderly manor on a large lot. Here’s a Google streetview (before the streetscaping was installed):

The red-brick manor house shows up just left of the bus. On the nearest left of the picture is the Rosemont Library. The parking lot in the foreground at the corner of Rosemont and West Wellington is likely part of the Sally Ann site (and another parking lot at the corner of Parkdale). The site goes a long way back through the block, until it hits Connaught School on Gladstone Avenue:

I hear through the grapevine that Sally Ann is asking $3.2 million for the site; that Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) is interested in the property; that a non-profit housing provider could be involved … and that there is another bidder, a “dark knight”, in the form of Shoppers Drug Mart, the current bete-noir of Canadian urbanistas (standing in for Wal Mart, the former devil figure, American no less! for whom the site is way too small).

If the site sells to SWCHC or to CCOC or another housing group, funding will be a big issue. There is a provincial election coming up, though … and the Ontario purse strings are being loosened.  Will Yasir Naqvi and Bob Chiarelli come through? Or M.Baird … maybe a Federal election will be in the offing  … 

The Salvation Plan comes to this: with so much criticism of the Our Lady of the Condos site, can the City and neighborhood groups come up with something much better this time around?

 Can the neighbourhood get their only-four-storey infills? Can the Wellington frontage get a Shopper’s big-box store (hopefully with a narrower street frontage and much of the box running back from the street) and a Community Health Centre, with three floors of apartments above? And leave 40% of the site vacant?  Can the Sally Ann get their 3.2 million? Can Hobbs get all these things on this site whereas her predecessor was stymied by Ashcroft and the good sisters of the visitation?

Absolutely the worst scenario I can see unfolding here is a two-storey free-standing Shopper’s Drug Mart. Not because it is Shoppers, but because on a street frenzied with condo mania, it is criminal to see a government monopoly build a single floor liquor store at McRae, or Shoppers build another low-rise big box like they are building on Rideau Street (let’s see there, 20+ storey condo, 20+ storey condo, another 20+ storey condo, yet a fourth 20+ storey condo … then a two storey drug and convenience store…). Ottawa has more low-rise mini-strip malls and Mac’s Milk plazas than any city I have visited. Some other cities simply don’t have this sort of zoning category. If you wanna build a Swiss Chalet, go find a developer who will build the apartments or offices above … but Ottawa welcomes these cheap low rise commercial blights, it’s abusive zoning at its worst.

If Shopper’s gets the site, expect some other commercial uses too. I can picture a Giant Tiger, the smaller Canadian chain that emulates the Walton formula. Let’s throw in a condo tower too, to pay homage to our mixed-land-use intensification policies.

These are some pretty stark choices, and the stakes are large. Can Sally Ann get the bucks for their good works while the community gets the low-rise infill they claim to want; or will Mammon win out? Can we have both Shoppers and SWCHC? Is there room for some interesting land swaps (move the Senior’s Centre from across the street into the new SWCHC and sell their site for a condo tower)?Can there be access to the back of the site from Rosemont, maybe replacing the bead store on that street?  And don’t forget that parking lot at the corner of Parkdale…

There needs to be some real consultation and competition for this land, and not a done-deal. Hintonburg-Westboro is lucky to be getting a second chance at getting it right. Planning for salvation.

14 thoughts on “Planning for salvation

  1. And it looks like a big project is going in at St. Paul’s on Main Street in the not so distant future. Some prime properties these religious institutions are/were holding on to.

  2. They are prime now, in part because those same institutions provided the neighborhood welfare and spirital centre, the meeting place, the schools, the home for the aged or the decrepit or spinsters or bachelors … It is a common trait throughout Canadian history that religious institutions funded themselves from selling off land grants after the communities grew up. When the CPR did, we said Damn the CPR! When the Anglican church did it, we called the neighborhood The Glebe. Once the properties are gone, though, it gets more difficult to support (subsidize) the churches. The Dominican properties on Empress have been sold off bit by bit during my residency here, presumably they sold off others previously. The gas station lot at LeBreton, sold. The (now) Chinese Church (formerly school & daycare), sold. The former school (now Dal Community Ctr), sold. The Caisse Pop site, now an opticians, sold. They talked about selling the Dominican side yard (gardens) a few years ago but withdrew, probably because they’ll get value only by selling it with the monastery since redevelopment will require the garden site for underground parking under the condo tower.

  3. The one thing I can say about a Shoppers in this location is that their hours would be better than the Rexall at Parkdale…….discount tuna at midnight………
    It would be nice to see some non-profit housing go into this site, for several reasons. First and foremost, adding people to the community who don’t live in a protective, financial bubble would prevent Hintonburg from being turned into Westboro East (deafening complaining over everything in sight). Something like the units just built on Argyle Street would fit in well.
    Ground floor retail with condos over top on another part of the site would be necessary, too, but there are many forms that could take. It’s an interesting site that should be developed with several uses in mind. Should be interesting to watch.

  4. “Ground floor retail with condos over top on another part of the site would be necessary”…as S-man says. This is how they do it in the rest of the world and it is nice to see that we are doing more of it here. You could probably revitalize that empty canyon that is Sparks Street if we kicked the feds out of the buildings and converted the office space to residences. Shops below, apartments above and bingo…vibrant street.

  5. Chris: I know a major downtown commercial property mgr and he says that putting civil servants in any building is the kiss of death. Messy bulletin boards, rule bound, nitpicky, wont shop or patronize businsses they just wanna get in early and get out. Sparks is dead partly because of the CS employees; partly because its tourist (who wants to shop even on rue st honore in Paris when every second shop is tourist bric a brac…); and partly because there is no reason to go there. I’d kill it, putting a least a trolley bus on it, or a bike lane, or something that moves at other than a slow amble.

  6. Ottawa has more low-rise mini-strip malls and Mac’s Milk plazas than any city I have visited.

    = = =

    Perhaps, but just about every city seems to have their own indigenous form of banality. Have you ever seen as many liquor marts as there are in Edmonton? Here a liquor mart, there a liquor mart, everywhere a liquor mart-mart.

  7. The question of re-purposing old religious properties is one we’re going to struggle with more and more. There is a larger public policy question, though. Should we permit religious property to be sold on the open market immediately, or should municipal governments get first call at a reduced price? Or should the city take a part of the sale price?

    Relgious organizations get a 40% property tax credit because they contribute to the public good (or, at least, that’s the theory). (see Once those holdings are surplus to the needs of the religious community, should the city not recoup part of the support the city has given over the years?

    This is not a well-defined request for legislative action at Queen’s Park, but rather is intended as a start point for discussion.

    1. interesting point, from the City’s perspective, religious institutions would not have paid the full property tax cost associated with the value of their properties, but they can reap all of the benefits from the of their properties if they sell them on the open market. (I say “can” and “if” deliberately, because I have seen churches insist that any buyers of a surplus property must also be a religious or community-based institution of some specified kind).

      A different option for consideration: in the French town where my uncle lives, all properties being listed for sale are must be registered with the commune (municipal government) which has first right of refusal to offer to buy the property for a specific period of time (I think a week). Unfortunately our city government doesn’t maintain cash reserves for such things, or have a property development wing that could act on its behalf, etc…

  8. Very interesting, David, about the taxes. I wonder about the difference between taxes intended to cover operating costs vs taxes that cover capital costs that might make the property more valuable due to its improved access. I vaguely thought the worship halls themselves were untaxed and the residence, teaching rooms, meeting rooms etc and the property itself were taxed. Definitely worth a peek at in the future.

    1. The Assessment Act has more information, but being written by lawyers, for lawyers (like most laws) it’s hardly an example of clarity.

      Still, if we the taxpayers subsidize religious institutions through a variety of tax breaks, it seems odd that they can then flip their land for large profits and those who supported them see nothing (and I’m talking about money, not about obstructed views from highrises that don’t respect the official plan).

      I will give credit where credit is due – the folks at the Kitchissippi United Church are trying to work with the community for the sale and redevelopment of Westboro United (corner of Churchill and Ravenhill), and have promised to use the proceeds to fund community projects.

  9. James: I would be very wary of the city having rights of first refusal. It would become a slush fund for every NIMBY out there. No school would ever close, because the neighbors would demand it become a city park/rec centre, anything but townhouses. No church would ever move without someone crying about it; nor any old property without it being called heritage; nor any house without someone crying it is a key feature to keep kids/elderly people/poor people in the neighborhood. If we never close any churches, schools, or other properties, there will be no infill … or maybe it would transfer all that pressure onto residential poperties which would be replaced or expanded at a more rapid pace than now. I definitely file this one under “Be careful what you wish for” and “unintended consquences”.
    Thanks for reading and commenting.

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